D.O.A. ★★★★

Edmund O'Brien's Frank Bigelow dashes through Market Street, San Francisco as if he were attempting to outrun death. He bumps into surprised people on the street — not actors, for Rudolph Maté and Ernest Lazlo stole that footage without the required city permits in a guerrilla style that puts French New Wave directors using similar tactics to shame because of the obvious technical accomplishment behind the camera. The location photography, the Noir lighting (both interior and exterior), and the general compositions of the scenes are expertly done. After hooking the audience with its opening of Bigelow walking into the police station to tell his story and to save the morgue attendants a trip, the flashback starts in standard key lighting which emphasises the normality (and banality) of Bigelow's small town life. Maté symbolises the nightmarish pit into which Bigelow blindly chooses to descend through the introduction of shadows and frenetic editing, so the pace and look of the film changes with the move to San Fransisco, to the final wild chase through the streets at night and the last scene where Bigelow confronts his murderer. The style is breathtaking, both in an unhinged sequence such as the one at the jive bar, or a quiet scene of horror as when the doctor turns off the light in his office to reveal the vial of luminous toxin glowing in the dark. It's an example of style elevating what is, essentially, a prosaic mystery — which is one way of looking at Noir. Of course, there are also the larger than life grotesques on hand to distract from the story: for example, Majek (Luther Adler), an effete, polite crime boss from somewhere in Eastern Europe, who apologises to Bigelow for having to get rid of him; and the vicious, psychotic Chester, played with relish by Neville Brand, who can't stop punching Bigelow in his sore, poisoned stomach (the scene where he tries to shoot Bigelow in a drugstore is terrific). The heart of the film, though, is O'Brien's sweaty Bigelow, a man whose choice to chase some tail in the big city, instead of settling down with the nice hometown girl, leads to his death. Conversely, though, it also turns him into a man of strength, action and courage, aspects of his nature he may never have discovered unless he had been confronted by his own mortality.

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