D.O.A. is a wonderful example of a gimmick having nowhere to go. Edmond O’Brien is a small town accountant who decides to spend a week in San Francisco drinking and carousing (leaving girlfriend and secretary Pamela Britton back home). Out of the blue, he gets poisoned and has to solve his own murder.
His investigation takes him into a seedy underworld of illegitimate metal sales, maybe money laundering. It’s not a good mystery. It’s not a good solution. Russell Rouse and Clarence Greene’s script is mostly filler, which is a problem since the red herrings are weak and the actual reveal isn’t any better. It might even be worse.
In the lead, O’Brien is fine. He’s a bit of a jerk, but it’s Edmond O’Brien, he does oblivious jerk perfectly well. Though the script’s careful to make most of the people who he treats like jerks absolutely awful. He also muscles around at least two of the women in the picture, which is a little strange. Those muscling around parts take place indoors too, where pretty much every shot director Maté sets up is boring. The outside stuff, even when it’s just in the story and not filmed on location, is better. The indoor stuff is yawn inducing, probably because so much of it is just Rouse and Greene spinning their wheels for melodramatic purposes.
The film has a frame establishing the poisoned protagonist MacGuffin, which I hope wasn’t always part of the plan. If so, the dramatics the film puts O’Brien (and the viewer) through make very little sense.
The supporting cast is weak. Britton’s only sympathetic because O’Brien’s so awful to her. Luther Adler’s sort of amusing as the illicit metal dealer, though only sort of. Neville Brand’s disturbing as a gunsel. He’s not good, but he’s disturbing and effective.
Decent photography from Ernest Laszlo, good editing from Arthur H. Nagel. The film’s got some fine action suspense sequences, but they’re not enough to save it.
Dimitri Tiomkin’s score makes me understand why people don’t like his scores.
D.O.A. relies almost entirely on O’Brien’s appeal. He’s got a lot, but there are limits.
Directed by Rudolph Maté; director of photography, Ernest Laszlo; edited by Arthur H. Nadel; music by Dimitri Tiomkin; produced by Leo C. Popkin; released by United Artists.
Starring Edmond O’Brien (Frank Bigelow), Pamela Britton (Paula Gibson), Luther Adler (Majak), Beverly Garland (Miss Foster), Lynn Baggett (Mrs. Philips), William Ching (Halliday), Henry Hart (Stanley Philips) and Neville Brand (Chester).