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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.

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:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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