D.O.A.

Released Apr 30, 1950: D.O.A., starring Edmond O’Brien, Pamela Britton, and Luther Adler. Directed by Rudolph Maté (Union Station, The Green Glove, Forbidden).  D.O.A. has been heralded as one of the quintessential noir films of the 1940s and 50s, and indeed, DOAit’s a dramatically intense take on the noir theme of an average person living an ordinary life who is suddenly thrust into an impossibly desperate situation.  This theme has been played out in many classic noir films, but D.O.A. presents it an delightfully insidious and fatalistic manner.  Edmond O’Brien is an accountant in a small California town, where he and his secretary (Pamela Britton) have a casual romantic relationship.  Wanting to take a break from Britton’s constant naggings about marriage, O’Brien travels alone to San Francisco for a short vacation.  On his first night there, he meets a group of traveling salesmen at his hotel who convince him to go out on the town with them.  They end up at a lively, crowded tavern on Fisherman’s Wharf, where a jazz combo performs some wildly energetic music.  While O’Brien is busy flirting with a woman (Virginia Lee) at the bar, a mysterious individual secretly switches O’Brien’s drink.  The next day he wakes up with an upset stomach.  It’s serious enough for him see a doctor (Fred Jaquet), who runs some tests and informs O’Brien he has “luminous poison” in his system, for which there is no antidote.  Based on the amount of poison consumed by O’Brien, the doctor estimates he has about one week to live.  O’Brien becomes distraught and frantically runs through the streets of San Francisco, as if to escape his predicament.  When he gets back to his hotel, he resolves to spend the last remaining days of his life searching for the person who poisoned him and discovering the reason why.  Following a trail of clues, O’Brien ends up in Los Angeles, where he uncovers a tangled plot involving the illegal sale of iridium.  Up to this point, D.O.A. has been extremely compelling, but once O’Brien is in LA, the story becomes unnecessarily complicated, and at times, contrived.  Complexity is fine when in the service of a grand mystery, but in D.O.A. the mystery concerns a missing bill of sale and a secret affair.  Hardly the stuff of front page headlines, and not something an audience can easily care about.  This is not to say the story isn’t interesting, it’s just that the level of intricacy seems out of proportion to the nature of the mystery.  To keep track of all the many players involved and appreciate the significance of some of the subtler revelations, you’ll need to pay close attention.  O’Brien’s performance is appropriately believable, but it’s Pamela Britton who adds a dimension of sincere emotion to the story.  Throughout O’Brien’s ordeal, she frequently speaks with him on the phone, and as his predicament becomes more desperate, their feelings of affection intensify, reinforcing the human component of the story.  Also, Neville Brand gives a memorably demented performance as a psychotic thug who delights in repeatedly poking O’Brien in the stomach.  Overall, D.O.A. is a solid mystery noir with an outstanding initial premise. You just need to stick with the story’s convoluted path through to the end.  We give D.O.A. 3.5 out of 5 fedoras.

3.5 Fedoras

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