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  D.O.A. Walking Dead
Year: 1950
Director: Rudolph Maté
Stars: Edmond O'Brien, Pamela Britton, Luther Adler, Beverly Garland, Lynn Baggett, William Ching, Henry Hart, Neville Brand, Laurette Luez, Jess Kirkpatrick, Cay Forrester, Frank Jaquet, Lawrence Dobkin, Frank Gerstle, Carol Hughes, Michael Ross, Donna Sanborn
Genre: ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Frank Bigelow (Edmond O'Brien) walks into a San Francisco police station and asks the way to the homicide division, goes there and requests to be taken to the man in charge. He asks Bigelow what he can do for him, and he says he would like to report a murder - his own. The detective knows immediately who he is, and allows him to give his statement, so the soon to be dead man tells all, starting with how he ended up in the city in the first place. He was a small town accountant who happened to be looking forward to a vacation there...

One of the most famous premises in thriller history was the one used by director Rudolph Maté for D.O.A., and although it was not original to this it did wind up being the most celebrated version. Being a film noir, it could quite comfortably telegraph its unhappy ending right from the opening scene, as O'Brien puts on his best "exhausted" countenance and after a whirlpool effect we are landed in a movie-length flashback to fill us in on the details of just what happened to place him in this predicament. In fact, so much setting up of this plot does he go into that you can imagine the cops saying yeah, very interesting, but what about the murder?

During that sequence before he reaches the city, we have it established that he is going through a rough patch with his girlfriend Paula (Pamela Britton), and she is reluctant to allow him off on his own - plot foreshadowing if ever there was. In a way, you could regard the whole tragedy as a punishment visited upon Bigelow for leaving his girlfriend behind in the hopes that he'll be able to live it up with someone else for the weekend, and indeed when he arrives at his hotel there is an all-night party going on throughout the building. This strives too hard to be lighthearted in that every time Frank sees a woman he's attracted to, we hear a slide whistle on the soundtrack, an effect that has put many a viewer off this film within the first act.

But stick with it and you'll see that tone of barely contained hysteria is one which is sustained: everything here is one step away from turning feverish, and at times it takes that step. At the jazz club where the performers and patrons are working each other into a frenzy Bigelow is offered a glass of whisky that turns out not to be his own, and the next day he wakes feeling woozy and with a stomach ache. The feeling won't go away, so he visits the doctor to be given the bad news we have been aware of all the time: he has been poisoned with a slow acting "luminous toxin", and has mere days, if not hours, to live. So there's that premise, he must track down his own killers before he buys it himself.

Maté worked so hard to keep that feeling of heightened emotion as life slips away that often the film becomes absurd, which will either appeal to you or cause you to reject this as a corny old movie where everyone tends to go way over the top. Look at the scene where Paula finally catches up with our victim, and he refuses to tell her that he is about to die so we get a whole rigmarole of florid romantic dialogue exchanged between the two, all difficult to watch with a straight face. But then you see something quite inspired, such as the shots of O'Brien hurtling down the busy street, bashing into pedestrians who had no idea they were in a movie, and you feel as if D.O.A., while a bumpy ride, is worth it precisely for those excesses it indulges in. The sort of movie where the hero says to a woman "You're in this up to your pretty little neck!" and you're asked to take him seriously, it's overrated, hokey, confusing, but contains hefty forward momentum and vivid support (watch for Neville Brand's debut) that commands attention. Music by Dimitri Tiomkin.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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