Film Notes: D.O.A. (1950) directed by Rudolph Maté

USA / 83 minute/ bw / Cardinal Pictures, United Artists Dir: Rudolph Maté. Pro: Leo C. Popkin, Harry M. Popkin (executive), and Joseph H. Nadel (associate). Scr: Russell Rouse and Clarence Greene Cine: Ernest Lazlo Mus: Dimitri Tiomkin Cast: Edmond O’Brien (Frank Bigelow), Pamela Britton (Paula Gibson), Luther Adler (Majak), Beverly Campbell (Miss Foster), Lynn Baggett (Mrs. Philips), William Ching (Halliday), Henry Hart (Stanley Philips), Neville Brand (Chester), Laurette Luez (Marla Rakubian), Larry Dobkin (Dr. Schaefer), Frank Jaquet (Dr. Matson), Frank Gerstle (Dr. MacDonald).

Summary plot: In Los Angeles, Frank Bigelow enters a police station to report that he was poisoned the previous night in San Francisco and will soon die. Upon questioning by the police chief, Frank recounts the events that led him to this fateful moment: Two days earlier in Banning, California, Frank, a notary and tax consultant, bids farewell to his secretary and girl friend, Paula Gibson, departing for a short vacation to San Francisco. When Frank arrives at his hotel, Paula telephones to tell him that Eugene Philips, of Philips’ Import and Exporting Company, urgently needs to speak with him and refuses to leave a message. That evening Sam Haskell, a guest in the room opposite Frank’s, invites him to a party which eventually ends up at a bar on the Embarcadero. In the bar, Frank leaves his drink momentarily unattended and a shadowy figures replaces it with another without Frank’s knowledge. Frank drinks from the glass, noticing a strange taste, but nothing more. The next morning Frank feels vaguely ill and is eventually disturbed enough to go to a medical center for an examination. After several tests, the doctor informs Frank he has ingested a fatal amount of luminous toxic poison that will kill him in the next few days. (Read full summary at American Film Institute here) Release Date: 30 April 1950.

D.O.A., a film noir drama film directed by Rudolph Maté, is considered a classic of the genre. 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, causing it to fall into the public domain. The Internet Movie Database shows that 22 companies offer the VHS or DVD versions, and the Internet Archive offers an online version. (Source: Wikipedia)

Although it was only a B-movie, with second line performers and a low budget, D.O.A. (1950) still stacks up today as one of the truly classic films noir. The reason for its lasting appeal can be attributed to the way D.O.A. plumbs the extreme depths of the film noir aesthetic. To a certain extent we could say that it exposes the dark horror of this netherworld like almost no other film. D.O.A. was directed by Rudolph Maté, who had established himself over the years as a distinguished cinematographer and had worked behind the camera on three of Carl Dreyer’s classic, highly atmospheric films: Michael (1924), The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), and Vampyr (1932). The star of the film, Edmund O’Brien, was no stranger to the film noir genre, having appeared earlier in The Killers (1946) and White Heat (1949). For all their successes on other film sets, though, D.O.A. was definitely the high-water mark for the careers of both men. (Read full review at The Film Sufi here)

7 thoughts on “Film Notes: D.O.A. (1950) directed by Rudolph Maté”

    1. Rebecca, from AFI I read:
      “According to modern sources, the idea for D.O.A. ‘s unusual storyline was taken from a 1931 German film, Der Mann, Der Seinen Morder Sucht [The Man Who Seeks His Murderer], directed by Robert Siodmak. An Australian version of Russell Rouse and Clarence Green’s story, entitled Color Me Dead , was directed by Eddie Davis and released in 1969. That version, produced by Goldsworthy, starred Tom Tryon and Carolyn Jones. In 1988, a much-altered remake of D.O.A. was produced by Touchstone Pictures. That version retained the original title and was directed by Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel, and starred Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan.”

  1. “According to modern sources, the idea for D.O.A. ‘s unusual storyline was taken from a 1931 German film, Der Mann, Der Seinen Morder Sucht [The Man Who Seeks His Murderer], directed by Robert Siodmak.”

    The AFI is wrong about that. I’ve seen the Siodmak movie (or what’s left of it, which is, according to memory, something like 70%), and it’s not a DOA precursor. It’s a precursor, rather, of movies like The Whistler (1944), The Pretender (1947) and Five Days (1954).

    I haven’t seen Color Me Dead, but I’m told it’s good. The 1988 remake of the original was pretty disappointing: the makers “improved” on the original with, as almost always, deleterious results.

    Is wot I think.

  2. I wish it were available in just one really good DVD edition – the Image edition is probably the best. I do think the 80s remake is in many ways an improvement – that is now available on a very good looking and inexpensive all-region Blu-ray in the US.

    1. Sergio, this is always the problem when a film falls into public domain, it kills all the incentives for investing money in a really good DVD edition.

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