Watch D.O.A., Rudolph Maté’s “Innovative and Downright Twisted” Noir Film (1950)

Liv­ing and film­go­ing here in Los Ange­les, I seize every oppor­tu­ni­ty to watch Los Ange­les Plays Itself, Thom Ander­sen’s exten­sive and enter­tain­ing doc­u­men­tary on the uses and abus­es of the city through­out cin­e­ma his­to­ry. In one pas­sage, Ander­sen tracks the strik­ing­ly var­i­ous roles of George Wyman’s 1893 Brad­bury Build­ing down­town: Deckard’s apart­ment in Blade Run­ner, Mar­lowe’s office in Mar­lowe, the place where Tom meets Autumn in (500) Days of Sum­mer. “The movies dis­cov­ered the Brad­bury Build­ing before the archi­tec­tur­al his­to­ri­ans did,” the nar­ra­tion tells us. “In Chi­na Girl, it played the Hotel Royale in Man­dalay, Bur­ma. The fol­low­ing year, in The White Cliffs of Dover, it played a Lon­don mil­i­tary hos­pi­tal over­flow­ing with wound­ed sol­diers.” We then see the cli­mac­tic scene of a film called D.O.A. which, dra­mat­i­cal­ly height­ened even by the stan­dards of film noir, depicts a poi­soned man chas­ing his own mur­der­er up the stairs of the build­ing’s dark­ened but still unmis­tak­able atri­um.


“Fatal­ly poi­soned by a lumi­nous tox­in slipped into his drink at a jazz club,” so Ander­sen’s nar­ra­tor sum­ma­rizes, “Frank Bigelow has one day before dying to track down his killer, and he finds him at the Phillips Import-Export Com­pa­ny… Room 427.” Few view­ers of the doc­u­men­tary will already have seen D.O.A.; the rest sure­ly feel intrigued enough to track it down. For­tu­nate­ly, they can watch the com­plete 1950 film free online, since it fell into the pub­lic domain in 1977. Called “one of the most accom­plished, inno­v­a­tive, and down­right twist­ed entrants to the film noir genre” by the BBC’s David Wood, Hun­gar­i­an expat direc­tor Rudolph Maté’s third pic­ture has, like many of its artis­tic rel­a­tives, expe­ri­enced a respect­ful re-eval­u­a­tion since rais­ing groans from crit­ics with, among oth­er things, the claim of being “As Excit­ing­ly Dif­fer­ent As Its Title!” Salon’s Michael Sragow calls it an exam­ple of a “high-con­cept movie before its time,” one that cer­tain­ly does have more to offer you on your film noir Fri­day than just a neat build­ing.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Free Film Noir Movies

Detour: The Cheap, Rushed Piece of 1940s Film Noir Nobody Ever For­gets

Fritz Lang’s “Licen­tious, Pro­fane, Obscure” Noir Film, Scar­let Street (1945)

100 Great­est Posters of Film Noir

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on lit­er­a­ture, film, cities, Asia, and aes­thet­ics. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­lesA Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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