D.O.A. (1950) Classic Movie Review 48

D.O.A. (1950)

D.O.A. (1950)

I don't think you fully understand, Bigelow. You've been murdered.

D.O.A. (1950) is a classic fast paced film noir with razor sharp dialog. The guys are tough and gals are beautiful. This movie will keep you guessing until the end.

D.O.A. (1950) Rough Script

Welcome to today’s show, my name is John. As always you can subscribe to the show on iTunes or follows the links to social media in the podcast show notes. You can also go to classicmovierev.com to read notes, bios, and other random movie thoughts.

D.O.A. (1950) poster

D.O.A. (1950) poster

Today’s movie is D.O.A., not doa (1950). You have to put the periods in your search or you’ll get something else. This is a great film noir classic that is told in flashback format. It has lots of tough guys like Edmond O’Brian and Neville Brand.

Edmond O’Brien plays the lead as Frank Bigelow accountant and notary. He was covered in Episode 30 – Birdman of Alcatraz (1962).

Pamela Britton played the role of Pula Gibson. Britton was born into an acting family. While in college Britton acted in school plays. She had been doing stock since she was 9 and had been offered a chance to be the next Shirley Temple but her mother protected her from the business at such a young age. At the age of 15, she began going around Broadway with her mother. This lead to her being hired as a singer. Next, she got on understudy in a Broadway production of Oklahoma. When an MGM exec say her she was hired for movies. Her first film was Anchors Aweigh (1945) where she played Frank Sinatra’s girlfriend. She was happy with the roles so she returned to Broadway.

Britton had a few movie roles in D.O.A. (1950), Key to the City (1950), If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium (1969), and Suppose They Gave a War and Nobody Came? (1970). However, Britton is perhaps best known for her role on the television show My Favorite Martian 1963-1966 where she played the snooping landlady. Britton died suddenly of a brain tumor in 1974.

Luther Adler played gangster boss Majak. Adler was born in 1903 in New York City. I’m seeing a trend! His father was considered to be the biggest Yiddish-Language star. Since his father owned a theater Luther started acting at the age of 5. He officially debuted at 13 and was on Broadway by 18. Luther continued to work on Broadway until the 1920s. In 1931, he became a founding member of the Group Theater acting company. Other members included Lee Strasberg, Elia Kazan, John Garfield, Will Geer, and Lee J. Cobb. This leftist group kept him busy through the 30s.

Luther first movie was Lancer Sky (1937) and he made many movies over the years with some of them being quite good. However, he was always considered a stage actor and director. Some of his more memorable films include D.O.A. (1950), M (1951), The Desert Fox: The Story of Rommel where with great irony he played Hitler, The Last Angry Man (1959), The Man in the Glass Booth (1974), and Absence of Malice (1981). Luther Adler died in 1984 at the age of 81.

Beverly Garland was cast in the role of Miss Foster. D.O.A. (1950) was her first film role. Garland had over 190 roles. These roles included movies such as Chicago Confidential (1957) and The Alligator People (1959) most of her roles were television. She died in 2008 at the age of 82.

Lynn Baggett played Mrs. Philips. She tall, beautiful, and had dark red hair. While on a visit to Dallas she was spotted by a Warner Brothers agent, She spent the next five years play unbilled sexy background parts. In 1941, she began a nice run with Manpower (1941), Air Force (1943), The Adventures of Mark Twain (1944), Roughly Speaking (1945), Mildred Pierce (1945) and Night and Day (1946). She was released from her contract in 1946 and signed with Universal. Her best role was in The Time of Their Lives (1946), a very good Abbott and Costello horror comedy. After marrying producer Sam Spiegel she took fewer roles such as D.O.A. (1950), The Flame and the Arrow (1950), and The Mob (1951).

Her bad marriage broke up in 1952. In 1954, she was convicted of the felony hit and run. In 1959, she failed tom make a comeback and tried to kill herself. The next year, 1960, she did kill herself with pills.

William Ching was cast in the role of Halliday. Ching was born in St. Louis in 1913. He was trained as a singer and was making money singing until he joined the Coast Guard during WWII. Following the war, he began signing on the radio in San Francisco. They changed his last name to Brooks to sound more American.

Ching did a lot of uncredited film work following the war. In late 1947 Ching went to the stage in New York. This lead to roles in 50s such as D.O.A. (1950), In a Lonely Place (1950), The Showdown (1950), Surrender (1950), Belle Le Grand (1951), Oh! Susanna (1951), The Sea Hornet (1951), and The Wild Blue Yonder (1951).

In 1952, he finally took the musical role he had been avoiding with Bal Tabarin (1952). Following this film, Republic dropped him from his contract. He was in another musical Give a Girl a Break (1953). His best known and performed role may be in Pat and Mike (1952) where he played along with Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn, and Aldo Ray.

At this time Ching switched to television and he did quite well. His final films were My World Dies Screaming (1958) and Escort West (1958). He retired from acting in 1959 and made a good living in real estate until his death in 1989.

Neville Brand played the psychotic killer Chester. He was covered in Episode 30 – Birdman of Alcatraz (1962).


This movie is super complicated. If you turn away for a second you will miss a main point of the plot. There are two love affairs, one good and one bad, two love triangles that intersect which I think makes them a bow tie, and two unrelated but inexorably linked crimes.

The movie begins with a behind-the-back tracking shot of Frank Bigelow (Edmond O’Brien) walking through a police station. More than one review has called this one of the most impressive opening sequence in film.[i] When Bigelow gets to the detectives he tells them he wants to report a murder. When asked who the victim is he reveals that it is him. The detectives seem to take it all in stride and sit back to listen to his story.

The flashback begins in Bigelow’s accounting office in Banning, California. Banning is located to the west of Los Angles. Bigelow is explaining to his personal secretary and girlfriend Paula Gibson (Pamela Britton) that he is going to San Francisco for a week vacation and he doesn’t want her to come along. Apparently in 1950 that didn’t set off any alarm bells. But let’s suffice it to say she ain’t happy about the vacation. I felt sorry for the character of Paula because she was reduced to begging.

Bigelow gets to his hotel in SanFran, checks in with a phone call, and immediately hooks up with a group of salesmen that are out for a good time. The wife of one of the salesmen takes a liking to Bigelow and gets a little pawey. The head out to a hoping beat nightclub named “The Fisherman.” The band is whaling and the crowd is very into it. It is a scene that should be seen by everyone. The salesman’s wife is practically trying to undress Bigelow so he skips to the bar where he orders another drink. Bigelow gets distracted eyeing a blonde jiver at the other end of the bar. About that time a shadowy figure with a checkered coat switches his drink. Bigelow takes the wrong drink to the end of the bar where the blonde is located. He notes that it tastes funny but he drinks it anyway.

Bigelow hits it off with the blonde and gets her number for later as he is in a hurry to get away from the salesman and his wife. When he gets back to the hotel there are flowers from Paula with a note that says nothing you could do would disappoint me. He tears up the number and goes to bed.

In the morning he doesn’t feel well. Normally it’s the whiskey but not this time. He goes to see a doctor, something that would be nearly impossible now when visiting a strange town. Most times you can’t even get an appointment the same day in your hometown. The doctor runs some tests on him and determines that he is very healthy until his lab work comes in. A second doctor tells him he has ingested a “luminous toxin” and has a day to two weeks to live and there is nothing that can be done.

Of course Bigelow freaks and hurries to another doctor’s office. When he tells the problem he is admitted. The doctor returns with a sample in a test tube and confirms that he has less than a week to live. Bigelow is still in the denial phase so the doctor turns the lights off and the stuff in the tube glows. This is one of the truly frightening parts of the movie. Now I don’t know if that was a blood sample or a urine sample and I’m not sure which would be worse. Bigelow does connect the poisoning with the funny tasting drink.

In what I’m sure you’re not supposed to do if you poisoned Bigelow runs across SanFran to “The Fisherman” club and to the hotel looking for the salesmen that have already left town. Up and down Lombard Street, to the ocean, and back to Fisherman’s Wharf. No luck.

Back in his room, Bigelow receives a call from good old Paula. She says a man named Eugene Phillips has been calling for several days. Bigelow can’t remember the man and Paula tells Bigelow that the man is now dead. Bigelow tells Paula that he is heading to LA and jumps a plane.

In Los Angles Bigelow heads to the import-export office of Eugene Phillips. At the office, he meets cagey secretary Miss Foster (Beverly Garland) and finally he meets Mr. Halliday (William Ching), who is the comptroller for the company. When Bigelow asked how Phillips died he is told by Halliday that it was suicide.

Bigelow and Halliday have harsh words and Bigelow heads to the widow’s apartment. When he arrives he meets Mrs. Phillips (Lynn Baggett) and her brother-in-law Stanley (Henry Hart). Of the four people he has met in LA all say they don’t know why Phillips wanted to contact him. He asked why Phillips killed himself and the widow runs off crying.

Stanley walks out with Bigelow and starts volunteering information. He says his brother was arrested two days prior for selling stolen iridium to a man by the name of Majak. When Bigelow checks into his hotel Paula gets him on the phone. He starts throwing lovelies at Paula.

Paula tells him that she found a reference when Bigelow notarized a bill of sales from George Reynolds to Eugene Phillips for a shipment of iridium. Ah ha.

Bigelow rents a nice convertible and heads back to see Mrs. Phillips. She plays the dutiful wife and tells that George could not find the bill of sales and it must have been stolen by Reynolds. Bigelow goes to the import-export office and roughs up Miss Foster. He tells her Phillips was murdered and twists her arm, literally until she tells him that Phillips was involved with Marla Rakubian (Laurette Luez). He basically accuses Miss. Foster and Stanley of the murder.

Bigelow heads to Marla’s apartment and breaks in and starts strong-arming her. She is packing for a trip and he pulls a photo out of her suitcase and claims it is George Reynolds. She pulls a gun on him but he overpowers her and leaves with the gun and the picture. The picture is signed by Ray.

Bigelow takes the picture to the studio where it was shot. Yes, that’s right everyone didn’t have a camera on their phone. For $20 bucks they give out the address and name and the name is Ray Rakubian. He realizes he has been duped by Marla. When he goes outside someone opens fire on him. They have a little gun battle but the shooter gets away.

Bigelow heads back to the import-export office and meets Halliday. He tells Halliday that the person in the picture is Ray Rakubian and George Reynolds. When he asked Halliday why he didn’t know about the bill of sales Halliday gets mad and ushers Bigelow out.

Bigelow goes back to his hotel and three gangsters are waiting for him. The head gangster Chester (Neville Brand) really roughs him up. Paula calls and he gives her the I Love You thinking he is going to die. The gangster before they take him to the house of Majak (Luther Adler) and Marla is there as well.

Majak explains that Ray Rakubian is his nephew and has been dead five months. He even shows the urn of ashes. Majak says he has to kill him because he knows too much. He orders Chester to take him and kill him. Chester talks all psychotic on the drive. Bigelow stomps the brakes and escapes into a drug store. When the shooting starts a cop comes in and kills Chester while Bigelow slips out.

When Bigelow makes it back to his hotel Paula is waiting there like a faithful dog. She said the homicide detectives are looking for him. He leaves her at the hotel and heads to see Miss. Foster thinking her and Stanley are the killers. He holds the gun on her and Stanley staggers out of the back room. Stanley shows him a letter revealing a love affair between Halliday and Mrs. Phillips. Stanley had previously confronted the pair of lovers. Bigelow realizes that Stanley has been given “luminous poison.”

Bigelow goes to Mrs. Phillips apartment and when he threatens her she throws Halliday under the bus. She says after Phillips confronted them about the affair Halliday threw Phillips off the balcony and he wanted Bigelow dead because Phillips may have talked to him.

Majak and some gangster show up. Bigelow escapes on a bus and the gangster follow. He is able to get away because he jumps off at a stop with a policeman. Bigelow goes back to the import-export company and he is wearing the same coat he wore at “The Fisherman” club when he poisoned Bigelow. They have a gun battle and Halliday dies.

The flashback ends and Bigelow is in the detective’s office. He finishes his story and dies with his last word being Paula. The chief detective says to mark the file D.O.A. The file is stamped and the movie ends.

World-Famous Short Summary – Boyfriend reforms after short trip

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Beware the moors

[i] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/D.O.A._(1950_film)

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