A murdered man tracks his own killer in this ahead-of-its-time 1950 noir thriller.

By Michael Sragow
Published August 1, 2000 7:00PM (EDT)

Directed by Rudolph Mati
Starring Edmond O'Brien, Pamela Britton
Image Entertainment; full-screen (original aspect ratio of 1.33:1)
Extras: None

In 1950 Rudolph Mati directed a B movie with more pungency than many an A -- the unforgettably titled "D.O.A." It was a high-concept movie before its time. You can describe it in a sentence: A murdered man finds his own killer. It's more awkward but also more appealing than most recent high-concept movies because Mati doesn't diagram everything to fit the game plan. He allows some aberrant life to seep in. The melodrama gears up immediately when the antihero, a Banning, Calif., accountant played by Edmond O'Brien, stumbles into a police station and announces a homicide -- his own. He's dying on arrival. He's been poisoned with a "luminous" toxin; in other words, it glows in the dark -- a clever movie gimmick. O'Brien spills everything to the cops: How he was polluted during a giddy fling in San Francisco, and how he tracked the will-be murderers.

This just-remastered print of "D.O.A." is part of Image Entertainment's "Wade Williams Collection"; Williams vows this good-looking edition was "restored from the producer's negative," which is no less than this picture deserves. When he was a cinematographer, Mati shot a variety of masterworks, including Carl Theodor Dreyer's "Vampyr." Here, his clammy, unsettling images drive the movie. Even the gaffes are aptly disconcerting, as when O'Brien grabs a cable car headed for Market Street only to arrive at Nob Hill. This film noir has more punch than either the 1969 remake, "Color Me Dead," or 1988's "D.O.A.," starring Dennis Quaid, a garish variation that could have been called "Color Me Dead II." Shot by another ace cinematographer, Ernest Laszlo (who went on to do "Stalag 17"), Mati's movie unfolds in gloriously grungy black and white. The look suits the story's lived-in, everyday cynicism -- which in "D.O.A." is as American as day-old apple pie.

Michael Sragow

Michael Sragow's column about moviemakers appears every Thursday in Salon. For more columns by Sragow, visit his archive.

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