Noir-Vember Day Two: D.O.A. (1950) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Noir-Vember Day Two: D.O.A. (1950)

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Oh, Chester, you stomach punching fool, I could watch you and your short guy syndrome for an hour and a half on its own. I know I shouldn’t make fun of you because you're itching to work someone over, but your appearance in the film was so off target and strange you made a hum drum movie  come alive.

Let me back up by saying the movie in question is 1950’s D.O.A. The film, directed by Rudolph Mate and starring Edmond O’Brien, is a film that has a great premise but never lives up to the idea. The movie starts out with Frank Bigelow (O’Brien) stumbling into a San Francisco police precinct. He goes over to the officer on duty and declares he is there to report a murder. When the cop asks who was murdered, Bigelow answers boldly, “I was.”

Bigelow is a small town accountant visiting San Francisco to have one last weekend of fun before settling down with his squeeze, Paula. While talking to a beautiful woman at a bar, a mysterious stranger slips a luminous toxin into his drink that is invisible to the look, taste and smell. When Bigelow wakes up the next morning in considerable pain he goes to the hospital where a doctor gives him the unfortunate news that he only has days, possibly hours to live and that there is no cure or antidote. Obviously, Frank is a teeny-tiny bit angry at this news and vows to find the people responsible.

O'Brien stumbles from point to point in a desperate attempt to punish those responsible for killing him. Yeah.

The first clue he gets is when Paula tells him that a man named Eugene Philips tried to contact him the previous day and then promptly died. When Bigelow goes to Philips's importing business in LA, he learns from the company's comptroller named Halliday that Philips committed suicide. Bigelow doesn’t let this answer lie and keeps pulling at the string where he unravels many secrets. Among other things, he discovers the wife and brother of Philips who don’t seem too upset that he is dead, mistresses that are in bed with a local gangster, crazy henchmen (Chester, I heart you) and stolen iridium.

The pacing on the film is quick and the movie was shot and framed with style. While all of these things are good and overall, I enjoyed it, I don’t know why it is seen as one of the greatest noir films of all times.

While the movie is fast paced, many of the scenes and characters did not gel together. The numerous phone calls from the girlfriend back home only existed for 2 reasons: 1) It humanizes and enables one to root for him, even though he doesn’t treat her that well through most of the film 2) she gives him vital clues periodically when he is at a dead end. Other than that, the phone calls stops all action in its place so Bigelow can have a conversation with a character that belongs in a totally different movie.

There is also a lot of unnecessary build-up to Bigelow being poisoned. The salesmen he pals around with the night he is poisoned was long, pointless and simply not amusing. The woman he talks to at the bar the night of the poisoning is only in the movie to serve as a distraction. I kept waiting for her to appear again in the film as the femme fatale but she has her few scenes with Bigelow and then disappears for the rest of the film.

You can run as fast as you can, but you can't outrun your impending death.

The climax of the film occurs suddenly without much warning. After one of the most awkward death scenes I have seen, the movie is over. The movie’s first scene worked brilliantly with the way it was staged, shot and acted and I was hoping the rest of the film would follow in its footsteps, but “the lets throw everything but the kitchen sink into this movie” approach did not work as well as one would hope.

D.O.A is still a very watchable film with a lot of interesting aspects, including the premise, O’Brien’s acting, the mise-en-scène, and dear old crazy and lovable Chester. Yet, I feel like the film was also a bit disjointed and did not flow well. In the end, D.O.A is a serviceable film in the noir genre, but it shouldn't be placed as one of the shining examples of the field.

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Posted by Ryan

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