Saturday, December 7, 2013
After a night of drinking while on vacation in San Francisco, accountant Frank Bigelow (Edmond O'Brien) awakens not feeling too well. He goes to a doctor and learns he's been poisoned, most likely slipped into one of his drinks the night before, and by now, it's already too late; Bigelow will die. With only a couple of days left at most, he sets out to find who has murdered him and why.
The beginning of D.O.A. opens with a lot of promise as Bigelow (whose face we can't see yet) walks down long, massive hallways, his back to the camera, and the film generates a sense of unease and anticipation in this wordless sequence. Then, he reaches the homicide division of the police station, and we finally see his haggard, tired face when he says it's his own murder he's reporting, and then the story proper begins. It's an effective, attention-grabbing opening that tells us we're not going on a happy, carefree journey but rather something all together nefarious and darker. Literally, we're watching a man march to his death.
Outside of the opening sequence and a few other scenes (notably the shootout in the empty plant and the showdown between Bigelow and the film's main villain), the direction is flat and not particularly inspired. I imagine someone like Orson Welles, Billy Wilder, or Howard Hawks using this setup for a visually striking, atmospheric tapestry, but here, it's mostly entrances and exits and nothing especially stylish that makes you stand up and take notice. What's worse, in a movie just 83 minutes long, it takes nearly thirty minutes to get Bigelow discovering he's been poisoned; that's just way too long.