D.O.A. (1950)

My mental breakdown film noir series continues with “D.O.A.”, starring Edmond O’Brien as Frank Bigelow, a guy just off for a few days vacation, only to get incurably poisoned.

An aside: in the early days of Hollywood, many Jewish or otherwise ethnic-named actors changed their names to sound more mainstream. Thus, Emmanuel Goldenberg became Edward G. Robinson. The uninspiring Betty Joan Perske became the alluring Lauren Bacall, and Issur Danielovitch and his chin dimple became the immortal Kirk Douglas.

Edmond O’Brien was another of the name changers. His birth name? The horrifying “Redmond O’Brien.” I just thought that was funny.

Nothing funny about what happens to Frank Bigelow, though. He’s a CPA or similar, with a tough, sexy film noir dame as his secretary. She wants to go to San Francisco with him, but Frank is obviously not 100% committed.

Frank goes to Frisco, and checks into his hotel, which is swinging with Market Week revelry. His secretary, Paula (Pamela Britton), telephones to say that a man has called four times trying to reach him. Frank blows it off, heads across the hall, and starts drinking & dancing with a group of strangers. They head out to a club, and somebody poisons Frank’s bourbon.

Frank feels a little hungover, so he stops by the local hospital. Yup, he’s been poisoned with a “luminous poison.” There is no cure, and he will die within a few days.

Being in a film noir, Frank tries to unravel the mystery, which leads to femmes fatale, a creepy foreigner or two, and a sadistic bastard of a goon named Chester (Neville Brand). Best of all, Frank gets to participate in one of the all time best movie exchanges:

Frank: I’d like to report a murder.
Detective: Whose?
Frank: (dramatic pause) Mine.

D.O.A. is a good film. I wouldn’t put it up there with “Double Indemnity,” but it moves quickly, has plenty of action and intrigue, and it’s less than 90 minutes long.

Good as D.O.A. is, about 20 minutes in, Frank and his girl go to a bar. I was watching, and I suddenly exclaimed, “Holy shit! That’s Mr Drucker from Green Acres!” I stopped the film, opened IMDB, and sure enough: an uncredited Frank “Mr Drucker” Cady plays Eddie the bartender.

Edmond O’Brien gives a great performance as Frank Bigelow. There are a lot of characters who aren’t on screen very long, and he carries most of the film quite ably.

If you recall the “nuclear fear” element we discussed in “Kiss Me Deadly,” the “luminous poison” is made from–GASP–radioactive iridium.

My only complaint (a total film nerd thing) is that Dimitri Tiomkin’s score is a little overbearing at times. I’m not dissing him–he won four Oscars in 16 nominations–but I found the music a little heavy handed.

All in all, this is a fine way to spend 82 minutes some rainy day.

Grade: B

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