Pros: great Noir with Bogart as a regular Joe
Cons: Too bad Howard Hawks didn?t direct
There are more than a few nice parts in Dead Reckoning. As the opening flashback develops we are shown a great wide shot of the outside and interior of the Pennsylvania Train Station in New York before it was demolished.
The whole tone of this 1947 film is one of great traditional Noir fate, and perfs by Humphrey Bogart and Lizabeth Scott are great casting choice on the part of director John Cromwell. I kept wondering what Howard Hawks wouldve done with the story, perhaps add a bit more humor, but any viewer will still find the existential Noir tone and high-contrast look of the film enjoyable.
Dead Reckoning begins with Rip Murdock (Humphrey Bogart) running in and out shadowy doorways finally ducking into a church where he manages to tell a priest about the deep trouble he has gotten into just trying to track down his friend. As we flash back we see Murdock and his Army pal Johnny Drake (William Prince) coming to Washington to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor. Johnny is none too happy about getting an honor for the soldiering he has done and he hops off the train. When the commanding officers demand that Murdock bring Johnny back there begins a chase to the south lands. Murdock returns to the last town where Johnny lived and scans the police radio for possible information. A radio report announces a burning car wreck and when Murdock investigates he meets and inquisitive and wily local detective Lieutenant Kincaid (Charles Cane) who suspects anyone on general principles. Johnny has a gold school pin that he wears all the time, and Murdock reckons that the little piece of evidence next to a corpse in the morgue is that item but it is so badly melted it is impossible to trace. Murdock looks further and discovers Johnnys former girlfriend Coral Chandler (Lizabeth Scott) has a shadowy past and an unusual relationship to a crooked gambler Martinelli (Morris Carnovsky). When Martinelli drugs Murdock and attempts to frame him for murder, Murdock teams up with Coral to gather more information to uncover not only who is responsible for the recent killings but also the fate of his friend Johnny. As Detective Kincaid is gets closer to discovering the body that has been planted to implicate Murdock, Coral becomes more intimate, and some tough decisions are made to reveal the guilty character.
For my money Bogart as Rip Murdock is one of his better roles. His down-to-earth cab driver character is more like the average man just trying to make the best decisions he can based on available information. This average type of guy is more easily identified with by the viewer and positioned opposite an actress like Lizabeth Scott, a femme fetale who had such a great success playing the same roles in other films.
Consider Lizabeth Scott as Jane Palmer in Too Late For Tears where she played opposite Dan Dureyea. She brings to that film her tough sultry allure and ruthless agenda, packaged in the simple persona and straight forward delivery. Lizabeth Scotts Coral is the Femme Fetale of the most dangerous kind, sweet and alluring, seemingly swept along in the course of events, but of the keys to the whole messy mystery in the film. The character is similar to Lauren Bacalls Vivian Sternwood in The Big Sleep and many viewers compared Scott with Bacall in Dead Reckoning, because the dynamic between Bogart and Scott didnt have the snap, crackle, pop that a Bogart/Bacall pairing may have had as it did in The Big Sleep.
Lizabeth Scott was no Lauren Bacall and the two women were very different types, each possessing an individual screen persona. Bacall played her Femme Fetale roles with a certain vulnerability, a basic goodness that tripped her up but also allowed a man to complete her for a happy marriage. The most obvious example is her role in The Big Sleep, as Vivian Sternwood, a possible murderess with a gambling addiction and a hidden agenda, her coming together with Philip Marlowe at the end of Howard Hawks version of the Chandler novel was a perfect blend of Noir and Hollywood endings. In To Have and Have Not her dead beat character staying one step ahead of the debt collector and the cops was a perfect match for Bogarts equally tough sea faring merchant, and although the film is more actioner than Noir, Bacalls character has some interesting dimensions that really make her charter Bogarts equal on many levels. Lauren Bacall was a fashion model with a crossover career in acting that paid off handsomely and helped create a few film masterpieces.
As antagonists Morris Carnovsky as Martinelli the owner of the night club where Coral sings exhibits one of the best character traits for a thug- he is educated and sensitive to violence- which adds a particular sinister quality to his criminal. Part of the mystique with Martinelli rests on the characters intelligence as when the criminal admits he knows Al Baretto, a former associate of Rip Murdock, a detail that adds depth to the story. Add to this the sincere confession of the actual killer in the film and a missing gun causes us to at once believe Martinelli while also distrusting him for the power he exercises over brutal thugs like Marvin Millers Krause who enjoys beating Murdock to a pulp. Its a good character note that many of the more frightening criminals onscreen never raise their voices, but clearly yield a power over others by their ability to commit terrible deeds ( I am certain that there is a doctoral thesis idea here).
The dialogue is clever and snappy as when Murdock meets Lt. Kincaid (Charles Cane) as they look over recent deliveries to the city morgue. Kincaid asks for a description of Johnny from Rip.
Kincaid: Medium what?
Murdock: Medium height, medium weight, medium build...
Kincaid: Very illuminatin
Another perk- The Voice over of Murdock as he pitches oranges into an easy chair while waiting around for Johnny to call - Id pitched the Cardinals into the pennant with my old high school curve... (dream big, baby...), is steeped in the voice of the period. As well as when Rip gets frustrated looking through the phone book and admits to himself and us that he is Stalled again, like a jeep on synthetic gas. Only a infantryman at the tail of World War 2 would know about this.
It is just this kind of specifics that make Dead Reckoning so enjoyable and a great addition to any Noir aficionados collection of favorites. I found a copy at half.com for $16.89. It goes good with anything.