Edmond O'Brien as Frank Bigelow in D.O.A. (1950)

Illuminating Film-Noir

A man walks into a police station and asks to speak to the head of Homicide as he wants to report a murder, his murder! It is undoubtedly a fantastic opening to what for many is one of the iconic film-noir movies of not just the 1950's but of all time. And technically "D.O.A." is an effective film-noir a nicely constructed thriller which is not only full of style but also mystery and we are lead on a journey of discovery as to why this man curiously says he has been murdered but also how. But at the same time the appeal of "D.O.A." is for fans of film-noir because if like me you are not overly fussed by the style it is just a good thriller from the 50s.

So as already mentioned "D.O.A." starts with a man reporting his own murder, that man is Frank Bigelow (Edmond O'Brien - A Double Life) who via an extended flashback we discover is an accountant who had headed to San Francisco on vacation, partly to give him breathing space from girlfriend Paula Gibson (Pamela Britton). But whilst in San Francisco and at a night club his drink gets switched and when he wakes up next morning feeling rough seeks medical advice where he is told that not only has he got poison in his system but he has only days to live. Initially dealing with the realisation that he will miss out on love and children he questions why he has been poisoned which leads him on a journey to L.A. where he discovers that a man who had been desperately trying to get in touch with him has committed suicide and is the clue to why someone wants him dead.

Pamela Britton as Paula Gibson in D.O.A. (1950)

There is no denying that the opening to "D.O.A." is fantastic, the whole idea of a man reporting his own murder whilst still alive although visually not well is intriguing. And what follows as we discover what happened from how Frank is being killed to why is a well thought out thriller. And more importantly it is intriguing because to start with there seems to be no logical explanation to why someone would want Frank dead and even then as things fall into place and we discover dodgy dealings in stolen Uranium there is still a sense of why Frank. We do eventually find out and when we do it all makes sense making "D.O.A." an effective and well worked out thriller with a spiralling series of events and characters.

But whilst effective the real appeal of "D.O.A." is that stylistically it is a classic piece of film noir. The various shots done at night time are brilliant especially one involving Frank escaping from some heavies on a bus. Talking of which there is also another dramatic escape in a department store which uses shadows magnificently to create atmosphere. And that is what "D.O.A." has a lot of atmosphere, both of intrigue and danger which keeps you immersed in the unravelling mystery. But having said all that it is a movie which to me is for fans of film-noir and those who are not bothered by the style will be left with a good thriller rather than a great piece of film-noir.

Now part of why that is is because of the characters because whilst nicely acted with Edmond O'Brien doing a nice job of delivering the frantic confusion of Frank they are all quite stereotypical. From deranged henchmen to evil master minds none of them scream out being original or memorable and that makes it lacking a vital component. Not only that whilst O'Brien makes Frank a frantic character who is trying to work out why he has been poisoned he doesn't make him that likeable and maybe if he was a bit nicer it would have made it easier to champion him.

What this all boils down to is that "D.O.A." is a good thriller with a fantastic opening and a well worked out storyline full of intrigue. But for me the real appeal of it is that it is a technically brilliant piece of film-noir and a must watch for fans of film-noir.