Dead Reckoning


1h 40m 1947
Dead Reckoning

Brief Synopsis

A tough veteran sets out to solve his war buddy's murder.

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Mystery
Film Noir
Release Date
Feb 1947
Premiere Information
New York opening: week of 23 Jan 1947
Production Company
Columbia Pictures Corp.
Distribution Company
Columbia Pictures Corp.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 40m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
9,032ft

Synopsis

In the sultry Southern town of Gulf City, injured fugitive Rip Murdock steals into a church to seek solace from Father Logan, an ex-paratrooper. Confessing that he fears for his life, Rip relates the following story: In Europe following the war, Rip and his best friend and fellow paratrooper Johnny Drake are convalescing from their war wounds when one day, they are suddenly summoned to Washington, D.C. After landing in New York, the pair board a train bound for Washington and there discover that Johnny is to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor. When the train makes a brief stop, Johnny disappears and Rip goes AWOL in an effort to find him. Recalling that the name John Joseph Preston was inscribed on the back of Johnny's senior society pin, Rip realizes that Johnny must have enlisted under an assumed name. Tracing Johnny to Gulf City, his home town, Rip registers at the local hotel and there finds a message waiting for him promising to call later, signed "Geronimo," a paratrooper code name. When ten hours pass without word from Johnny, Rip decides to scrutinize newspapers printed at the time of his friend's enlistment for clues to his disappearance. Rip is astounded to discover that Johnny is wanted for the murder of Stuart Chandler, the wealthy husband of cabaret singer Coral Chandler, with whom Johnny was in love. That night, Rip hears an announcement over the police band radio about an unidentified body and goes to the morgue to investigate. There he meets Lt. Kincaid of the homicide department and views a charred corpse. Recognizing a hunk of melted medal that was found near the body as Johnny's pin, Rip vows to avenge his friend's murder and exonerate him. Recalling that Louis Ord was a witness at the murder trial, Rip goes to the Sanctuary Club where Louis is now employed as a waiter. At the club, Louis confides that Johnny had been hiding at his apartment and had given him a letter to deliver to Rip. At that moment, Krause, the sadistic bodyguard of Martinelli, the owner of the club, glares at Louis, engendering palpable fear in the little waiter. At the bar, Rip then meets Coral, Chandler's enigmatic widow, and informs her of Johnny's death. Their conversation is interrupted by Martinelli, who orders Coral to the gambling tables. Coral's large losses at the roulette wheel arouse Rip's suspicions, but he recoups her losses at the dice table. Afterward, Louis tries to warn Rip that his drink has been drugged, but Rip downs it anyway to avert suspicion from Louis. The next morning, Rip is awakened from his stupor by a phone call from Coral, who tells him that she had also been drugged. When Rip turns on the lights in his hotel room, he finds Louis' dead body lying in the bed next to his and surmises that Martinelli killed him to gain possession of the letter and then planted his body in the hotel room to frame Rip. After Rip dumps Louis' body down the laundry chute, Kincaid, alerted by an anonymous caller, knocks at Rip's door. Once Kincaid departs, Rip arranges to meet Coral in his hotel lobby that afternoon. While driving to the seaside for lunch, Rip confides to Coral that Johnny's letter was written in code, and she admits that she witnessed the struggle between Johnny and her husband on the night of the murder. Still unsure of Coral's credibility, Rip takes her to the home of McGee, a former safecracker who had been referred to him by a mob contact. When Rip asks McGee to break into Martinelli's safe and steal the letter, McGee demurs but offers to instruct Rip in the fine art of safecracking instead. Later that night, Rip sneaks into Martinelli's office and finds the safe wide open. Just as he locates the letter, he detects the aroma of jasmine, the fragrance of Coral's perfume, and is then knocked unconscious by an unseen assailant. Rip awakens to a pummeling by Krause, who is trying to beat him into disclosing the contents of the letter. When Rip claims that unless he returns to his hotel by 11:15 that night, his hotel manager will turn over a letter to the police containing proof that Martinelli killed Louis, Martinelli sends Krause to the hotel with Rip to retrieve the letter. Upon arriving at the hotel, Rip is greeted by the waiting Kincaid, and after Krause slugs the police officer, Rip flees in the ensuing confusion and seeks refuge at the church. His thoughts returning to the present, Rip decides that Coral may have stolen the letter and goes to her apartment to confront her. Insisting that the jasmine scent emanated from night-blooming jasmine plants and not her perfume, Coral protests her innocence. Unconvinced, Rip tricks Coral into admitting that she killed her husband in self defense and then gave the murder weapon to Martinelli to dispose of, and that Martinelli has been blackmailing her ever since. To prove her integrity, Coral picks up the phone to call the police, but Rip slams down the receiver, kisses her and then collapses from exhaustion. Upon awakening, Rip promises to run away with Coral. Soon after, McGee comes to the apartment to deliver a bag filled with fire grenades confiscated during the war. When Rip announces that he plans to reclaim the murder weapon before leaving town with her, Coral begs him to reconsider, but he refuses. As Coral waits outside in her car, Rip climbs the stairs to Martinelli's office and demands the gun. Martinelli coolly replies that he and Coral are married and that he killed Chandler and then framed and killed Johnny so that Coral would inherit her husband's wealth. Disbelieving Martinelli's story, Rip hurls fire grenades at him until he finally hands over the gun. As Rip and Martinelli dash down the stairs and out of the burning building, gunfire rings out, downing Martinelli. Climbing into Coral's car, Rip accuses her of aiming for him. When Coral trains her gun on him, Rip floors the gas pedal, sending the car careening off the road. Having survived the crash, Rip clears Johnny's name and then comforts Coral at her bedside as she expires from her injuries.

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Mystery
Film Noir
Release Date
Feb 1947
Premiere Information
New York opening: week of 23 Jan 1947
Production Company
Columbia Pictures Corp.
Distribution Company
Columbia Pictures Corp.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 40m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
9,032ft

Articles

Dead Reckoning


In his book The American Cinema, critic Andrew Sarris listed John Cromwell in the Lightly Likable category. Sarris meant this as a mild put-down of the "formal deficiencies" in Cromwell's films, so don't get the idea that there's anything light about pictures such as Of Human Bondage [1934] and The Goddess [1958]. There's plenty of darkness in Dead Reckoning, too, which is natural for a 1947 mystery thriller from film noir's golden age. Sarris also wrote that the motto of Cromwell's cinema is cherchez la femme, but while it's true that he worked well with female stars, the most memorable face in Dead Reckoning belongs to Humphrey Bogart, not Lizabeth Scott – although the riddle that keeps the movie clicking is whether Scott's character is a femme fatale, or just a femme caught up in events none of the characters can control.

Bogart plays Rip Murdock, a paratrooper captain just back from the war. In the opening scene he's scampering through the shadows of a city street, on the run from someone we can't see. Entering a church, he finds a priest and starts pouring out his story. The movie then continues in a long flashback, beginning with Rip and his army friend Johnny Drake on their way to Washington, where they've been ordered to report. Learning that he's going to receive a Congressional Medal of Honor for his wartime heroism, Johnny panics and leaps off the train, disappearing down the tracks as Rip helplessly looks on. To find out why this happened, and whether it's connected with his recent discovery that Johnny's college pin is inscribed with a different name, Rip traces his missing pal to Gulf City, a southern town. Hearing about a car accident in which the driver was burned beyond recognition, Rip views the corpse at the morgue and comes across what appears to be Johnny's mysterious pin. Soon afterward he meets Johnny's wife, Coral, a singer who's somehow mixed up with Martinelli, a sinister nightclub owner. Rip and Coral fall in love, natch, but their relationship is rocky from the get-go.

Further complications ensue when Martinelli's bartender, who had connections to Johnny, turns up dead in Rip's hotel room. Rip deduces that Martinelli killed the bartender, planning to frame him for murder. Acting on his suspicion, Rip faces off against Martinelli and gets mercilessly beaten up by Krause, a sadistic henchman. Among the plot's other ingredients are a blackmail scheme, a bigamous marriage, a visit with a safecracker, a gambling session with loaded dice, a fire touched off by military souvenirs, a high-speed car crash with Rip behind the wheel, and a death scene that finishes the picture on a sadly poetic note. Much of the film's interest comes from the shifting perspective on Coral, who is sometimes as loving a companion as Rip could ask for, and other times as sneaky as the mickey that Martinelli slips into Rip's cocktail.

Dead Reckoning was pushed into production quickly, because Warner Bros. owed Columbia for various star loan-outs and Bogart was available to repay the debt. Columbia chief Harry Cohn thought Coral would be played by Rita Hayworth, his most valuable female star, but a dispute over her contract led him to borrow Scott from Paramount instead. Cromwell had given Bogart his very first role on the Broadway stage, and since director approval was in the star's contract, Cohn accepted his request for Cromwell to direct. Perhaps because of the hasty production arrangements, Dead Reckoning doesn't always make a lot of narrative sense. The same goes for a number of classic noirs – including Bogart's previous picture, The Big Sleep (1946) – but as the New York Times diplomatically observed, "there are a lot of things about the script...that an attentive spectator might find disconcerting."

Scrambled storytelling isn't the only typical noir element in Dead Reckoning. Also present are the returning-veteran hero, the enigmatic heroine, multiple plot twists, and wisecrack-heavy dialogue, all woven into a story with a flashback structure and constant voiceovers by Rip that sometimes obscure more than they clarify. To his credit, Cromwell makes the convoluted tale reasonably coherent and occasionally quite surprising; he may have been known for "more sedate and imposing subjects," to quote the Times again, but he had all the necessary skills to bring a quintessentially noir style to a quintessentially noir project. The screenplay is credited to Oliver H.P. Garrett and Steve Fisher, who worked from Allen Rivkin's adaptation of an original story by Gerald Adams and the picture's producer, Sidney Biddell; they work too hard at lacing the dialogue with paratrooper talk – it's a stretch when someone says "Geronimo" as someone dies – but the effect is colorful, if not convincing. The picture is clearly influenced by The Maltese Falcon (1941), with Bogart avenging a friend rather than a partner this time and Scott reprising Mary Astor's duplicitous character. There's less of the earlier film's oddball humor, though, despite numerous attempts by the screenwriters.

Dead Reckoning received mixed reviews. Scott was deemed unsatisfactory by some critics, including the New York Times writer, who found her face "expressionless" and her movements "awkward and deliberate." Variety was kinder, acknowledging that she "stumbles occasionally" but praising her for a generally "persuasive, sirenish" portrayal. Bogart turns in a "typically tense performance" that "absorbs one's interest from the start," according to Variety, although Bogart biographer Allen Eyles says that in his voiceovers the star sounds "like an arrested adolescent trying to talk tough." Opinions about the supporting cast also differed, but most moviegoers will find a good deal of excellent work here. Morris Carnovsky plays Martinelli like a sort of nightclub Bela Lugosi, unctuous and threatening at once. William Prince and Wallace Ford make the most of their small parts as Johnny and the safecracker, respectively, and Marvin Miller is pure Hollywood evil as Krause, the psychopathic thug.

Sarris's fair-to-middling opinion of Cromwell was probably motivated by the general absence of personal touches in his work, always a requirement for auteur-oriented critics. It's true that Dead Reckoning is more a genre picture and a noir than "A John Cromwell Film" in the full auteurist sense. Yet looked at from another angle, Cromwell's self-effacing style becomes a plus. "He brought over a theater director's respect for the actor and the writer," says cinema scholar Richard Koszarski, "a quality which gave his work a uniformly high performance standard....To Cromwell the work of the director was not to throw off individual sparks of creativity, but to fuse the efforts of the entire creative team for the best interests of the finished work." In this case the finished work is an energetic noir, and individual sparks or not, it should make noir enthusiasts quite happy.

Director: John Cromwell
Producer: Sidney Biddell
Screenplay: Oliver H.P. Garrett, Steve Fisher
Cinematographer: Leo Tover
Film Editing: Gene Havlick
Art Direction: Stephen Goosson, Rudolph Sternad
Music: Marlin Skiles
Cast: Humphrey Bogart (Rip Murdock), Lizabeth Scott (Coral "Dusty" Chandler), Morris Carnovsky (Martinelli), Charles Cane (Lt. Kincaid), William Prince (Johnny Drake), Marvin Miller (Krause), Wallace Ford (McGee), James Bell (Father Logan), George Chandler (Louis Ord)br> BW-101m.

by David Sterritt
Dead Reckoning

Dead Reckoning

In his book The American Cinema, critic Andrew Sarris listed John Cromwell in the Lightly Likable category. Sarris meant this as a mild put-down of the "formal deficiencies" in Cromwell's films, so don't get the idea that there's anything light about pictures such as Of Human Bondage [1934] and The Goddess [1958]. There's plenty of darkness in Dead Reckoning, too, which is natural for a 1947 mystery thriller from film noir's golden age. Sarris also wrote that the motto of Cromwell's cinema is cherchez la femme, but while it's true that he worked well with female stars, the most memorable face in Dead Reckoning belongs to Humphrey Bogart, not Lizabeth Scott – although the riddle that keeps the movie clicking is whether Scott's character is a femme fatale, or just a femme caught up in events none of the characters can control. Bogart plays Rip Murdock, a paratrooper captain just back from the war. In the opening scene he's scampering through the shadows of a city street, on the run from someone we can't see. Entering a church, he finds a priest and starts pouring out his story. The movie then continues in a long flashback, beginning with Rip and his army friend Johnny Drake on their way to Washington, where they've been ordered to report. Learning that he's going to receive a Congressional Medal of Honor for his wartime heroism, Johnny panics and leaps off the train, disappearing down the tracks as Rip helplessly looks on. To find out why this happened, and whether it's connected with his recent discovery that Johnny's college pin is inscribed with a different name, Rip traces his missing pal to Gulf City, a southern town. Hearing about a car accident in which the driver was burned beyond recognition, Rip views the corpse at the morgue and comes across what appears to be Johnny's mysterious pin. Soon afterward he meets Johnny's wife, Coral, a singer who's somehow mixed up with Martinelli, a sinister nightclub owner. Rip and Coral fall in love, natch, but their relationship is rocky from the get-go. Further complications ensue when Martinelli's bartender, who had connections to Johnny, turns up dead in Rip's hotel room. Rip deduces that Martinelli killed the bartender, planning to frame him for murder. Acting on his suspicion, Rip faces off against Martinelli and gets mercilessly beaten up by Krause, a sadistic henchman. Among the plot's other ingredients are a blackmail scheme, a bigamous marriage, a visit with a safecracker, a gambling session with loaded dice, a fire touched off by military souvenirs, a high-speed car crash with Rip behind the wheel, and a death scene that finishes the picture on a sadly poetic note. Much of the film's interest comes from the shifting perspective on Coral, who is sometimes as loving a companion as Rip could ask for, and other times as sneaky as the mickey that Martinelli slips into Rip's cocktail. Dead Reckoning was pushed into production quickly, because Warner Bros. owed Columbia for various star loan-outs and Bogart was available to repay the debt. Columbia chief Harry Cohn thought Coral would be played by Rita Hayworth, his most valuable female star, but a dispute over her contract led him to borrow Scott from Paramount instead. Cromwell had given Bogart his very first role on the Broadway stage, and since director approval was in the star's contract, Cohn accepted his request for Cromwell to direct. Perhaps because of the hasty production arrangements, Dead Reckoning doesn't always make a lot of narrative sense. The same goes for a number of classic noirs – including Bogart's previous picture, The Big Sleep (1946) – but as the New York Times diplomatically observed, "there are a lot of things about the script...that an attentive spectator might find disconcerting." Scrambled storytelling isn't the only typical noir element in Dead Reckoning. Also present are the returning-veteran hero, the enigmatic heroine, multiple plot twists, and wisecrack-heavy dialogue, all woven into a story with a flashback structure and constant voiceovers by Rip that sometimes obscure more than they clarify. To his credit, Cromwell makes the convoluted tale reasonably coherent and occasionally quite surprising; he may have been known for "more sedate and imposing subjects," to quote the Times again, but he had all the necessary skills to bring a quintessentially noir style to a quintessentially noir project. The screenplay is credited to Oliver H.P. Garrett and Steve Fisher, who worked from Allen Rivkin's adaptation of an original story by Gerald Adams and the picture's producer, Sidney Biddell; they work too hard at lacing the dialogue with paratrooper talk – it's a stretch when someone says "Geronimo" as someone dies – but the effect is colorful, if not convincing. The picture is clearly influenced by The Maltese Falcon (1941), with Bogart avenging a friend rather than a partner this time and Scott reprising Mary Astor's duplicitous character. There's less of the earlier film's oddball humor, though, despite numerous attempts by the screenwriters. Dead Reckoning received mixed reviews. Scott was deemed unsatisfactory by some critics, including the New York Times writer, who found her face "expressionless" and her movements "awkward and deliberate." Variety was kinder, acknowledging that she "stumbles occasionally" but praising her for a generally "persuasive, sirenish" portrayal. Bogart turns in a "typically tense performance" that "absorbs one's interest from the start," according to Variety, although Bogart biographer Allen Eyles says that in his voiceovers the star sounds "like an arrested adolescent trying to talk tough." Opinions about the supporting cast also differed, but most moviegoers will find a good deal of excellent work here. Morris Carnovsky plays Martinelli like a sort of nightclub Bela Lugosi, unctuous and threatening at once. William Prince and Wallace Ford make the most of their small parts as Johnny and the safecracker, respectively, and Marvin Miller is pure Hollywood evil as Krause, the psychopathic thug. Sarris's fair-to-middling opinion of Cromwell was probably motivated by the general absence of personal touches in his work, always a requirement for auteur-oriented critics. It's true that Dead Reckoning is more a genre picture and a noir than "A John Cromwell Film" in the full auteurist sense. Yet looked at from another angle, Cromwell's self-effacing style becomes a plus. "He brought over a theater director's respect for the actor and the writer," says cinema scholar Richard Koszarski, "a quality which gave his work a uniformly high performance standard....To Cromwell the work of the director was not to throw off individual sparks of creativity, but to fuse the efforts of the entire creative team for the best interests of the finished work." In this case the finished work is an energetic noir, and individual sparks or not, it should make noir enthusiasts quite happy. Director: John Cromwell Producer: Sidney Biddell Screenplay: Oliver H.P. Garrett, Steve Fisher Cinematographer: Leo Tover Film Editing: Gene Havlick Art Direction: Stephen Goosson, Rudolph Sternad Music: Marlin Skiles Cast: Humphrey Bogart (Rip Murdock), Lizabeth Scott (Coral "Dusty" Chandler), Morris Carnovsky (Martinelli), Charles Cane (Lt. Kincaid), William Prince (Johnny Drake), Marvin Miller (Krause), Wallace Ford (McGee), James Bell (Father Logan), George Chandler (Louis Ord)br> BW-101m. by David Sterritt

Quotes

You know, the trouble with women is they ask too many questions. They should spend all their time just being beautiful.
- Captain Warren 'Rip' Murdock
And let the men do the worrying.
- Coral 'Dusty' Chandler
Yeah. You know, I've been thinking: women ought to come capsule-sized, about four inches high. When a man goes out of an evening, he just puts her in his pocket and takes her along with him, and that way he knows exactly where she is. He gets to his favorite restaurant, he puts her on the table and lets her run around among the coffee cups while he swaps a few lies with his pals ...
- Captain Warren 'Rip' Murdock
Why ...
- Coral 'Dusty' Chandler
Without danger of interruption. And when it comes that time of the evening when he wants her full-sized and beautiful, he just waves his hand and there she is, full-sized.
- Captain Warren 'Rip' Murdock

Trivia

The role of Coral Chandler was originally intended for Rita Hayworth, but she had already been cast by her estranged husband, Orson Welles for the role of Elsa in " _Lady From Shanghai, The (1947)_

Notes

According to a May 1946 Hollywood Reporter news item, location and background footage for this picture was filmed in Philadelphia, PA; LaGuardia airport in New York; St. Petersburg, FL; and Biloxi, MS. Lizabeth Scott was borrowed from Hal Wallis's company to appear in the film, and Humphrey Bogart was on loan from Warner Bros. This picture bears no resemblance to the 1990 television movie bearing the same name.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States on Video April 28, 1988

Released in United States Winter January 22, 1947

Completed shooting September 4, 1946.

Released in United States Winter January 22, 1947

Released in United States on Video April 28, 1988