D. O. A. (1949) | Old Classics?…Newly Reviewed

Editor’s Note: TGGeeks is expanding our review categories!

Kicking off Old Classics?…Newly Reviewed right contributor  Gini Koch reviews an “Old Classic”…? in her inimitable way.

Tackling what Turner Classic Movies assures us is a “noir classic:” 1949’s D.O.A.

Film noir is an interesting genre filled with boozy guys, femme fatales, crooks and cops, moody music and lighting, cynical in the extreme.

In my opinion, due to a variety of factors, noir’s usually best in black and white versus color. The blacks, whites, and grays truly help create the noir atmosphere.

So, it was with great expectations that the hubs and I sat down to watch D.O.A., long hailed as a great example of the genre and a super movie to boot. Well…


The movie stars Edmond O’Brien as Frank Bigelow, a CPA in Banning, California who loves the ladies, and they love him right back.

Yeah. I’ll let you digest that for a moment. The hubs and I had to. Our tough guy hero is…a certified public accountant. Hey, those folks are KNOWN for being badass, right? And he lives in Banning, THE SoCal hotspot of any and every decade. (Seriously, Banning’s only claim to fame is that it’s on the way to Palm Springs from Los Angeles. Period.)

Also, tastes change. Perhaps in 1949, O’Brien’s short, stocky, jowly look was considered totally hot, but he did nothing for me in 2018. Many of the other male actors did, but not O’Brien. But I digress…after all, Humphrey Bogart isn’t Mr. Pretty, either. That shouldn’t matter to the film. Perhaps our CPA has charisma. Perhaps.

Edmond O’Brien as Frank Bigelow in D.O.A.
Edmond O’Brien as Frank Bigelow in D.O.A.

Bigelow has a pretty blonde secretary, Paula Gibson (Pamela Britton). Paula has two jobs in this movie. One is to be the good girl who loves Bigelow and hands him information at just the right moment. The other is to recap their relationship every time she speaks. Every single time.

Bigelow needs “a vacation” so he’s going to San Francisco alone. Paula freaks out about this, then, once she’s had a sip of beer, realizes that she’s being too pushy and that Bigelow needs his space. Which she doesn’t give him, but we’ll get there.

It’s clear from the first moment Bigelow arrives at his San Francisco hotel that, to him, “vacation” means “screwing any dame what moves”. How do we know this? Not only because Bigelow is constantly leering at every woman who walks by, but because we get to hear a wolf whistle every time he sees a pretty woman.

At first, I thought this was the hotel’s way of greeting their female guests – hey, in 1949 that was (clearly) considered a compliment by the establishment. Only we discover it’s not the hotel – we’re privy to Bigelow’s Inner Wolf Whistle Dialog. Until we’re not. Somehow, after about five minutes of wolf whistles, they stop, even though he keeps on leering at women.

The wolf whistle is literally part of the soundtrack. It’s loud. It’s adamant. And it’s ridiculous. The wolf whistle decision alone should have either made this film an instant bomb or have it hailed as a comedy. The hubs and I were certainly laughing. At the movie and its choices, not with it.

Paula calls Bigelow after he’s been in his room for about thirty seconds. She’s giving him space by asking him what he’s doing and telling him he can’t do anything that will make her not love him. (Yes, Paula is probably an idiot.) She also shares that someone he doesn’t know, a Mr. Phillips, has been calling him, desperate to speak to him “before it’s too late”. Despite this boding statement, Bigelow’s been invited to a party with salesmen and hot women he can leer at, so he blows off any concerns about this person.

It’s Market Week in San Francisco and Bigelow’s new friends take him to a jazz bar. He’s not into it – he, like others, prefers Glen Miller. Oh, the times they are a-changin’. The bar is filled with hep cats and kittens and, due to the fact that the head salesman’s wife is coming onto Bigelow right in front of her husband, Bigelow shows amazing character growth and ditches them to go to the bar for a drink. There he spots yet another pretty woman and, after asking the bartender about her, goes over to turn on the smooth CPA charm. She, of course, bites in her hep kitten way. He orders her a drink and asks for his drink which he’d left at the end of the bar.

BUT! We, the audience, have seen a mysterious figure switch the glasses. Bigelow takes a swig and grimaces. This isn’t his drink! The bartender insists it is. Bigelow drinks more of it – why ask why – then demands a new drink, and gets the hep kitten’s phone number.

He has to dash out due to said married woman who just can’t get enough of that smooth CPA musk. He gets back to his hotel to find that Paula’s sent him flowers, and he rips up her kitten’s phone number and throws it away.

Again, I’ll let you digest that. In 1949, did women really send flowers to men? And, upon getting those flowers, did those men renounce their tomcat ways and settle down instantly? I was back to “this is a comedy!” with this scene.

Bigelow wakes up, gets his morning bloody mary – it’s 1949 and he’s on “vacation” remember – and suddenly doesn’t want it because his stomach is upset. So…he goes to a doctor.

Again, I must let you digest that. Maybe in 1949 men, real men, men whom the women couldn’t stay away from, raced to the doctor for indigestion, but I find it hard to believe. I can barely get the hubs in if he’s almost severed a digit or literally can’t breathe. For a tummy ache? He would rather die than go to the doctor. But Bigelow has to go or else we don’t have a movie (so to speak) so he goes.

First, he’s told he’s healthy as can be. Then, within a minute, he’s told he’s been poisoned and going to die. (Amazingly fast toxicology in 1949.) He rants, raves, and storms off, to get a second opinion, which is the same as the first – someone’s slipped him a “luminous toxin” and he’s had it in his system too long and is literally a dead man walking.

He runs off as this doctor is calling the Homicide division, since Bigelow has, essentially, been murdered. But Bigelow doesn’t need cops or a hospital – he’s going to find out who killed him and why all on his own.

He races around San Francisco, seemingly on foot, only to find that the bar he was at is closed until 6 pm and that the salesmen are long gone from the hotel where he met them. So, because Paula, after recapping their relationship again, has found some information – he’s notarized a document for someone working with Phillips six months ago – he heads to Los Angeles. Not that she knows WHY he’s hysterical to now know all he can about Phillips – because he refuses to tell her what’s happened to him, for reasons never explained.

Now our plot’s rolling! Only, it’s not. This movie takes the adage of “show, don’t tell” and turns it around. It shows little but tells a lot. Over and over again. Paula’s not the only one recapping what situations are every time she speaks. But Bigelow never bothers to share WHY he’s searching for the truth about why Mr. Phillips died with any of the people he runs into.
Everyone we meet AFTER Bigelow is poisoned is part of the plot, but no one we’ve met prior is. So why did we have to meet them? Literally, this movie could have started the morning after and Bigelow and Paula could have recapped the rest on one of their many phone calls.

Plus, those characters we meet prior to the poisoning are actually well-developed enough that you know who is who. Those we meet after are not. This is not how it’s supposed to be done, and breaking the rules isn’t doing this film any favors.

The plot is convoluted, with things that matter (who the hell these people are and why we care about them) being ignored and things that don’t (Bigelow and Paula’s relationship) being focused on over and over again. Bigelow is quite a CPA – he can run all over Los Angeles on foot (I’ll pause while native Angelinos giggle hysterically), he can use a gun, he can take a gun away from someone, he can hit, he can sort of take a punch (his tummy is sore because he’s been poisoned, so the villains hit him there a lot so we can all remember he’s been poisoned), and he’s better at figuring this stuff out than the cops.

People you barely know and don’t care about try to help and foil our “hero”. Paula comes to L.A. because of course she does, that’s how you give a man space! Dying means that Bigelow realizes that Paula’s the greatest. But he refuses to tell her what’s going on, presumably because the love of his life should hear that he’d dead from a total stranger. It’s better that way.

Yes, he dies. The title IS D.O.A. So is the last line, said directly to the camera. Maybe that caused audiences to gasp in 1949. I mean, it’s a technique that’s used frequently (I’ve used it at least once in my own writing) but I don’t think the title repetition works when the character turns to break the 4th wall and says, “Mark it…D! O! A!”

The end credits share that, YES, there IS such a thing as Luminous Toxin, and don’t you ever doubt it! Seriously. The filmmakers felt OBLIGATED to share that their poison was real. Because, you know, that’s done all the time. Films constantly tell you that their plot devices are real, because how else would you suspend your disbelief otherwise? Surely not due to the script, acting, or direction. Or maybe it’s just this movie.

I’ve been more disappointed in movies, but not in a while. D.O.A. doesn’t deserve its classic billing. It’s just a convoluted mess that tries to fool you into thinking it’s great. Find someone else to do your taxes.

1 star out of 5

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2 responses to “D. O. A. (1949) | Old Classics?…Newly Reviewed”

  1. Shawn Sumrall Avatar
    Shawn Sumrall

    Oh, thank goodness some one else car sized sinkholes in this plot. I have never understood what made this movie such a “classic”.

  2. Gini Koch Avatar

    IKR? LOL We literally made fun of the movie half the time because it was just…not good. We now have private jokes about it. Like, I’m going to give the hubs “space” by sitting on top of him. LOL

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