Mild-mannered accountant, Frank Bigelow, is poisoned and with only days to live starts a frantic search for HIS killer!
DOA is a taut thriller with a bravura performance from Edmond O’Brien as Frank Bigelow. From the Cardinal Pictures factory and directed by Rudolph Maté, this movie packs so much in 83 minutes. It starts off slow, but once the action shifts from a sleepy rural burg to San Francisco and LA, the pace is frenetic. The streets of these cities are filmed in deep focus, and there is a sense of immediacy in every scene.
Expressionist lighting accents the hysteria and panic as Bigelow desperately races against time to track down his killer. With a pot-boiler plot and a terrific hard-edged portrayal from O’Brien, this is not only a gritty on-the-streets in-your-face melodrama, but a nuanced film noir where a random innocent act is a decent man’s un-doing.
The camera is used with abandon to visualise the traumatic whirlwind that Bigelow has been thrown into.
An early scene in a bar just before Bigelow is poisoned, has the hottest period live jive music that I have seen on film. The music and the editing meld the drama of the story with the out-of-this world music from the black players for a total immersion into the wild soul of jazz. You need Jack Kerouac to even come close to describing the feelings evoked. A classic must-see adrenalin-fuelled film noir!
The saxophanist in this clip from DOA is James E. Streeter, a native of Wichita Kansas, who got his start playing tenor sax in Lloyd Hunter’s territory band. Bandleader Johnny Otis took Streeter to Los Angeles in 1944. Enamored of director-actor Erich von Stroheim, Streeter billed himself as Von Streeter or James Von Streeter. In the late 1940s and early ’50s, he recorded for several labels, including Coral, as Von Streeter & His Wig Poppers, playing wild, honking R&B, and several members of this group accompanied him when he appeared as a wild, sweaty sax maniac in a key nightclub scene of the original D.O.A. (1950). However, for the soundtrack the producer overdubbed another band altogether, led by saxophonist Maxwell Davis, who would later be influential as a Los Angeles A&R man during the early rock ‘n’ roll era. Streeter’s career was derailed by heroin addiction, which eventually killed him in 1960. Source for bio of James E. Streeter: IMDB