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D. O. A. (1949/1950)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

D.O.A. (1949/1950)

In Rudolph Maté's nihilistic, brooding, and suspenseful classic film noir detective story (also noted as 1949) - the script's unusual storyline by Russell Rouse and Clarence Greene was loosely similar to director Robert Siodmak's The Man In Search of His Murderer (1931, Germ.) (aka Der Mann, Der Seinen Morder Sucht). The dark and shadowy, expressionistic cinematography by Ernest Laszlo enhanced the mood and themes of the film, including a twisted love triangle (with infidelity and adultery), a mysterious deal for a deadly substance, a conspiracy, and multiple liars and killers.

In the intriguing, overly-convoluted and unique plot, the desperate and doomed, already-murdered CPA protagonist retraced his movements in the previous 24 hours, to try to unravel why he was lethally-poisoned with a toxic substance, before he expired in two day's time. His intense search for his own murderer was told in a fast-paced, lengthy flashback, often challenging to decipher for the viewer. However, a kazoo-wolf whistle sound-effect at the sight of any sexy female was overdone.

The exciting but brooding film noir who-dun-it was shot on location in both Los Angeles (the Broadway area, City Hall, the Bradbury Building) and San Francisco (The St. Francis Hotel, The Justin Herman Plaza (now called Embarcadero Plaza), Market Street, etc.). It contained various intriguing elements, including the existence of a lethal substance known as iridium. Before the ending cast credits, the film contained a note about the film's alleged scientific basis: ("The medical facts in this motion picture are authentic. Luminous toxin is a descriptive term for an actual poison").

It was remade as director Eddie Davis' Color Me Dead (1969, Australia) and as D.O.A. (1988), starring Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan in a completely-revised story. Two more modern versions included Crank (2006), and Dead on Arrival (2017):

  • in the famous unexpected opening, Frank Bigelow (Edmond O'Brien) - filmed from behind, entered a hallway; he was seeking the Homicide Division of a Los Angeles police station to report a murder committed in San Francisco the previous night: ("I want to report a murder") - he was speaking almost from beyond the grave; the doomed Bigelow gave a classic reply when asked who was murdered by the Police Captain (Roy Engel) - he replied: "I was"
  • to Frank's surprise, the Captain had already been alerted about Bigelow with an APB (All-Points Bulletin Missing Persons Report) the day before from Inspector Bannet in the Homicide Division in San Francisco
  • the START of the film's lengthy flashback (with a dissolve into a down-the-drain swirl) - two days earlier in mid-July of 1949 - 33 year-old income tax accountant/notary public Frank Bigelow was working in his hometown office of Banning, CA (near Palm Springs), with his blonde secretary and fiancee Paula Gibson (Pamela Britton); he had just announced to her that he was traveling (by train) to San Francisco for a one-week vacation; she was upset that he hadn't invited her or told her about it sooner: ("Go to San Francisco, but don't expect me to be waiting for you when you get back...Why do you do this to me, Frank?"); Paula was interested in a serious relationship with him, although he kept putting her off (until the film's conclusion when it was too late)
Frank With His Office Secretary Paula Gibson (Pamela Britton)
  • he suggested that they have a few beers at bartender Eddie's (Frank Cady) air-conditioned joint in town before he left; she insistently begged to accompany him to San Francisco - but then realized she was crowding him with her serious intentions about marriage when she asked: "You'll take me with you, won't you? You will, won't you, or am I crowding you?...Maybe you do need this week away alone? Maybe we both do. I know what's going on inside of you, Frank. You're just like any other man, only a little more so. You have a feeling of being trapped. Hemmed in, and you don't know whether or not you like it"; he rationalized his refusal to get serious, by claiming he didn't want her to be emotionally hurt: "I don't want you to get hurt, darling. More than anything in the world, I don't want you to get hurt"; she told him: "I thought that by now we'd be married. No, I'm not going to crowd you any more, Frank" - and then encouraged him to go on his trip to test out their relationship: ("I want you to be very sure, Frank")
  • after traveling northward, Bigelow arrived by taxi for his one-week vacation at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco; an hour earlier, the hotel front desk had received a long-distance phone call from Paula back in SoCal about three urgent phone calls that she had received from agitated owner Eugene Phillips of the Los Angeles-based Phillips Importing and Exporting Company, but he hadn't left a message; she ended the call with a personal thought: "There's nothing you can do that you ever have to feel guilty about"
  • another hotel guest across the hall, a salesman named Sam Haskell (Jess Kirkpatrick), invited Bigelow to join him in his suite for a party with other sales conventioneers (in the city for "Market Week"), and then to head out for a night of carousing and dancing in a crowded jazz or "jive" night-club ("The Fisherman") with a black band on the Embarcadero (early evidence of a Beat subcultural movement)
  • later during his partying at the nightclub, the distracted Bigelow didn't know that when he left his unattended bourbon drink poured by bartender Leo (Peter Leeds) for a few moments to speak to tempting "jive crazy," mink coat-wearing blonde regular Jeanie (Virginia Lee) further down the bar, he had been targeted and 'poisoned' [Note: an individual wearing a distinctive checkered coat and scarf swapped out Bigelow's glass for a 'poisoned' one]; Bigelow thought his bourbon drink tasted funny after drinking half of it, and he asked for a new one
  • when Bigelow returned to his hotel room later, he found flowers sent from Paula with a sweet note - "I'll keep a light burning in the window. Sweet dreams. Paula"
  • the next morning, feeling slightly ill, Bigelow took a famed SF trolley car to visit a Medical Building where he complained of a "bellyache" in the office of Dr. Matson (Frank/Fred Jaquet); everything checked out to be normal after a preliminary exam, but a subsequent toxology lab report was troubling; Bigelow was told by a second physician Dr. Schaefer (Lawrence Dobkin) - an authority on toxocology: "You're a very sick's extremely serious"; he explained further: "Our tests reveal a presence in your body of a luminous toxic matter... A poison that attacks the vital organs...Your system has already absorbed sufficient toxin to prove fatal...This is one of the few poisons of its type for which there is no antidote"; Bigelow was distraught and in disbelief by the news that there was nothing that could be done to reverse the poison; Bigelow was told that he was already "dead" and that he had maybe a day or a week or two to live; exclaiming that both doctors were crazy, he marched out of the office
  • shortly later, he visited Southern Pacific Hospital in the city, and barged into the Emergency Unit; he demanded that Dr. MacDonald (Frank Gerstle) examine him for "luminous poison"; he was affirmatively told that his "system has already absorbed it" (a lethal dose of the glow-in-the-dark toxin, known as iridium) and that he might last for a while ("a week at the most"), but then suddenly he would die; Dr. MacDonald suggested admitting him into the hospital, AND notifying the police: "This is a case for homicide...You've been murdered"
Bigelow Racing Through Crowds on the Sidewalk - Dismayed by Fate
  • Bigelow fled from the hospital and raced down the street; he rushed through crowds on the sidewalk before stopping to rest against a newsstand [Note: The Life Magazine cover behind him was dated: September 12, 1949.] The words of Dr. MacDonald were ringing in his head ("This is no accident. Somebody knew how to handle that stuff"); he became determined to investigate the cause of his murder (lethal poisoning), as he marched back to the Embarcadero nightclub The Fisherman
  • after finding the nightclub closed until 6:00 pm, he returned to his hotel, where he also discovered that Sam Haskell had checked out; during another call with his secretary Paula, he acted annoyed until he heard that the office of the insistent caller Mr. Eugene Phillips reported that he had suspiciously died the day before (but she didn't know the cause of his death)
  • to follow up, Bigelow traveled by plane to Los Angeles, to stay at the Allison Hotel, and immediately proceeded to the Phillips Importing and Exporting Company in the Bradbury Building; he spoke to the feisty company secretary Miss Foster (Beverly (Campbell) Garland in her memorable film debut), who knew all about the evil-doings of her corrupt associates; he also met Mr. Halliday (William Ching), the company's main financial officer/comptroller, who asked what Phillips had called him about; Bigelow replied that he didn't know; Halliday also claimed he had no idea what the deceased company owner Phillips had wanted; Bigelow learned how Phillips had died the previous day - he had apparently suicidally lept off the balcony of his high-rise, six-story apartment
The Phillips Import-Export Company in Los Angeles

Bigelow Entering the Phillips Import-Export Company Office in Los Angeles

Phillips Company Secretary Miss Foster (Beverly Garland)

Phillips Company Comptroller Mr. Halliday (William Ching)
  • at her Sunset Arms apartment (#812) in LA, Bigelow rang the Phillips' doorbell [Note: Earlier, the name of the company was spelled Phillips. However, the nameplate on their residence was spelled with their last name as Philips, not Phillips. In the end credits, the names are also spelled with only one "L".] Stanley Phillips (Henry Hart), Eugene's younger brother, answered the door and introduced Bigelow to his sister-in-law
  • the widowed wife Mrs. Phillips (Lynn(e) Baggett) greeted Bigelow, and claimed she had no idea why Eugene had been calling him: ("I can't recall Eugene ever having mentioned your name"); when Bigelow asked further about why Eugene had killed himself, Mrs. Phillips ran from the room; Stanley was left to describe the circumstances; he told how Eugene was caught up in an unlikely "pretty bad jam" and faced prison due to a "crooked deal" - he had been arrested two days earlier (but then was released on bail) for selling a shipment of stolen iridium (a very costly and rare metal) to a "dealer by the name of Majak" [Note: The stolen iridium was now in the hands of a gangster; it was speculated that even though the very-innocent Phillips had claimed it was a false allegation, he feared the threat of imprisonment - the most obvious reason for his suicide]
  • once Bigelow checked into LA's Allison Hotel for the night, Paula was connected to him by phone with information she had found from six months prior in his own notarial ledger - Bigelow had notarized a bill of sale for a shipment of iridium from Phillips' company associate George Reynolds to Eugene Phillips
  • [Note: Phillips didn't know that he had been framed and the sale-deal of the illegal iridium six months earlier was a scam; Phillips' company associate George Reynolds had tricked Eugene into buying the stolen iridium, that was then secretly sold back to Reynolds' uncle-dealer - a gangster named Majak (Luther Adler). If the original bill of sale surfaced, it would show that Reynolds was the dealer-seller and would face criminal charges and a long and stiff prison term, not Eugene Phillips; Bigelow appeared to be involved in the case - because 6 months earlier, he had notarized the bill of sale of iridium from Reynolds to Eugene; thus, it appeared that Bigelow had been poisoned as part of a cover-up conspiracy.]
  • Bigelow rented a car for two days [Note: The rental form was dated July 18, 19 __ (not filled in)]; he returned to Mrs. Phillips' LA apartment, and although she was reluctant to speak to him, he blurted out that her husband Eugene had wanted to speak to him in regards to a bill of sale from 6 months earlier; she admitted that George Reynolds was the man that Eugene claimed had sold him the iridium; two months earlier, Eugene began to search for Reynolds to clear his name by locating the original bill of sale, to prove that the sale was "legitimate," but Reynolds had mysteriously disappeared - and so had the original bill of sale; George Reynolds (or someone else, revealed later!) had stolen or destroyed the bill of sale, and the people involved in the deal were being eliminated, to erase all evidence of the sale
  • [Dialogue -Bigelow: "Well then, if your husband could have shown proof, it would have been George Reynolds who would have faced the prison term"; Mrs. Phillips: "Eugene was convinced that Reynolds had stolen the bill of sale. He was the only one who had reason to eliminate evidence of the transaction"; as he was leaving, Bigelow suspiciously wondered about Mrs. Phillips: "You haven't asked how I knew there was a bill of sale"]
  • back in the Phillips Company office, Bigelow pressured secretary Mrs. Foster for information; he concluded to himself that Eugene hadn't committed suicide but had been murdered, while he was frantically trying to contact Bigelow and clear his name ("Phillips was innocent, innocent men don't have to jump out of windows"); Bigelow accused Mrs. Foster of trying to protect someone and wasn't being forthright; she then admitted that on the day of Eugene Phillips' suicide, he had met with someone that Mrs. Phillips knew nothing about - Marla Rakubian (Laurette Luez), a model and Eugene's ex-girlfriend
  • Bigelow located Marla in her apartment - and found her packing her bags for a first-class cruise to Buenos Aires; he suspected that she had been working with the "missing" Reynolds (or Majak), that Reynolds had murdered Eugene Phillips, and then went to SF "to get me because I knew about a certain bill of sale"; [Note: At this point, most of Bigelow's suspicions were wrong]; she claimed she wasn't "mixed up in anything," and confronted him with a gun, but he disarmed her; he acquired and took with him Marla's picture-portrait of Reynolds (signed "Ray")
  • at a photographic studio, he discovered from the photographer (Ivan Triesault) and his assistant Angelo (Phillip Pine) that George Reynolds' real name was Raymond Rakubian; as Bigelow returned to his parked rental car, he was shot at by a sniper from an undisclosed location; Bigelow retreated into a nearby abandoned warehouse, but could not locate the shooter; on the second floor of the warehouse, he found the sniper's nest at a window, with a discarded matchbook from "The Fisherman" - a hint that the sniper was the person who had poisoned his drink
  • that same evening after a return to the Phillips' Company office to briefly speak with Mr. Halliday, asking why he hadn't known about Eugene's bill-of-sale, Bigelow parked his car on the street near his hotel; as he entered his hotel room, he was kidnapped by three armed gangster-henchman sent by gangster Majak: Dave (Michael Ross), Joe, and the leader Chester (Neville Brand) - a giggling psychotic who kept spouting threatening words toward Bigelow: "If you so much look cross-eyed at anybody, I'll blow the back of your skull out....Don't get cute. I'm just itchin' to work you over! ...I'm gonna blow your guts out... " [Note: This was reminiscent of Richard Widmark's Tommy Udo from Kiss of Death (1947).]
  • Bigelow was seized and brought to gangster Majak's place, where Bigelow saw that Marla was Majak's mistress; as Bigelow had suspected, Majak identified himself as the dealer who had bought the stolen iridium from Phillips; Majak told how the Rakubians had duped Eugene into buying stolen goods after which Majak had bought them back; Bigelow concluded how Eugene was made a "sucker": "You have Rakubian [Reynolds] unload stolen stuff on Phillips, to help with Marla here, and then you buy it back from him"

In His Hotel Room, Bigelow Kidnapped by Gangster Majak's Three Thugs

Intimidating Henchman Leader Chester (Neville Brand)

Crazed Psychotic Chester to Bigelow: "Takes longer when you get it in the belly"
  • Majak told Bigelow that his nephew George Reynolds (aka Raymond Rakubian) had been dead for the past five months (he showed off Reynolds' urn of ashes) and therefore couldn't be connected to Eugene Phillips' murder-death
  • now that Bigelow was knowledgeable about Majak's nefarious and dirty dealings with the iridium: (Majak: "You know too much, and I am in danger"), the gangster ordered Bigelow to be eliminated by Chester; as Chester drove off with Bigelow, he boasted: "I done jobs like this before. I knocked off guys I could like. But I don't like you, Bigelow. I never liked that puss of yours from the minute I seen it. Yeah, I'm gonna enjoy this. Ain't scared yet, are you Bigelow? But you'll be scared, good and scared. I think I'll give it to you right in the belly. You don't like it in the belly.... Takes longer when you get it in the belly. Is nice and slow. That's the way I want to see you go, Bigelow. Nice and slow"
  • Bigelow escaped from the car by pushing down on the car's foot brake; Chester gave chase on the city's sidewalks and into a downstore store, the Imperial Drug Co. - a drug store (soda fountain) pharmacy, where he was shot dead by a policeman
  • by taxi, Bigelow returned to his rental car parked on the street near his LA hotel, where he went to retrieve his gun from the car's glove compartment; he encountered his awaiting girlfriend-fiancee Paula pacing in front of the hotel; she was worried about him, since SF homicide detectives were looking for him; he only confessed to her that Eugene Phillips had been murdered, and he feared he was also a target for having notarized a simple bill of sale: ("All I did was notarize a paper, one little paper out of hundreds"); she stressed her love for him and how she sensed he was in trouble: ("Somehow I feel I'm going to lose you, but there's nothing I can do about it"); he told her how he now loved her unconditionally ("More than I ever thought it possible to love anyone in the world, I love you"); he told her to wait for him in the lobby of the Allison Hotel; he kissed her and promised he would be back soon
  • next, Bigelow visited Miss Foster's apartment, and accused her and Stanley of working together - to sidetrack him and get him killed; at that moment, Mrs. Phillips' brother-in-law Stanley (who had also been poisoned) staggered from a backroom and holding his stomach; he produced an incriminating letter that Miss Foster had found in his brother Eugene's office desk, postmarked two years earlier; it provided the film's bombshell revelation -- the company controller Halliday and Eugene's "bereaved little widow" Mrs. Phillips had been involved in a two year affair (Stanley: "I'm sure my brother wasn't aware they were so well acquainted when he hired Halliday"); Stanley also explained how he had dinner at Mrs. Phillips apartment (with her and Halliday), where he confronted them with the letter; Bigelow ordered Miss Foster to call the hospital and prepare for an iridium poisoning patient

Bigelow Confronting Miss Foster in Her Apartment

Stanley Divulging Incriminating Letter to Bigelow About Halliday's Affair with Eugene's Wife

Bigelow Confronting Mrs. Phillips About Her Nefarious Affair with Halliday
  • it was clearly evident to Bigelow that just before he was murdered, Eugene had found out about his wife's illicit affair via the letter; he experienced a violent altercation with his wife's lover Halliday, when he was pushed off Mrs. Phillips' balcony to his death by Halliday; the theft of the iridium by Majak, and Eugene's legal problems were created as a diversion to cover up Halliday's machinations and his act of murder
  • Bigelow rushed off to confront Mrs. Phillips at her Sunset Arms apartment building; he surmised that George Reynolds couldn't have stolen the bill-of-sale, because he had been dead for 5 months, but she might have stolen it: ("You knew who I was when I came here today. But you were surprised to see me alive, weren't you? But I'm not alive, Mrs. Phillips. Sure, I can stand here and talk to you. I can breathe and I can move. But I'm not alive. Because I did take that poison, and nothing can save me")
  • he grabbed her neck and threatened to throw her off the balcony as a way to pressure her to talk; he listened as she put all the blame on her conspiratorial secret lover Halliday, who had made her steal the bill-of-sale, and had "planned everything" - including pushing Eugene to his death; in order to cover-up Eugene's murder and divert attention away, all evidence of the original sale of iridium six months earlier for Phillips' business was being systematically eliminated by the two of them; she claimed that anyone who was involved with or could prove that there was a bill of sale for the illegal substance was to be eliminated (Reynolds, Eugene, Stanley, and Bigelow); Mrs. Phillips confessed why Bigelow had been specifically targeted with the poison; the actual notarized bill of sale would completely exonerate Eugene, showing that he had no reason to kill himself: ("You could have proved there was a bill of sale. That my husband had no reason to commit suicide")
  • Bigelow had inadvertently become involved: "Halliday was desperate. After he killed my husband, he found out about the phone calls to you. He thought you spoke to him. That you knew enough to involve him"
  • after looking over her balcony, Bigelow saw Majak and his two remaining henchmen arriving in a vehicle to kill him (Majak had presumably found out about Chester's death); before leaving, Bigelow locked Mrs. Phillips in a closet to prevent her from warning Halliday; to evade the thugs, Bigelow ran down the street and boarded a public city bus; he smartly disembarked and stood next to a street-corner cop as a protective shelter
  • Bigelow then tracked Halliday back to the company's LA downtown office where he watched Halliday exit the office; he realized that Halliday was the one who had poisoned him in San Francisco, revealed by his scarf and coat's distinctive pattern; Bigelow was shot at multiple times on the stairway; during a crazed, gun-blasting face-off with the slick but ruthless murderer Halliday, Bigelow shot him dead
Bigelow's Deadly Shootout With Halliday On Stairway Outside Phillips' Downtown LA Office
  • the film's lengthy flashback ENDED (with a dissolve into a down-the-drain swirl) - Bigelow returned to the police station, where he finished describing how he had just solved his own murder case: ("All I did was notarize a bill of sale. But that piece of paper could have proven that Phillips didn't commit suicide. He was murdered. And that's why Halliday poisoned me") - Bigelow summarized that he was killed because he innocently notarized a bill of sale for the stolen iridium
  • after his last word - "Paula," Bigelow fell dead to the floor; the Captain ordered: "Call the morgue. Johnson, you go to the Allison Hotel and find Paula Gibson. Don't tell her anything. I'll break it to her"; a Deputy asked, in an equally famous closing exchange: "How shall I make out the report on him, Captain?"; the Captain responded: "Better make it 'Dead on Arrival'"
  • in a close-up, Bigelow's Missing Persons report from San Francisco was stamped: D.O.A., before the end credits

Bigelow in the LA Police Station: "I want to report a murder...I was (murdered)"

LA Homicide Division Police Captain (Roy Engel)

Late-Nite SF Nightclub "The Fisherman"

Bigelow with Club Bartender Leo (Peter Leeds)

Bigelow Distracted at Bar by Attractive Blonde Jeanie (Virginia Lee)

Man with Checkered Coat and Scarf in SF Nightclub - Swapped Out Bigelow's Drink On the Bar With a Poisoned One

The Devastating Toxology Report from Dr. Schaefer on Bigelow's Poisoning

Dr. MacDonald to Bigelow: "You've been murdered"

Phillips' Doorbell Nameplate in LA

Eugene's Widowed Wife Mrs. Phillips (Lynn(e) Baggett)

Eugene's Younger Brother Stanley Phillips (Henry Hart), Explaining to Bigelow the Most Likely Reason Eugene Had Killed Himself

Bigelow Signing in at the Allison Hotel in LA

Bigelow's 2nd Meeting with Mrs. Phillips in Her Apartment - Conversing About the Missing George Reynolds and "Bill of Sale"

Bigelow Forcing Mrs. Foster to Divulge Name and Address of Marla Rakubian

Confronting Marla Rakubian (Laurette Luez) About Her Relationship to George Reynolds

Marla with Gangster Majak (Luther Adler)

George Reynolds (aka Raymond Rakubian) Had Been Dead For Five Months

Chester Shooting at Escaped Bigelow in Drug Store

Chester Shot Dead by Policeman

Paula With Frank Outside the Allison Hotel in LA

On Her Balcony, Bigelow Threatening Mrs. Phillips To Divulge Everything

Majak and Two Thugs In Pursuit of Bigelow on a City Bus

Halliday Outside His LA Office With Distinctive Coat and Scarf

Bigelow: "All I did was notarize a bill of sale..."

Bigelow's Last Word: "Paula..." Before Collapsing Dead

The Captain Responded to Deputy: "Better make it 'Dead on Arrival'"

Missing Persons Report Stamped D.O.A.


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