Frank Bigelow (Edmond O’Brien) walks into a police station asking for the homicide division. He then asks for the man in charge. He is brought to the police Captain (Roy Engel). The captain asks him who was murdered. Frank replies “I was.” The Captain is aware of who Bigelow is. He waits for Frank to tell him his story.
Frank is an accountant in the small town of Banning. He goes to San Francisco on vacation. After checking into his hotel he meets a bunch of salesmen who are in town for Market Week. This is the last day of the convention and everyone is partying it up. Across the hall is Sam Haskell (Jess Kirkpatrick). He invites Frank to join the festivities. They drag Frank to a nightclub to party some more. A man at the bar switches drinks with him.
Frank wakes up the next morning not feeling well. He goes to a medical clinic. After tests are done the doctor tells him he has been poisoned. Frank doesn’t take the news very well. He rushes from the clinic and goes to another medical facility. After another round of tests the doctor concurs with the first diagnosis. Frank has been poisoned with a luminous poison. He has in effect been murdered. He only has a day or two to live. Perhaps a week at the most. While the doctor calls the police Frank again rushes out.
At first Frank is in a panic. After awhile he begins to get angry. He returns to his hotel room but the people that had been across the hall have checked out. When his phone rings he is greeted by the voice of his girlfriend and secretary Paula Gibson (Pamela Britton). She tells him that a man from Los Angeles named Philips that had been trying to get a hold of him has died. He committed suicide by jumping off a balcony.
Frank thinks that there may be a connection between Phillips suicide and his poisoning. Frank races to Los Angeles in search of answers. Frank is on a frantic quest to find out who wants him dead and why. A quest that sends him down a dark tunnel filled with shady characters, red herrings and lies.
“D.O.A.” was released in 1949 and was directed by Rudolph Mate. It is a thriller and a film noir. “D.O.A.” is the quintessential film noir. Just about every television mystery or police style series has had a plot that mimics the basic underlying theme of “D.O.A.”
The main reason the film is so good is, of course, the fabulous performance by Edmund O’Brien. At first his character is a bit of a cad who leaves his … well… clinging girlfriend for some guy fun in San Francisco. It doesn’t take too long to feel sorry for the poor dumb schlub. A walking dead man with no clue how he got that way will do that to you. There’s nothing like dying to make you realize what you had.
Told in flashback, the plot is quite complicated. It sends Bigelow from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Then it adds characters that have nothing to do with Bigelow other than to have him come under their radar. It is an intriguing film that sweeps you away with its frantic pace and jarring visuals. You may know how the film is going to end, but the trip is a real trip.
This was the film debut of Beverly Garland. She was using the name Beverly Campbell at the time. It is also Neville Brand’s credited debut. He was incredibly scary as the psychopathic hit man Chester.