Dead on Arrival, or D.O.A., it’s actual title, is great! It gets off to a slow start setting up the relationship of Bigelow and Paula, but then it’s non-stop twists and turns right up to the end. The idea is devilishly simple: it’s a flashback told by a man dying of incurable poison to the homicide department. He relates how in the course of a day, he tracked down and disposed of his killer, and then it’s curtains.
Bigelow meets his end because he notarized “one bill of sale out of hundreds.” It just happened to be for an illegal transaction, unknown to him, and it made him a material witness to murder when one of the parties to the deal supposedly committed suicide – thus the poison. Confused? Well, it’s confusing to watch too, but a marvelous ride. He just got a bum rap, a raw deal, was the fall guy, at the wrong place, wrong time…all those fatalistic noir things. As Fantail says in Raw Deal, “You know how it is. Some guys win, some guys loose…”
The symphonic music score is fantastic, especially in the action scenes, and the spectacle of a man who has hours to live, frantically rushing about to achieve, er… closure, while those around him go about their daily business creates tremendous tension.
It begins when Bigelow, afraid of committing to his girlfriend, decides to run to San Francisco for some ‘fun’, and then maybe tie the knot. He meets some wild party goers, and the temptation to illicit sex is only damped at the last minute by a floral bouquet sent by Paula. (There are some very weird sound effects here every time he sees a pretty woman). He tears up the telephone number of a mink-coated jive hipster he met in a bar. The next morning, he awakes to his nightmare.
A few images: