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Film / D.O.A.

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Frank Bigelow: I'd like to report a murder.
Police Captain: Sit down. Where was this murder committed?
Frank Bigelow: San Francisco, last night.
Police Captain: Who was murdered?
Frank Bigelow: I was.

D.O.A., or Dead on Arrival, is a 1949 Film Noir drama directed by Rudolph Maté, starring Edmond O'Brien and Pamela Britton.

The film centers around a man named Frank Bigelow (O'Brien), who must frantically try to find out who slipped him an incurably fatal dose of a rare poison — and why. The plot speeds along as Frank recounts his past events to the police to get help.

Due to a filing error the copyright to the film was not renewed on time, causing it to fall into the Public Domain, and as such it can be downloaded here, courtesy of the Internet Archive.

A very, very loose remake starring Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan was released in 1988. The 2006 film Crank has a similar plot.

If you're looking for the fighting game, see Dead or Alive.


This film provides examples of:

  • Ax-Crazy: Chester enjoys hurting people. He especially relishes the gutshot, since it kills people nice...and slow.
  • Badass Bystander: A drugstore clerk disarms Chester and allows the police to take him out.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The hero dies, but he at least manages to expose the villains whose plot led to his death.
  • Chained Heat: In the remake only.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Frank's ability to finish a drink quickly is shown early in the film and it becomes important later. This ability turns out to be his undoing, when he quickly downs almost all of the poisoned drink before realizing he is drinking out of the wrong glass.
  • Dead Man Walking: The Ur-Example.
  • Disturbed Doves: In the empty warehouse when Frank pursues the sniper.
  • Driving a Desk: Happens a few times when Frank is in L.A. but not particularly egregious examples for the era.
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  • Doomed Protagonist: There's no cure...
  • Endless Corridor: In the innovative opening sequence.
  • Femme Fatale: Ms. Philips. An affair with her led Halliday to kill her husband, and the ensuing cover story they came up with led to the death of Bigelow and possibly Philips' brother too.
  • Film Noir: One of the Trope Codifiers.
  • Foregone Conclusion: "Who was murdered?" "I was."
  • Framing Story: The film begins and ends with How We Got Here at the police station.
  • Gayngster: Majak, possibly. The way he says "please, my boy", while smoothing over Chester's hair...
  • Giggling Villain: Chester.
  • Going by the Matchbook: Frank finds a matchbook from The Fisherman club that the assassin who tried to shoot him dropped, confirming that it was indeed the same man who poisoned him.
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Paula.
  • Have a Gay Old Time:
    Chester: I never liked that puss of yours from the minute I seen it.
  • He Knows Too Much: Why Frank was killed. In reality, he knew nothing.
  • He's Dead, Jim: Played straight as an an arrow in the final scene.
  • How We Got Here: The framing structure of the movie.
  • Karma Houdini: Majak and Marla Rakubian
  • The Oner: The movie famously opens with a two minute shot of Frank slowly marching into a police station and through the corridors to the detective's office.
  • Perfect Poison: The "luminous toxin".
  • The Reveal: As admitted by Mrs. Phillips:
    Mrs. Phillips: My husband had no reason to commit suicide. 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.
  • Safety in Muggles: Subverted when Chester chases Frank into a drugstore. At first, it seems he won't make a scene, but it isn't long before he opens fire and scares all the patrons away. Later played straight when Majak reluctantly leaves Frank along because there are two policemen nearby.
  • Say My Name: "Would you... Paula". Frank's final utterance before dying at the end.
  • Shown Their Work: In the end credits—before the actors' names are listed—a title card informs us that the poison described is totally a real thing (irradiated iridium), and that "luminous poison" is an actual medical term.
  • Slasher Smile: Chester.
  • Slipping a Mickey: How Frank is being poisoned.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Surprisingly enough given its grim plot, this film has a (relatively) lighthearted score by Dimitri Tiomkin. Certainly more so than any other film noir.
  • Standard Female Grab Area: Used by Bigelow to great effect while interrogating Phillips' secretary.
  • Title Drop: "Mark his file... as DOA."
  • Treachery Cover Up: Frank was killed to Leave No Witnesses who could prove Mr. Phillips didn't commit suicide and was murdered.
  • Wacky Sound Effect: In one of the film's odder touches, a cartoonish slide whistle plays as Frank ogles the attractive female guests while checking into the San Francisco hotel. It was done to lighten the mood of a very crushingly depressing movie.
  • White Collar Worker: Frank was an accountant.
  • Who Dunnit To Me: Pretty much the Trope Codifier.

Alternative Title(s): Dead On Arrival


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