erik lundegaard

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D.O.A. (1950)

I don't quite understand the appeal of D.O.A. It has a good plot, yes, and there is some interesting camerawork — particularly a scene where Frank Bigelow runs through the San Francisco streets in a blind panic — and the jazz club with its hep cat talk has a kind of retroactive kitsch ("Dig the Fishermen. Ah, that's real silk, isn't it?"), but overall I wasn't enthralled. It could be that Edmond O'Brien isn't charismatic enough to keep me interested. Lord knows Pamela Britton, as his girlfriend Paula Gibson, was an annoyance and a half. D.O.A. is servicable, but hardly the greatest film noir ever made, as some claim.

Written by:
Russell Rouse
Clarence Greene

Directed by:
Rudolph Mate

Starring:
Edmond O'Brien
Pamela Britton
Luther Adler
Beverly Garland
Lynn Baggett
William Ching
Henry Hart
Neville Brand

Look for:
Frank Cady — Sam Drucker from "Petticoat Junction," "Green Acres," and "The Beverly Hillbillies" — as Eddie the bartender

Quote:
"Really? A first-class trip to Buenos Aires on a model's salary? Don't make me laugh."

O'Brien plays Frank Bigelow, a notary public from Banning, California, who decides to take a vacation in San Francisco. We're never sure why he goes. He may be trying to sort out his feelings for his girlfriend/secretary, Paula, or he may be trying to get away from her. I know I would. One minute she's angry at him for going, the next minute she's cooing and understanding ("You're just like every other man - only moreso"), the next minute she's pouting over her single status ("I thought by now we'd be married"), but always she's there, six inches from his face.

When he arrives in San Francisco, it's the middle of Market Week and his hotel is filled with traveling salesmen. Plus good-looking dames who give Bigelow an appreciative once-over as if he were Cary Grant rather than Edmond O'Brien. He falls in with a group of salesmen and their wives, they head to "The Fisherman," a jazz club where black men play their music beneath a life preserver reading "SS JIVE," and one of the wives literally hangs on him — which doesn't please the husband much. (By the way: what kind of traveling salesman travels with his wife?) Excusing himself, Bigelow heads to the bar and chats up a blonde named Jeanie (Virginia Lee) and gets her number; but, upon returning to his hotel room, he finds flowers and a note from Paula and does the nice guy thing: he tears up the number and goes to bed.

Ah, no good deed. At the bar a furtive figure had slipped something into his drink and the next morning Bigelow finds out it's "Luminous Toxin," which his system has already absorbed. He has a day, maybe a week to live. He spends that time tracking down his killer.

Great premise. And they do interesting things with it on a minimal budget. And there are false leads and conclusions, and the resolution more or less makes sense (although the lengths the killer goes to cover his tracks is a little unbelievable). I also liked the striking performance by Neville Brand as Chester, a sadistic gangster.

But...best noir ever?

—January 9, 2002

© 2002 Erik Lundegaard