Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

D.O.A. (1949/1950)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

D.O.A. (1949/1950)

In Rudolph Maté's nihilistic, classic film noir detective story (also noted as 1949) that was remade as Color Me Dead (1969) and as D.O.A. (1988), starring Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan in a completely-revised story:

  • in the famous unexpected opening, 33 year-old income tax accountant/notary public Frank Bigelow (Edmond O'Brien) from Banning, CA, filmed from behind, entered the Homicide Division of a Los Angeles police station to report a murder: ("I want to report a murder") - he was speaking almost from beyond the grave; the doomed Bigelow gave a classic reply when asked who was murdered by the Police Captain (Roy Engel) - he said: "I was"; to Frank's surprise, the Captain had already been alerted about Bigelow with an APB (All-Points Bulletin Missing Persons Report) from Inspector Bannet in the Homicide Division in San Francisco
  • the film reverted in flashback to two days earlier - Bigelow was working as an accountant and notary public in his hometown of Banning, CA, with his blonde secretary Paula Gibson (Pamela Britton)
  • she was interested in a serious relationship with him, although he kept putting her off (until the film's conclusion when it was too late); when she had asked to accompany him to San Francisco for a one-week vacation - she realized she was crowding him: "You'll take me with you, won't you? You will, won't you, or am I crowding you?...Maybe you do need this week away alone? Maybe we both do. I know what's going on inside of you, Frank. You're just like any other man, only a little more so. You have a feeling of being trapped. Hemmed in, and you don't know whether or not you like it"; he rationalized his refusal to get serious: "I don't want you to get hurt, darling. More than anything in the world, I don't want you to get hurt"
  • Bigelow arrived for his one-week vacation in a hotel in San Francisco, where he was invited by another hotel guest, salesman Sam Haskell (Jess Kirkpatrick), to join him for a night of carousing in a jazz or "jive" night-club ("The Fisherman") on the Embarcadero
  • the next day, Bigelow visited a doctor's office where he complained of a "bellyache" - a subsequent toxology report was even more shocking: "Our tests reveal a presence in your body of a luminous toxic matter... A poison that attacks the vital organs...Your system has already absorbed sufficient toxin to prove fatal. I wish there was something that we could do...There is nothing anyone can do. This is one of the few poisons of its type for which there is no antidote"
  • Bigelow surmised that he had been fatally poisoned via radiation by iridium (with a lethal dose of a glow-in-the-dark "luminous toxin"), when he didn't notice that his drink in The Fisherman had been swapped and doctored; Bigelow was told that he was already "dead" and that he had maybe a day or a week or two to live
  • relayed by a phone call from Paula, Bigelow was notified about an urgent phone call that she had received (during his first two days' absence) from owner Eugene Phillips of the Los Angeles-based Phillips Importing and Exporting Company; soon after the attempted contact with Bigelow, Phillips had suspiciously committed suicide - apparently by leaping off the balcony of his high-rise, six-story apartment
  • to investigate further, Bigelow traveled to Phillips' company office in Los Angeles, where he met feisty Miss Foster (Beverly (Campbell) Garland in her memorable film debut), the Phillips Company secretary, who knew all about the evil-doings of her corrupt associates; he also met Mr. Halliday (William Ching), the company's main financial officer/comptroller
  • two days earlier, Phillips seemed to have been in "a pretty bad jam" and faced prison - he had been arrested (but then released on bail) for selling a shipment of stolen iridium (a costly rare metal), even though the very-innocent Phillips claimed it was a false allegation; he didn't know that he had been framed and the deal was actually made six months earlier in Palm Springs, CA by company associate George Reynolds (an alias for Raymond Rakubian) to his uncle-dealer - a gangster named Majak (Luther Adler); Reynolds had since disappeared
  • if the original bill of sale surfaced, it would show that Reynolds was the dealer-seller and would face a long and stiff prison term, not Phillips. The critical bill of sale could prove that the authorized transaction (with a bill of sale) was not made by Phillips at all - and was not the motive for his 'suicide.' However, it appeared that Reynolds (or someone else, revealed later!) had stolen or destroyed the bill of sale, and people involved were being eliminated, to erase all evidence of the sale
  • Bigelow was involved in the case - because 6 months earlier, he had notarized the bill of sale of iridium from Reynolds to Majak; thus, he was poisoned as part of a cover-up conspiracy
Gangster Henchman Chester (Neville Brand)
  • while kidnapping Bigelow, Majak's gangster-henchman Chester (Neville Brand), a giggling psychotic, spouted threatening words toward him: "Don't get cute. I'm just itchin' to work you over!...I'm gonna blow your guts out... " [Note: This was reminiscent of Richard Widmark's Tommy Udo from Kiss of Death (1947).]
  • as Chester drove off with Bigelow to Majak's place, he boasted: "I done jobs like this before. I knocked off guys I could like. But I don't like you, Bigelow. I never liked that puss of yours from the minute I seen it. Yeah, I'm gonna enjoy this...I think I'll give it to you right in the belly. Takes longer when you get it in the belly. It's nice and slow. That's the way I want to see you go, Bigelow. Nice and slow" - Bigelow was told that George Reynolds had been dead for the past five months, and now that Bigelow was tangentially connected to Majak's nefarious dealings, he had to be eliminated
  • while being driven away by Chester, Bigelow escaped from the car and Chester gave chase, but was shot dead by a policeman in a drug store pharmacy
  • the film's bombshell revelation was that Halliday and Eugene's wife Mrs. Phillips (Lynn Baggett) had been involved in a two year affair. During dinner with Halliday, Mrs. Phillips, and her brother-in-law Stanley, the latter confronted them with an incriminating letter, and soon after turned up poisoned (with only a few days to live). Soon after Eugene had found out about his wife's illicit affair, he had been pushed off the balcony to his death by Halliday. The theft of the iridium by Majak was created as a diversion to cover up their act of murder by Halliday
  • widowed Mrs. Phillips and her conspiratorial secret lover Halliday faced a possible murder conviction of plotting to kill Eugene; in order to cover-up the murder and divert attention, all evidence of the sale of iridium six months earlier for Phillips' business was being systematically eliminated by the two of them, to draw attention there. Mrs. Phillips admitted to stealing the bill of sale herself, and claimed that anyone else who was involved with or could prove that there was a bill of sale for the illegal substance was to be eliminated
  • Mrs. Phillips confessed everything to Bigelow about why he had been targeted with the poison (administered by Halliday in SF) - he had inadvertently become involved: "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"
  • as he left his downtown LA office, Bigelow was shot multiple times on the stairway - during a crazed, gun-blasting face-off with slick but ruthless murderer Mr. Halliday; Bigelow shot him dead
  • Bigelow returned to the police station, after the film's lengthy flashback, where Bigelow finished describing how he had just solved his own murder case: ("All I did was notarize a bill of sale. But that piece of paper could have proven that Phillips didn't commit suicide. He was murdered. And that's why Halliday poisoned me") - Bigelow summarized that he was killed because he innocently notarized a bill of sale for the stolen iridium
  • after Bigelow fell dead to the floor and the Deputy asked, in an equally famous closing exchange: "How shall I make out the report on him, Captain?"; the Captain responded: "Better make it 'Dead on Arrival'"
  • in a close-up, Bigelow's Missing Persons report from San Francisco was stamped: D.O.A., before the end credits

Bigelow: "I want to report a murder...I was (murdered)"

Paula Gibson (Pamela Britton)

The Fateful Drink Swap in a SF Nightclub

The Toxology Report

Phillips Company Secretary Miss Foster (Beverly Garland)

Stanley Phillips Also Poisoned After Revealing Incriminating Letter

Bigelow's Deadly Shootout With Halliday Outside His Downtown LA Office

The End of the Flashback: Back At the Police Station, When the Captain Responded: "Better make it 'Dead on Arrival'"

Missing Persons Report Stamped D.O.A.


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