A Movie A Day: Quint watches noir D.O.A. (1950) I don't think you fully understand, Bigelow. You've been murdered.
Published at: July 9, 2008, 3:59 p.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
Today we hit noir D.O.A., following over character actor Luther Adler from yesterday’s John Wayne sea-faring actioneer WAKE OF THE RED WITCH.
Let’s get some DVD technical information out of the way. The above-linked DVD is not the one I watched, but doing a little digging the restoration and film quality on the above release is said to be much better than the version I saw.
I was gifted a compilation noir set a year or two back consisting of 5 noirs, all public domain. Public domain films can be put out by anybody, meaning that as long as you have a print and the ability to burn a DVD you can put it out as there is no copyright holder.
Because of that there are notorious public domain titles that are released ten bazillion times and in all different shades of quality. The Questar set I have seems to be on the low end of quality. It’s great to have these movies (the titles are Detour, The Stranger, DOA, Scarlett Strett and Killer Bait, the last three having now been covered on this list), but it looks to be recorded off of a beat up original or good dupe 16mm print, meaning the contrast is fuzzy at times and the flaws in the film are noticeable.
So, my understanding is the above-linked double pack with the Frank Sinatra flick SUDDENLY is the best transfer of D.O.A.
Okay, now let’s get to talking about the movie.
Holy crap! The reputation the film has as a premiere sample of film noir isn’t exactly right (to what is in my brain as classic noir… with the sultry and smoking femme fatale and dickish, but morally centered antagonist), but goddamn is it an exciting, thrilling and incredibly smart story.
Essentially the flick is told in flashback, opening with a disheveled Edmond O’Brien staggering into a police station wanting to report a murder. He is asked when the murder took place. He responds, “San Francisco, last night.” He is asked who was murdered. He responds, “I was.” And we get the story.
O’Brien plays Frank Bigelow, a worn-out accountant who is being smothered by his clingy girlfriend, Paula (played by Pamela Britton), and just needs an escape, so he plans a solo trip to San Francisco. After much arguing with his girlfriend, she lets him go and, surprisingly, pretty much tells him to fuck whomever, that she trusts he’ll come back and no word has to be said about it.
That was a little shocking, both for her uptight character and for it to be so clearly spelled out in a movie of this era.
So he heads out and checks in to his hotel, getting caught up in a drunken shindig being thrown by a group of salesmen wrapping up a big sales conference.
While out partying in San Fran, taking in the jazz scene and getting the number of a hot blonde, Bigelow’s drink is switched by someone we don’t get a good look at. He takes a sip and grimaces, not drinking the rest.
The next day he feels bad, so he goes to a doctor who somehow gets his test results back within minutes and finds out he was slipped a poison and it has been fully absorbed by his body. He will die. Maybe in a day, maybe two, but he has been murdered.
D.O.A. is all about Bigelow trying to solve his murder before he keels over, while at the same time making it right with his girlfriend and setting his life in order.
Of course his search takes him to LA where he falls into a much bigger plot involving gangsters, dames and murderers, with a climactic sequence taking place in the instantly recognizable LA landmark Bradbury Building (you’ll remember it from Blade Runner and… well, Ray Bradbury Theater… that my earliest and fondest memory of the building).
There’s a cast of characters here that really expand this world. My personal favorite being the toothy and simple, but psychopathic henchmen named Chester (Neville Brand). He works for the big crime magnet, played by Luther Adler, and constantly refers to himself in the third person. “Chester wants him to try it… He thinks Chester won’t hit back” etc.
The movie’s quick, always involving and while the plot is filled with dead ends and red herrings it’s still easy to follow. While the transfer I viewed was muddy, I could tell the cinematography by Ernest Laszlo (LOGAN’S RUN, FANTASTIC VOYAGE) was beautiful. And don’t overlook the pounding score from Dimitri Tiomkin, who also provided a great score to both previous John Wayne AMADs THE ALAMO and RIO BRAVO.