This movie isn’t a contender for one of the classic films of all time, but it provides viewers with a damn good time. The simple concept of D.O.A. (Dead On Arrival) is straightforward. Frank Bigelow (Edmond O’ Brien) is a public accountant who travels to San Francisco where he is fatally poisoned by a mysterious figure. He is given only a few days to live and spends them hunting down his killers. The film is not perfect, but it is a fast-paced thriller that does not disappoint on its central concept.
The movie begins as the camera tracks the back of a man as he makes his way to the homicide department. He sits down and says:
Frank Bigelow: I want to report a murder.
Homicide Captain: Sit down. Where was this murder committed?
Frank Bigelow: San Francisco, last night.
Homicide Captain: Who was murdered?
Frank Bigelow: I was.
He then begins to tell his story. Bigelow, like most film-noir heroes or anti-heroes, displays characteristics which are difficult to which to relate. He leaves his doting girlfriend and immediately starts to hit on women while away on a trip in San Francisco. It helps that Bigelow is played by the pudgy likeable Edmond O’ Brien (The Wild Bunch) to counter-balance the character’s misogyny, and later in the film, his brutality. D.O.A. relies heavily on O’Brien’s performance. He is able to transform his character, during which as he stands on a street corner after being given the deadly diagnosis and turns from the sleazy chubby accountant to cynical vigilante. O’ Brien’s physical and convincing transformation from prey to predator makes the remaining hour and half of film believable.
Dimitri Tiomkin’s score is jazzy, melodramatic, and at times comical (a slide whistle plays every time a woman catches Bigelow’s eyes). D.O.A. features more implausible twists than The Big Sleep. The climax of the film ends in the always recognizable Bradley Building. D.O.A. is a fun, if surprisingly dark film-noir.