D.O.A. Cardinal Pictures 1950.
D.O.A. Cardinal Pictures 1950.

Before watching the movie:

How often can a murder victim solve their own murder (aside from ghost stories)? The idea doesn’t seem quite as unusual as it’s hyped up to be for this film, but probably more of that is from 60+ years of speculative fiction covering the territory than from promotional overhyping.

Doctors tell the man there’s no antidote for the poison he took, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the investigation into the crime leads him to one. I’ll be interested in seeing how the film handles the process of his dying. I picture a poisoning victim as someone too ill to run around town questioning people.

After watching the movie:

Frank Bigelow walks into a police station and announces that he’d like to report a murder: his own. Two days previous, he decided to take a vacation from his Accountancy firm, to the distress of his secretary/girlfriend Pamela. He arrives in San Francisco on the last night of “Market Week”, a salesmen’s convention, and is swept into their party. At a bar, he gets an odd-tasting drink, and feels ill the next morning. Two different hospitals tell him that he’s ingested a lethal dose of “luminous poison”, and has a day to a week to live. His doctors suspect foul play, and his only clue to find out who murdered him is that a man who urgently tried to contact him the previous day committed suicide.

Overall, I found O’Brien’s performance engaging. He plays it with the intensity of a man who’s got nothing to lose and no time for niceties. There are some times when he seems healthier than he ought to, but it’s probably a narrative convention. He plays pained and weary quite often, and rather convincingly. I don’t think anybody else has nearly enough time in the movie to qualify as a major player, so he has to carry the entire movie on his shoulders, and he does it well.

“Luminous poison” seems like a purely fictional device. If he’d had more he would already be dead, but he had a smaller dose so he has enough time to figure out who did it, but not enough time to be cured; the name is vague and irrelevant (why should it matter that the poison glows in the dark, except to link it in the audience’s minds to magical atomic energy?); and the symptoms are light until they suddenly tear him apart in the end. However, there’s a note before the credits that the medical science is completely accurate, and “luminous toxin is a descriptive term for an actual poison.” I find that claim dubious, but at least it indicates that the name itself actually isn’t a name, and they’re withholding it likely for purposes of public safety and narrative license.

While the story was engaging, it wasn’t engaging enough to keep my mind off the fact that Bigelow refuses to tell anybody (except people who already know) about his poisoning. There’s really no reason for him not to tell Pamela except to keep from alarming her, and it seems like admitting that he’s dying might open more doors for him. He also doesn’t go to the police until he’s cracked the case on his own. I’m not sure if that counts as one or two common narrative pitfalls. If he got the police involved, it wouldn’t be the story they wanted to tell, so he doesn’t. Writers should be better than that, but they usually aren’t.


Watch this movie: for a strong performance from an unlikely perspective.

Don’t watch this movie: for good logic in anything but the core mystery.

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