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D.O.A. (1950 film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed byRudolph Maté
Written by
Produced byLeo C. Popkin
CinematographyErnest Laszlo
Edited byArthur H. Nadel
Music byDimitri Tiomkin
Color processBlack and white
Harry Popkin Productions
Cardinal Pictures
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
  • April 21, 1950 (1950-04-21)
Running time
84 minutes
CountryUnited States

D.O.A. is a 1950 American film noir directed by Rudolph Maté, starring Edmond O'Brien and Pamela Britton. It is considered a classic of the genre. A fatally poisoned man tries to find out who has poisoned him and why. It was the film debuts of Beverly Garland (as Beverly Campbell) and Laurette Luez. In 2004, D.O.A. was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."[1][2]

Leo C. Popkin produced D.O.A. for his short-lived Cardinal Pictures. Due to a filing error, the copyright to the film was not renewed on time,[3] causing it to fall into the public domain: it was subsequently remade as Color Me Dead (1969), D.O.A. (1988), Dead On Arrival (2017), and D.O.A. (2022).


An opening sequence features Frank Bigelow walking through the long hallway of a police station to report his own murder. From here to the end, the story is told in flashback. Bigelow is a hard-driving accountant and notary public in Banning, California, who decides to escape for a fun vacation in San Francisco. At the hotel, he is invited to join a group of conventioneers for a night out. He ends up at a nightclub, where unnoticed, a stranger swaps his drink for another one. The next morning, he feels extremely ill. Doctors determine that he had ingested poison, a "luminous toxin", for which no antidote is known.

With only days to live, Bigelow embarks on a desperate search to discover the motive for his poisoning. A call to his secretary Paula provides a possible lead; a Eugene Philips has been urgently trying to contact him. Bigelow travels to Philips' import-export company in Los Angeles, meeting Halliday, the company comptroller, who says that Philips has committed suicide.

Bigelow locates Eugene Philips' widow and brother Stanley Philips. Months earlier, Eugene had purchased iridium, a rare, platinum-like metallic element, which had been stolen by a criminal named Majak. The seller was a George Reynolds (or Raymond Rakubian), Majak's nephew. As a result of this illegal sale/purchase transaction, Eugene Philips faced criminal charges.

The bill of sale would have cleared Eugene, but has gone missing, and that document had been notarized by Bigelow himself. He learns that Reynolds/Rakubian is now dead. He realizes that someone seems intent on eliminating all evidence of this sale.

That someone turns out, in a plot twist, to be Halliday. Stanley Phillips, who has now been poisoned, reveals that Eugene discovered that his wife and Halliday were having an affair. Mrs. Philips affirms that during a confrontation that turned violent, Halliday threw Eugene over a balcony. To make it look like suicide, the pair insisted that Eugene had killed himself over his legal troubles. When they discovered that exonerating evidence of his innocence existed in the notarized iridium bill of sale, Halliday began disposing of anyone knowing about the document, and that led to Bigelow.

In the final scene, Bigelow tracks Halliday to the Philips company and finds him wearing the same distinctive coat and scarf as the man who switched the drinks. Halliday draws a gun and fires first, but Bigelow fatally shoots him.

Bigelow finishes telling his story and dies. The police detective taking down the report instructs that his file be marked "dead on arrival".


Marla Rakubian threatens Bigelow when he comes to her for information.
Edmond O'Brien as Frank Bigelow Pamela Britton as Paula Gibson
Luther Adler as Majak Lynne Baggett as Mrs. Phillips
William Ching as Halliday Henry Hart as Stanley Phillips
Beverly Garland as Miss Foster (as Beverly Campbell) Neville Brand as Chester
Laurette Luez as Marla Rakubian Virginia Lee as Jeannie

Additional cast members:


Alternate theatrical release poster

Critical reception[edit]

On Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 88% based on reviews from 25 critics.[4]

The New York Times, in its May 1950 review, described it as a "fairly obvious and plodding recital, involving crime, passion, stolen iridium, gangland beatings and one man's innocent bewilderment upon being caught up in a web of circumstance that marks him for death". O'Brien's performance had a "good deal of drive", while Britton adds a "pleasant touch of blonde attractiveness".[5]

In 1981 Foster Hirsch carried on a trend of more positive reviews, calling Bigelow's search for his own killer noir irony at its blackest. He wrote, "One of the film's many ironies is that his last desperate search involves him in his life more forcefully than he has ever been before... Tracking down his killer just before he dies — discovering the reason for his death — turns out to be the triumph of his life."[6] Critic A. K. Rode notes Rudolph Maté's technical background, writing:

D.O.A. reflects the photographic roots of director Rudolph Maté. He compiled an impressive resume as a cinematographer in Hollywood from 1935 (Dante's Inferno, Stella Dallas, The Adventures of Marco Polo, Foreign Correspondent, Pride of the Yankees, and Gilda, among others) until turning to directing in 1947. The lighting, locations, and atmosphere of brooding darkness were captured expertly by Mate and director of photography Ernest Lazlo.[7]

David Wood of the BBC described the opening as "perhaps one of cinema's most innovative opening sequences."[8] Michael Sragow, in a Salon web review (2000) of a DVD release of the film, characterized it as a "high-concept movie before its time."[9] Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide (2008) gave D.O.A. 3½ stars (out of 4).[citation needed]


In 2004, D.O.A. was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."[10][11]

The film was nominated for two American Film Institute lists:


The shot of Edmond O'Brien running down Market Street (between 4th and 6th Streets) in San Francisco was a "stolen shot," taken without city permits, with some pedestrians visibly confused as O'Brien bumps into them.

D.O.A. producer Harry Popkin owned the Million Dollar Theater at the southwest corner of Broadway and Third Street in downtown Los Angeles, directly across the street from the Bradbury Building at 304 South Broadway, where O'Brien's character confronted his murderer. Director Rudolph Maté liberally used Broadway and the Bradbury Building during location shooting and included the Million Dollar Theater's blazing marquee in the background. The theater would later serve the same function when Ridley Scott filmed Blade Runner at the Bradbury Building.

After "The End" and before the listing of the cast, a credit states the medical aspects of this film are based on scientific fact, and that "luminous toxin is a descriptive term for an actual poison."

The bop jazz band playing at the Fisherman's Club while O'Brien's glass is being spiked was filmed on a Los Angeles soundstage after principal photography was completed. According to Jim Dawson in his 1995 book Nervous Man Nervous: Big Jay McNeely and the Rise of the Honking Tenor Sax, the sweating tenor saxophone player was James Streeter, also known as James Von Streeter. Other band members were Shifty Henry (bass), Al "Cake" Wichard (drums), Ray LaRue (piano), and Teddy Buckner (trumpet). However, rather than use the live performance, the music director went back and rerecorded the soundtrack with a big band, not a quintet as seen in the film, led by saxophonist Maxwell Davis.[14] Film score was composed by Dimitri Tiomkin.[15]

Remakes and influence[edit]

The March 16, 1951, radio episode of The Adventures of Sam Spade features a victim reporting his own murder at police headquarters.[16] D.O.A. was dramatized as an hour-long radio play on the June 21, 1951, broadcast of Screen Director's Playhouse, starring Edmond O'Brien in his original role.

The film has been remade five times:

In 2011, the Overtime Theater staged a world-premiere musical based on the classic film noir. D.O.A. a Noir Musical was written and adapted by Jon Gillespie and Matthew Byron Cassi, directed by Cassi, with original jazz and blues music composed by Jaime Ramirez and lyrics by Ramirez and Gillespie. The new musical played to sold-out audiences during its five-week run, and received two ATAC Globe Awards in 2012 for "Best Adapted Script" and "Best Original Score."[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Complete National Film Registry Listing". Library of Congress. Retrieved 2020-09-24.
  2. ^ "Librarian of Congress Adds 25 Films to National Film Registry". Library of Congress. Retrieved 2020-09-24.
  3. ^ Hayes, David P. (2008). "The Copyright Office Records an Invalid Renewal — Then Corrects Its Error". The Copyright Registration and Renewal Information Chart and Web Site. Retrieved 2015-06-14.
  4. ^ "D.O.A. (1950)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved January 1, 2021.
  5. ^ "Melodrama Opens at Criterion (Published 1950)". The New York Times. May 1, 1950.
  6. ^ Hirsch, Foster (1981). Film Noir: The Dark Side of the Screen. Da Capo Press. ISBN 0-306-81039-5.
  7. ^ Rode, A.K. (August 30, 2000). "D.O.A. (1949)". Film Monthly. Retrieved 2008-01-17.
  8. ^ Wood, David (February 26, 2001). "BBC review: D.O.A." BBC. Archived from the original on 2001-03-04.
  9. ^ Sragow, Michael (August 1, 2000). ""D.O.A.": A murdered man tracks his own killer in this ahead-of-its-time 1950 noir thriller". Salon. Retrieved 2008-01-16.
  10. ^ "Complete National Film Registry Listing". Library of Congress. Retrieved 2020-09-24.
  11. ^ "Librarian of Congress Adds 25 Films to National Film Registry". Library of Congress. Retrieved 2020-09-24.
  12. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved August 20, 2016.
  13. ^ "AFI's 10 Top 10 Nominees" (PDF). Archived from the original on July 16, 2011. Retrieved August 20, 2016.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  14. ^ Dawson, Jim. Nervous Man Nervous: Big Jay McNeely and the Rise of the Honking Tenor Sax. Big Nickel Publishing, 1995.
  15. ^ D.O.A. [Soundtrack]: Amazon.co.uk: Music
  16. ^ Spier, William (March 16, 1951). "The Sinister Siren Caper". The Adventures of Sam Spade. NBC. Archived from the original on 2021-08-20. Retrieved August 20, 2021.
  17. ^ a b c Jennifer Ouellette (August 4, 2021). "With Kate, Netflix Is Still Looking for Its Own John Wick". Ars Technica. Retrieved September 30, 2021.
  18. ^ Frank Sheck (March 22, 2018). "'Dead on Arrival': Film Review". Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved September 30, 2021.
  19. ^ "D.O.A." Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2 April 2024.
  20. ^ "22nd Annual ATAC Globe Awards: 2011-2012". Retrieved 2016-07-02.[permanent dead link]


  • D.O.A. by Daniel Eagan in America's Film Legacy: The Authoritative Guide to the Landmark Movies in the National Film Registry, A&C Black, 2010 ISBN 0826429777, pages 434-435

External links[edit]