D.O.A. (1950): Rudolph Maté’s Film Noir, Starring Edmond O’Brien

Rudolph Maté directed D.O.A. a classic film noir, starring Edmond O’Brien and Pamela Britton.

D.O.A. (1950 poster).jpg

Theatrical release poster

Leo C. Popkin produced D.O.A. for his Cardinal Pictures.

The fast-paced plot revolves around a doomed man’s quest to find out who has poisoned him and why.

The film begins with an impressive long, behind-the-back tracking shot of Frank Bigelow walking into a police station to report his own murder, only to realize that the police have been expecting him and know his identity.

A flashback begins with Bigelow in Banning, California, working as an accountant and notary public. He decides to take a one-week vacation in San Francisco without Paula Gibson (Pamela Britton), his confidential secretary and girlfriend.

Bigelow joins a group of salesmen on a night on the town, landing in a nightclub. While there, a stranger swaps his drink for another one and skulks away unnoticed. The nightclub scene includes one of the earliest depictions of the Beat subculture.

In the end, Bigelow tracks Halliday (wearing the same distinctive coat and scarf as the mysterious man in the bar who had switched Bigelow’s drink) down at the Phillips company. Halliday draws a gun, but Bigelow shoots him to death.

The flashback ends. Bigelow finishes telling his story and dies, his last word being “Paula.” The police detective taking down the report decides to mark the file “D.O.A.”

Maté began his career as cinematographer in Hollywood in 1935 (Dante’s Inferno, Stella Dallas, The Adventures of Marco Polo, Foreign Correspondent, Pride of the Yankees, and Gilda, among others) until turning to directing in 1947.

The lighting, locations, and atmosphere of brooding darkness were captured expertly by Mate and director of photography Ernest Lazlo.

Among the many impressive sequences is Edmond O’Brien running down Market Street in San Francisco, which was taken without city permits; pedestrians are seen confused as O’Brien bumps into them.

Director Maté used Broadway and the Bradbury Building during location shooting and included the Million Dollar Theater’s blazing marquee in the background.

A credit states that the film’s medical aspects are based on scientific fact, that “luminous toxin is a descriptive term for an actual poison.”

Critical Status

In 2004, D.O.A. was selected for preservation in the US National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”


In 1988 it was filmed again as D.O.A., directed by Annabel Jankel and Rocky Morton, with Dennis Quaid as the lead.


Directed by Rudolph Maté
Written by Russell Rouse, Clarence Greene

Produced by Leo C. Popkin
Cinematography Ernest Laszlo
Edited by Arthur H. Nadel
Music by Dimitri Tiomkin
Production companies: Harry Popkin Productions; Cardinal Pictures

Distributed by United Artists

Release date: April 21, 1950

Running time: 84 minutes