Independent producer Harry M. Popkin made several interesting films in the late 1940's & early 1950's, most with an emphasis on location shooting. "D.O.A." is extremely effective in this respect because when Edmond O'Brien as Frank Bigelow runs through the streets of San Francisco and Los Angeles, the actual neighborhoods give his story a realistic touch that no lighting tricks or rear screen projections could match. Bigelow is a C.P.A. in the small town of Banning. He wants to have fun in San Francisco, ALONE, without Pamela Britton along as his girlfriend Paula Gibson. Oddly, his first few hours in the city have a comedic feel, which makes his subsequent predicament all the more terrifying. He goes to a jazz bar at Fisherman's Wharf, meets a cute girl named Jeanie (VIrginia Lee), takes one small sip of the wrong drink & his fate is sealed, permanently, although he doesn't know it yet. By the time he gets around to seeking medical attention, it's too late, he's already dying of radiation poisoning.
The rest of the movie follows Bigelow as he tries to trace who did this to him and why. I don't know of any other film noir where the victim is able to investigate his own murder in advance (except for the re-makes of this one), although Ephraim Katz's "Film Encyclopedia" lists a 1931 German movie by Robert Siodmak, "Looking For His Murderer/Der Mann der Seinen Morder sucht". (Anyone know if that movie still survives?) The application of radioactive poison as an instrument of death was an example of the postwar paranoia that would reach its zenith in Robert Aldrich's 1955 indie, "Kiss Me Deadly." Future Oscar winner O'Brien is excellent & "D.O.A." is undoubtedly Mate's finest work. This was the debut film for Beverly Garland as Miss Campbell & also for Neville Brand as Chester. Brand had the interesting talent of projecting charisma AND ugliness in the same shot. A great screen villain was born! WARNING: Oscar-winning cameraman Ernest Laszlo (1905-84) did NOT work his fingers to the bone on this film noir to have someone colorize his efforts! Please buy/ rent "D.O.A." in black-&-white!
© 2008 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 12/10/08
USA - 1950