D.O.A. – 1950 Film Noir Classic

Though it is not without its flaws, the movie D.O.A. (1950) is considered by many to be one of the best examples of classic film noir. When I first started watching old movies, I didn’t watch much film noir, however after watching and enjoying movies like Scarlet Street, Woman in the Window, and Out of the Past among others I developed a new appreciation for the style. Now I am on a quest to learn as much as I can about it and add many more to the list of those I’ve already watched.

One thing I found as I started studying film noir recently is that many classic film critics do not consider it an actual genre, but more of a visual style or the mood of a film. Either way, most seem to agree that film noir movies generally contain many of the same elements. While watching the movie D.O.A., which centers around the character of Frank Bigelow (played by Edmond O’Brien), a man who goes on a search to find out who murdered him by giving him a lethal dose of poison, I observed the film for some of those common film noir characteristics:

Centered around a hard-boiled or cynical male character, often times with a detective or private eye as the hero. Also frequently involves an innocent person or “everyman” who was framed or is doomed to suffer some kind of negative fate.

I wouldn’t necessarily consider Frank hard-boiled, but his reluctance to commit to his girlfriend and his wandering eye made him a somewhat unlikeable character. Even though he was an accountant, not a detective he also in a sense took on that role as he went on the search for his killer. And of course, right from the beginning of the movie the viewer knew what kind of fate he was going to suffer when he revealed that he was searching for his own murderer. He was basically the innocent “everyman” who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Contains a beautiful, double-crossing femme fatale and in contrast, a loving and supportive female character.

There were several characters that could have been considered the femme fatale in this movie; Mrs. Phillips played by Lynn Baggett or Miss Foster played by Beverly Garland, but the character who probably best fits that role was Marla Rakubian, played by the actress and model Laurette Luez. The loving, supportive female was represented by the character of Paula, Frank Bigelow’s girlfriend. She supported Frank and stuck with him even though he wasn’t always loyal to her.

Complex plots which were often difficult to follow.

This is one thing it seems many fans of film noir can relate to, and it once played a part in why I didn’t enjoy the style as much as I do now. As with many other movies, I found some of the plot twists to be a bit confusing and it wasn’t always easy to follow every detail leading to the discovery of why the murderer wanted to kill Frank.

Scenes set on dark streets, in dimly-lit rooms, or in abandoned buildings, and the use of a low-key lighting style which often produced dark shadows.

D.O.A. has several scenes that take place on dark streets around San Francisco and Los Angeles, two locations that were common in film noir, and in dimly-lit buildings including the bar where Frank was poisoned, a shootout in a drug store, and in one of the final scenes when Frank finally confronts his killer. This scene took place in the Bradbury Building in Los Angeles, a building that still exists today and was a location used in the filming of the movie Blade Runner.

The style of lighting used in this movie created shadows that followed most of the characters throughout the movie, but at times they almost seemed to be overused or exaggerated. That along with the strange “wolf-whistles” that were heard every time Frank looked at a beautiful woman, had me questioning at the beginning of the movie whether it really was true film noir. Aside from those flaws, I really enjoyed the movie and would recommend it to anyone who also enjoys the film noir style.

Do you think D.O.A. should be considered a film noir classic?

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