I know you all may have thought that I was reviewing Dead or Alive for a second there, but I can safely say that this one is actually a quality film instead. It’s one of those fun mystery titles from the good ole days that you can’t really do anymore. If this film was done nowadays instead of in the past, it would be a full on thriller with big gun fights and high speed chases. Those are always exciting of course, but sometimes it’s nice to have a more down to Earth, realistic (In a good way for once) mystery where you can try to connect the dots on your own. The main character’s unlikable, but the rest of the cast is solid and the writing is on point.
The main character is Frank Bigelow. He works the average 9-5 job and he is sick of it! He needs a way out and not just because of work, but he wants to get away from his girlfriend to play the bachelor game one more time. He wants to see if he can get a new girlfriend, but if not, then he’ll come home. It’s a rather suspect motive and what is possibly even worse is that Paula (His girlfriend) gives him the okay. Frank basically tells her that he is going to go and cheat on her and she doesn’t care enough to break up with him. Frank heads out on his journey and flirts with everyone, but it seems like everyone is either already taken or is in a gang. Poor Frank. As I tried to take out the smallest violin I could find to play a tune on, Frank went to the bar and quickly downed a poison beer. No wonder it had such a kick that he had to put the cup down after a single sip…only to pick it up and drink some more. Frank now only has a few days to live, but in the mean time he has to figure out who poisoned him.
The film is really trying to punch you in the gut with how this is all due to karma. Frank ignored a dying man’s last request because he was busy flirting and so he was unable to stop the murder plot. As a result, Frank is now dead before the film has even truly begun and he also got another man killed in the process. It’s not a spoiler that Frank is dead by the way as the film literally starts out with him walking into the police headquarters as he tries to report his own murder. Surprisingly, the cops aren’t surprised and take this in stride as they declare that they’ve been waiting for Frank. It’s good to see that the cops brought their A game right off the bat.
As I mentioned earlier, the writing is pretty solid. All of the characters sound competent and intelligent. There is a lot of witty dialogue between the characters and they all stay polite while still being aggressive. It’s a very delicate balance that has been lost on modern speakers. The film is fairly short, but a lot of action happens in the meantime. The beginning starts off rather mild, but then things begin to accelerate until the film is off and running in the second half.
While I don’t like Frank at all, I do like how he handles part of the situation. One by one, he goes to the apartments of all the villains and threatens them all with the classic Passive Aggressive way of speaking. He gets the last line against all of them and comes across as a guy who has been around the block a few times. His overconfidence does get to him in the end though just as it typically does to Bogart in his classic films. The villains end up beating him up a few times and getting him into sticky situations. You could argue that some of the drama is lost since you know that he has to survive all of this to get to the police station, but it’s still pretty fun to see him connecting the dots.
Frank also does let the fact that he is new at this get to him a few times. Walking into a villain base after threatening them earlier in the day is probably not a good move. At the very least, Frank should have brought a weapon. It was a pretty sad moment for him. One of the partners involved in this huge conspiracy also wasn’t that smart as he couldn’t help but ask the main villain for a beer. I guess he didn’t think that the villain would try to spike it? He’s just lucky that the villain didn’t do anything about it and he just let the guy walk back home. Otherwise it would have been curtains for him.
It’s a complete thriller and the mystery was really well thought out. If anything, you’ll have a hard time keeping track of everything that is happening since there are so many suspects and a few of them look very similar. Most of the suspects are also introduced back to back to back so getting all of them straight is very difficult. This is definitely a film that its good for parties or gatherings though as everyone can try to lay out their theory and at the end see who is right. The trick is that you have to do it at the right time though. You have to make sure that you’ve seen the suspects first, but you also can’t wait too long or the ending will start to be obvious. It’s a delicate balance, but one that can work out.
Overall, I definitely recommend D.O.A. Frank is annoying and you won’t be able to sympathize with him at all, but he could certainly be a whole lot worse. As this is an old film, they handle his character as well as they can considering the circumstances. The film is over in a flash and never drags on. The mystery is solid and you will have a tough time trying to guess who the culprit is ahead of time. There are a lot of twists and turns here so hang on tight and prepare for the ride. I really need to come up with a top 10 mystery films at some point. This one may just make it, but granted, I have seen a lot of good mysteries over the years.