The Best of Film Noir – D.O.A.

This week in the Best of Film Noir, we’re taking a look at another classic in the film noir The Best of Film Noir - D.O.A.genre, D.O.A.  Released in 1950, D.O.A. was directed by Rudolph Mate, and the film has a frenetic plot that keeps you reeling from the start.  The story of a dying man who is trying to find out who poisoned him and why is nothing short of brilliant.  And what an opening:

I want to report a murder.

Who was murdered?

I was.

The Best of Film Noir – The Noir Hero

We have an interesting noir hero in Edmond O’Brien, who plays the doomed Frank Bigelow.  Bigelow is, in essence, forced to become a detective simply because he is trying to find his own killer.  And Bigelow becomes quite the detective: frantically and with great determination he follows leads until he finds that killer.  O’Brien acts wonderfully in this role, moving effortlessly between the kindhearted boyfriend to the ruthless hard-boiled detective.  D.O.A. is worth watching just for his performance.

The Best of Film Noir – The Cinematography

We don’t really have a femme fatale in D.O.A. (however, for an interesting take on the femme fatale and D.O.A., read Femme Fatale by Andrew Low), but we do have excellent cinematography.  We are treated with great expressionist lighting and a nightmarishly dark feel that fuels the panic and desperation that Bigelow feels as he frantically tries to find his killer.  The opening sequence, a long behind-the-back tracking sequence that shows Bigelow walking through a hallway into a police station, has been called perhaps one of cinema’s most innovative opening sequences by a BBC reviewer.

The Best of Film Noir – What Makes D.O.A. Noir

In some ways it might seem that D.O.A. is not film noir, but it definitely has a lot of noir elements.  First, there is the storytelling in a series of flashbacks (what some call the black cloud flashback structure).  There is also the sense of urban paranoia, and the hard-boiled detective in the title role.  And we do have a doomed romance as well.  Combine all this with the cinematography and D.O.A. is definitely film noir.

The Best of Film Noir – Trivia

When Frank Bigelow registers at the Allison Hotel in Los Angeles, the name directly above is Russell Rouse, one of the writers.  Also on the register is Ernest Laszlo, the director of photography and Marty Moss, the assistant director.

The scene in which Bigelow runs in panic through the streets after learning he has been poisoned was a stolen shot.  The pedestrians had no idea a movie was being made and no warning that Edmond O’Brien would be plowing through them.

When Frank starts to sit down next to Jeanie at the club, his cigarette is in his left hand.  But in the next shot, while he’s still in the motion of sitting down, it’s now in his right hand.

When Frank leaves the St. Francis and gets on the cable car, it is going towards the end of the line on Market Street, a few blocks away.  But in the next scene, the cable car is going uphill in the opposite direction.

Thanks to IMDb for the trivia.

D.O.A. was remade in 1969 in Australia as Color Me Dead, then again in 1988 with Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan.  Although I thought this newer version was okay (probably because I think Dennis Quaid is cute), it’s far inferior to the original – but isn’t that usually the case?

What better way to spend an evening than with a classic film noir like D.O.A.?  So get your popcorn and treats and hunker down for this great best of film noir.


If you love film noir, you should read This Doesn’t Happen In The Movies, a Reader’s Favorite Finalist for mystery.

What a reader says:

Reed Ferguson is the newest cool detective on the bookshelves.  Reed is the best kind of detective; he’s one of us.  He hasn’t got massive muscles and wields a gun with ease.  He takes a licking, but keeps on ticking. He uses good old fashion brains to solve cases.  This is a great series that I am sure will garner many fans and hopefully we’ll be reading for years to come.

About Renée Pawlish

Award-winning author Renée Pawlish writes the bestselling horror book, Nephilim Genesis of Evil, the Reed Ferguson mystery series, short stories and non-fiction ghost stories.
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2 Responses to The Best of Film Noir – D.O.A.

  1. Caleb Pirtle says:

    That may be the best opening of all time. I was not familiar with it. I’m glad I am now. I’ll have to track this movie down.

    • Renée Pawlish says:

      Yeah, it’s classic. Apparently the copyright wasn’t renewed so the movie is now public domain and you can download it for free. Thanks for your comment.

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