When Frank Bigelow (Edmond O’Brien) announces he’s taking a quick trip to San Francisco, his girlfriend Paula (Pamela Britton) is nervous about him going alone, but reluctantly agrees to let him go. As soon as he gets to his hotel, Pamela calls to tell him Eugene Phillips has been urgently trying to contact him and refuses to leave a message. Frank also meets Sam Haskell (Jess Kirkpatrick) who invites him to join a party in his hotel room.
The party moves to a nearby bar and when Frank notices his drink tasting strangely, he doesn’t think anything of it. When he wakes up the next morning not feeling well, he goes to a doctor and finds out his drink had been spiked with a lethal poison that has no known antidote. He only has a few days to live and plans to spend it finding out who could have poisoned him and why. Sam is nowhere to be found and the bar they visited is closed. Later, Pamela calls to let him know that Eugene Phillips had suddenly died, the reason for his important call still unknown.
Sensing there may be a connection between his poisoning and Eugene’s death, Frank goes to Eugene’s place in Los Angeles and finds out he had committed suicide. Everybody close to Eugene is acting strangely and nobody knows why he’d want to talk to Frank. Meanwhile, back home, Paula has finally found Eugene’s connection to Frank — Frank had notarized a bill of sale for a purchase of Iridium that Eugene had been involved in. When Frank discovers that Eugene’s death was actually a murder, he suddenly finds himself caught in the dangerous position of knowing too much.
Three words for D.O.A.: essential film noir. D.O.A. is anything but dead on arrival; it has one of those opening scenes that grabs your attention instantly and holds onto it with a tight grip until the last frame. Does it get any more purely film noir than an opening scene of a man staggering into a police station to report his own murder? An extremely intriguing story that is very effective without trying too hard. D.O.A. is everything I want from a good film noir.