Saturday, January 11, 2020

Movie Reviews: Dead Reckoning

Dead Reckoning
directed by John Cromwell
"I don't trust anybody, especially women!"
This is yet another Humphrey Bogart film noir. As in most of his films Bogart shows how a man of slight stature and average height can light up the screen through easy confidence and occasionally understated threat. His character here is a WW2 veteran. He's not going to be put off by any gangsters. 

As the fictional Michael Corleone remarked to his brother Sonny, did Sollozzo have any artillery or air support? No? Well then Michael wasn't worried. 

This movie is told in partial flashback and has all the normal cliches and tropes you would find in noir films of this time. It was set in the south so something else it has are some very stereotypical Black characters. They don't exactly bug their eyes and tap dance but it's clear that they are seen as secondary or even irrelevant to the larger storyline. 

Captain Warren "Rip" Murdock  is an Army paratrooper and good friend/big brother substitute to a man in his company, Sergeant  Johnny Drake (William Prince).  After the war's completion they're both ordered to report to Washington D.C. for the first and second highest medals the military can bestow. Yeah, these are tough guys, heroes. 

But Drake is not really happy to hear that he's going to get an award and the resulting publicity. He takes off without telling anyone why. 

Murdock follows Drake's trail to the southern metropolis of Gulf City (think Houston or New Orleans) where he finds that Drake just died in a suspicious automobile accident. The body is burned so badly Murdock is the only man who can identify it. Even stranger, Drake joined the Army under an assumed name to avoid a murder charge. Drake was doing the do with a rich man's wife. 

That woman, Coral Chandler (Lizabeth Scott) is still in town and may still be carrying a torch for Drake. But Coral is also mighty chummy with the well mannered local mobster big shot Martinelli (Morris Carnovsky) who runs illegal gambling and other rackets.

Murdock doesn't believe in accidents, not where Martinelli is concerned. Murdock had a life before the Army. He knows people who know Martinelli. And being older and therefore more cynical Murdock is not sure he believes in love either, though he faithfully tells Coral how much Drake used to talk about her. Murdock squires Coral around town. Murdock irritates Martinelli and shakes the trees to see what falls out about Drake's "accident". And slowly Murdock and Coral start to make goo-goo eyes at each other. Or do they?

Although this movie lacks sex scenes, Scott is seen quite often in backless diaphanous gowns. She is a true femme fatale.  The script is complex. It's an open question even after watching the film who did what and why. Scott is also a dead ringer for Bogart's wife, fellow noir actress Lauren Bacall, in looks, hair style and most obviously voice.

Dead Reckoning, despite other shortcomings, provided an example of female strength and capacity without sinking to the modern silliness of having women heroines act, talk, or look like men. Cigarette smoke is ubiquitous, as is the normal wiseacre language. 
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