Your Bogie Fix:
Director: John Cromwell
Captain ‘Rip’ Murdock (Humphrey Bogart) goes looking for his best friend, Sergeant Johnny Drake (William Prince), after Drake disappears on his way to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor.
What I Thought
This is a pretty standard Film Noir that succeeds on every level except the script. The three leads, Bogart, Lizabeth Scott, and Morris Carnovsky, all do their fair share of the heavy lifting to elevate this movie beyond what it probably deserves.
There were several moments in the film where I got goose bumps as I anticipated where the plot might be about go. Was one of the major “good guys” really in on the murder? Was Drake actually a psycho killer in sheep’s clothing? Were we about to get a shocking surprise twist á la The Third Man? Unfortunately, the plot was a little more pedantic than all of that, and the film’s last act slowly peters out rather than ending with a bang. Dead Reckoning has been accused of too closely trying to recreate the magic of The Maltese Falcon, and I can the see logic behind that accusation.
Perhaps I’m too far removed from the time and the culture that Bogart inhabited, but even with all of that said, I still didn’t see a poor film here. Dead Reckoning is a movie that continues to grow on me because frankly, no one can play the disaffected investigator as well as Bogart did, and Bogart’s never going to make another film. So I’ll take classic Bogart in a mediocre film any day!
The Bogart Factor
The reviews don’t lie – Bogart is great here. He narrates the viewer through the story, walking us along as Capt. Murdock pieces together his friend’s disappearance. Murdock is a paratrooper, but this film is all noir as Bogart falls away from the military man persona and quickly takes on the air of a hardened detective. He seems particularly subdued and thoughtful throughout the performance.
Of note is one particular scene that plays opposite of our typical expectations for Bogart as he sits and listens to a nightclub singer. This might be the first film I’ve ever seen where we get the Bogie drinks while the femme fatale sings scene, and Bogart shows no interest whatsoever in the woman. In fact, he spends most of the song looking down at his drink, ignoring Lizabeth Scott’s suggestive glances. Out of the many movies where Bogart’s played through this scenario, has there ever been another one where he shows such little interest?
There are so many great long shots of Bogart sitting, thinking, lying in bed, and drinking, that if nothing else, I feel like Director John Cromwell should be thanked for his work towards recording Bogart’s great visage for posterity! If the entire movie had been this shot for two hours, I would probably have still enjoyed it:
Set this film up as the opening to a Bogart double feature with The Big Sleep or The Maltese Falcon and I think it would be a great night of classic Humphrey Bogart Film Noir.
Lizabeth Scott plays ‘Dusty’ Chandler, the love interest to Capt. Murdock and the missing Johnny Drake. Reviews at the time were pretty hard on Scott, but I thought she did okay. She certainly reminded me of Lauren Bacall, both physically and vocally, so perhaps that’s why I went a little easier on her. She pulls off the role well enough that I wasn’t sure which side of the fence she was playing until the end of the film.
Morris Carnovsky plays the nightclub owner and gangster, Martinelli. Again, reviews at the time make him sound cartoonish and over the top, but I actually enjoyed his performance quite a bit. He errs on the side of the cutthroat businessman rather than the trigger happy gangster, and it’s a good choice in my opinion.
Marvin Miller is Martinelli’s lackey and strong arm, Krause. He’s big and creepy, and it’s explained towards the end of the film that he has suffered a head injury in his past, making him an impassive killing machine. I liked him a lot – until we got to his big exit from the picture. In one of the scripts worst moments, Director Cromwell apparently decided that he needed to get rid of Krause to continue the story. I’m fine with that, but did he have to do it in such a silly way? Murdock has a handful of flash grenades and he’s setting them off in Martinelli’s office. The place is on fire, and everyone needs to escape. Bearing in mind that there are two available doors and neither of them is blocked by fire, consider that Krause gives us this face:
– choosing to make his escape in this way (that’s him in the lower right throwing himself out a window. . .) :
Really? Couldn’t he have turned around and walked out the door? Couldn’t Cromwell have had Bogart wrestle for a gun and just shoot Krause? Is Krause so brain dead that he’s become a Frankenstein-esque monster that’s so afraid of fire that he loses what little mind he has left? It was certainly a laugh-out-loud moment for me as I watched the film, and this scene alone probably didn’t help the critical response at the time.
Classic Bogie Moment
I wonder if current directors don’t look back at filmmakers like Cromwell with deep envy for getting to work with actors who were as incredibly photogenic as Bogart. How good does Bogart look in every shot? For a man who was slight in build with thinning hair, a scarred lip, and crooked teeth, Bogart was a cinematic titan once you put him on the big screen. I can imagine that it was a lot of fun to put him in a dark suit, slip a gun in his hand, and then take your time coming up with amazing ways to frame that marvelous face:
There’s so much great stuff going on it that picture alone that it’s worth the price of admission.
The Bottom Line
Not a must see, but certainly a great showing by Bogart in a weak film. If the plot drags too much, just turn off the sound and revel at the way that Bogart commands every frame that he’s in!