Follow TV Tropes


Film / D.O.A.

Go To

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 frantically tries to find out who slipped him an incurably fatal dose of a rare poison—and why. The plot speeds along as Frank recounts his activities over the past few days to the police.

Due to a filing error that prevented the film's copyright from being renewed in time, it is in the Public Domain, and as such it can be downloaded here, courtesy of the Internet Archive.

Remade in Australia in 1969 as Color Me Dead with the original writers on board. Watch it here. A very, very loose remake, starring Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan, was released in 1988; this is the remake referred to below unless otherwise stated. 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:

  • A Deadly Affair: Played with in the remake. The police and Professor Cornell all assume that Nick Lang & Professor Cornell's wife's murders must be related to the affair that Nick and Cornell's wife were having. The various suspects include Cornell (furious at being cuckolded by his own student), Nick's adoptive sister (in love with Nick) or Nick's adoptive mother (initially implied to be in love with Nick). It actually turns out that the affair is completely unrelated to the murders.
  • Artistic License – Chemistry: In the remake, the doctors state the poison to be Radium Chloride. Although Radium Chloride does have a slighy luminous glow to it, it doesn't have the intense bright green luminous glow that is shown at the end of the film in Professor Cornell's mug.
  • Ax-Crazy: Chester enjoys hurting people. He especially relishes the gut shot, 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.
  • But for Me, It Was Tuesday: Invoked by Frank in that he had notarized so many documents, he never would have put together how one was connected to a "suicide".
    Frank: All I did was notarize one little paper! One little paper out of hundreds!
  • 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.
  • Disposable Woman: Cookie in the remake.
  • Disney Villain Death: Hal in the remake, Hal's blasted through a window by Dexter's gun. He even gets in a Pre-Mortem One-Liner.
  • 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.
  • Doomed Protagonist: There's no cure...
  • Endless Corridor: In the innovative opening sequence.
  • Evil Brit: Bernard, the chauffeur in the 1988 remake.
  • Evil Has Standards: Bernard is visibly upset when he unintentionally kills Cookie Fitzwaring in the remake.
  • 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.
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: Subverted: When Bigelow first meets Halliday in Los Angeles and questions him about Phillips, Halliday says, "I'm sorry you had to make the trip for nothing." Bigelow immediately asks how Halliday knew he made a trip at all, saying that he never mentioned he was from out of town. Then Halliday summons his secretary and has her recount that she told him about Phillips calling Bigelow's office in Banning but that he was on vacation in San Francisco at the time.
  • Karma Houdini: Majak and Marla Rakubian
  • Living on Borrowed Time: The movie's premise is that Frank Bigelow is telling the story to the police while he knows he doesn't have long to live, since he ingested a lethal dose of poison with no antidote.
  • 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: Downplayed by the "luminous toxin". There is no antidote, so it is always deadly if the victim's body has absorbed a fatal dose. But it can be cured if the victim's stomach is cleaned out soon after ingesting the poison, and even a large dose will not kill immediately and causes the victim to have uncomfortable symptoms, as seen when Phillip's brother is poisoned. Bigelow notices immediately that something is wrong with his drink, but he takes two sips anyway before asking the bartender for another, and it's unclear if he tastes the poison or if he is just aware that it isn't the bourbon he asked for.
  • 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.
  • Revealing Cover Up: As Frank notes, had they just left him alone, he never would have connected the murder to a document he notarized but his poisoning exposed it.
  • 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.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: In the remake, the entire murder spree was solely in order for Hal to commit plagiarism, and pass off Nick Lang's unpubished novel as his own. When Cornell realises that this is why the murders have been committed, he begins laughing in shock at Hal, and does the same at the end of the film when talking to the police.
    Professor Cornell: Just somebody's homework. That was all.
    • Cornell's murder is even more of an example of this, given that of all the people who were murdered for having read Lang's manuscript, he was the only one who had not read it, and nor did he intend to - he gives the manuscript an A grade without opening it
  • 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.
  • Third-Person Person: Chester has a tendency to refer to himself this way.
  • Title Drop: "Mark his file... as DOA."
  • Trapped in a Sinking Car: Taken to a whole new level in the remake with the car in question sinking into a tar pit.
  • 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.
  • Whodunnit to Me?: Pretty much the Trope Codifier.
  • Your Days Are Numbered: Frank is told this by two different doctors after going in for testing. He understandably does not take the news well.

Alternative Title(s): Dead On Arrival