Friday, April 22, 2011

DEAD RECKONING: “If You’re Looking for Easter Bunnies, You’re a Day Early”

Many people celebrate Easter with colorful eggs; candy; church; bonnets and similar festive finery; a nice dinner with (or even without) their family; and Easter-oriented TV shows and films. Team Bartilucci’s celebration also includes watching the 1947 Humphrey Bogart film noir Dead Reckoning (DR). After all, DR takes place during Easter weekend, hence the subtitle above! If Bogart had ever opted to film one of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer thrillers, it would have turned out like DR. Although director John Cromwell (the 1934 version Of Human Bondage; Anna and the King of Siam; the 1937 version of The Prisoner of Zenda; Caged, among others) didn't actually base DR on a book, this tautly-directed suspenser owes more than a little of its plotting and characterization to earlier classic crime novels-turned-classic Bogart movies. Indeed, when Vinnie entered the room the first time I watched DR on TCM, he began watching it with me and soon asked, “Is this The Big Sleep, or The Maltese Falcon?” However, DR is steeped in the kind of bitter post-war viciousness that distinguished Spillane’s writing — not that there’s anything wrong with that! 

When "Geronimo" leaves a message, Rip jumps!
Bogart commands the screen as Warren “Rip” Murdock, a former Army paratrooper (lots of colorful references to parachutes and jumping here) and one of the most misogynistic good guys Bogart ever played. Who can blame Rip, after the wringer he’s put through in this film? Captain Rip tries to find out why his Sergeant and best pal Johnny Drake (William Prince from Destination Tokyo; the Oscar-winning 1950 Jose Ferrer version of Cyrano de Bergerac, playing Christian; Cinderella Jones; and regular roles on TV soap operas such as The Edge of Night, Search for Tomorrow, and Another World) happens to have a Yale pin with the name “John Joseph Preston” on it, and more importantly, why Johnny bolts rather than accept the Congressional Medal of Honor for his wartime heroism, to his peril. It turns out Johnny had been accused of murder before he hightailed it out of town and enlisted under an alias. Johnny’s trail ends in a fatal car crash, but Rip’s trail of vengeance has just begun. Indeed, Johnny’s ultimate fate haunts the film like a ghost, and Bogart’s performance is both rugged and poignant as he turns amateur detective in order to make sure his friend is posthumously cleared and the real killer nailed.  Rip’s investigation leads him to Gulf City, Tropical Paradise of the South. Don’t take my word for it, check out the neon sign in the upper right-hand corner of the screen in the opening establishing shot! Soon Rip is sucked into a whirlpool of murder, Mickey Finns disguised as Ramos Gin Fizzes, flashbacks, secrets, mysterious codes, double-crossing, and such inventive mayhem as tossing “creeping jelly” grenades (a German precursor to napalm) at sinister smoothie Martinelli (Morris Carnovsky, Yiddish theater stalwart and blacklist victim) and his music-loving psycho henchman Krause (Marvin Miller from the 1950s TV series The Millionaire, as well as the voice of Filmation’s Aquaman) to make them talk.

A Ramos Gin Fizz! You are getting thirsty....
and sleepy the way they make 'em for Rip
at the Sanctuary Club!

"Keep watching the skies, Mike!"
Standing in for quintessential Bogart leading lady Lauren Bacall — and original leading lady Rita Hayworth, who got hung up making The Lady from Shanghai with then-hubby Orson Welles — is Lizabeth Scott as Johnny’s sweetheart, Coral Chandler, who has an air of jasmine and mystery about her. To paraphrase Double Indemnity, how was Rip to know murder could smell like jasmine? It’s soon apparent that Coral knows more about Johnny’s fate than she’s telling. She’s the kind of dame that guys go gaga for against their better judgment. This sultry chanteuse (singing dubbed by Trudy Stevens) has so many pet names from her various beaus that the first time I saw DR, I wasn’t quite sure whether her name was “Coral,” “Dusty,” or of all things, “Mike” (after Mr. Hammer, perhaps?)! Don’t get me wrong, Lizabeth Scott fans, I like her, but I’m afraid that to my ears, her husky voice always sounds more phlegmy than sexy. Every time Scott speaks, I half-expect someone to offer her a cough drop! But although Scott is no Bacall (who among us is?), she’s nevertheless chock full of luminous blonde beauty, plus she has an enchanting smile and an air of wounded vulnerability that makes me empathize with her in spite of myself.

Call McGee for all your napalm needs!
Perhaps because five writers worked on the script, including Steve Fisher of I Wake Up Screaming fame, DR is filled to the brim with memorable dialogue — and is often deliriously, gloriously nutzoid. For instance, Bogart’s speech to Scott early on about how men should be able to reduce women to pocket-size when necessary, and Scott’s interpretation of this theory, must be heard to be believed ( But when DR works, it’s dynamite — literally, when Rip and the lovely “Mike” join forces with safecracker and explosives expert McGee, played by scene-stealing Wallace Ford (Freaks; All Through the Night; Spellbound; Crack-Up, and more)! Even when the situation gets ugly, this movie is always gorgeous to look at, thanks to the stunning use of shadows and light in Leo Tover’s black-and-white photography. Also, keep your eyes peeled for two brief but memorable uncredited performances: grown-up Matthew “Stymie” Beard of The Little Rascals fame as a bellboy stiffed out of a tip by cheapskate cop Charles Cane; and Ruby Dandridge, Dorothy’s mom, as Coral’s lovable maid Mabel! If you love Bogart and you like your film noir grim yet glamorous and over-the-top at times, DR is well worth a look, so break out the night-blooming jasmine, grab a tall, cool Ramos Gin Fizz (hold the knockout drops, please) and enjoy!

They drive by night! Guess the convertible top's on the fritz again!



  1. Fun DEAD RECKONING Fact from the IMDb: "In the train scene, after (Rip Murdock and Johnny Drake) discover that Drake is to receive the (Congressional) Medal of Honor, Murdock quips that maybe the President will let Drake "sit on top of his piano." This is a reference to a then-scandalous photo of Harry Truman playing piano with a leggy blonde on top that was taken at the National Press Club in 1945. The blonde was Lauren Bacall." Ha! :-)

  2. Please welcome Dawn Sample as one of TotED's new Followers! Dawn, we hope you'll enjoy visiting our little movie blog; feel free to share comments or questions, and have a great Easter/Passover/Spring Holiday of your choice! :-)

  3. This actually sounds like a Bogie film I'd be willing to try. Usually I stick with the Bacall ones or something where I know Bogart can PROBABLY be trusted to be a good guy -- and hopefully not die at the end. However, Lizabeth Scott's voice most likely will drive me bonkers. A couple of days ago I watched a Kay Kendall film, and I longed to give her a box of Sudafed the whole time. ;D

  4. Emm, nice to have you drop by! I hear ya regarding Lizabeth Scott's voice, and ILOL over your crack about Kay Kendall! The great thing about DEAD RECKONING is that if you don't like it as a straight thriller, you can easily view it as a movie-length MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER episode with your own DIY call-and-response! :-) Have a great Easter/Spring Holiday of Your Choice weekend! :-)

  5. In spite of the reputation garnered by the likes of Bacall, Hayworth, Stanwyck, etc., Lizabeth Scott will always be, to me, the truest source of the archetype female character who, when she first appears, engenders the mental thought: "Dames! They're nothin' but Trouble!" I have no way of proving it, but I'm willing to bet the femme fatale in the 1952 Daffy Duck cartoon "The Super Snooper" was more than just a little based on Scott.

    After years of being fed only a handfull of Bogart films (CASABLANCA, THE MALTESE FALCON, THE AFRICAN QUEEN and THE CAINE MUTINY . . . with an occasional screening of SABRINA thrown in via CBS), DEAD RECKONING was the one which, for me, broke the ice for the others to come storming in (yet another tip of the hat to the fine folk at TCM), and has been a particular favorite in this neighborhood.

  6. Michael, glad to hear you enjoy DEAD RECKONING as much as I do! I very much enjoyed your comments, and you're right on the money about Lizabeth Scott being a perfect example of a "Dames! They're nothin' but Trouble!" femme fatale type! By the way, if you haven't seen THE BIG SLEEP or TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT, you haven't completed your PhD in Classic Bogart Movies yet. Do watch them when you have a chance; you'll be glad you did. Thanks for putting in your two cents, Michael, and have a great Easter weekend!

  7. Just wanted to share comments from my Twitter pal Kristina Dijan (Tweet her at @HQofK): "Nice piece, rare to find Aquaman and Little Rascals and nice reference to Bacall in the details. Fun fact: when people asked Marvin Miller for his autograph, he would give them a check for a “million dollars worth of good luck” because of THE MILLIONAIRE. What a voice." Thanks, Kristina! Everybody check out Kristina's Web site at

  8. Oh, believe you me, I've seen tons of Bogart since first encountering DEAD RECKONING (SAHARA, CHAIN LIGHTNING and ALL THROUGH THE NIGHT being among my favorites). THE BIG SLEEP and TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT are also goodies (the former possessing perhaps the most erotic scene between two fully clothed people ever filmed, and the latter featuring not only Hoagy Carmichael but a great recurring line about a dead bee).

  9. Michael, I couldn't agree more! Bogart and Bacall didn't need to undress to create erotic heat; they had natural chemistry. Speaking of Hoagy Carmichael (with or without dead bees -- we love that dialogue, too), I thought you'd enjoy one of Team B.'s favorite Hoagy performances! :-)

  10. Actually, when discussing erotic scenes in THE BIG SLEEP, I was thinking more of Bogart and Dorothy Malone in the bookstore. But, as they say, where's Sara in Spanish twice.

  11. Michael, the Bogart/Malone scene in THE BIG SLEEP has always been one of my favorites! Of all the strong-but-gorgeous gals in the films Bogart made with Howard Hawks (now there was a man with an eye for pretty, talented women), young Ms. Malone was way up there, packing more come-hither heat with a tip of her eyeglasses than many actresses aim for when scantily clad. I wanna be a Howard Hawks dame when I grow up! :-)

  12. Please welcome Venus Armida as one of our new TotED Followers! If you're not already a fan of Venus's fabulous silent film blog site "They Had Faces!", you're in for a treat! Check it out at:

  13. Hello to Dawn, an old friend of mine, and Venus, who I hope will be a new one! Dorian, I have not seen this Bogart film for literally years! I need to give Lizabeth Scott another chance. I remember not liking her very much when I was a teenager, and I never really sought her out after that. She does indeed have a smoky voice, which is not a liability since I have one myself! I'm going to do another viewing of Dead Reckoning!

    Wonderful review, very interesting!

  14. Becky, I'm glad you enjoyed my DEAD RECKONING review -- thanks muchly! And I now discover we both happen to have smoky voices, too! I happen to come from a family of husky-voiced gals, and without ever having smoked. :-)). Girlish voices may be cute, but with all due respect to cuteness, smoky voices are sexy -- yay, us! :-)

  15. Some random DEAD RECKONING thoughts:

    1.) Vinnie has quipped that he thinks Lizabeth Scott looks like a Photoshopped rendition of a 1940s femme fatale -- a little bit Lauren Bacall, a little bit Veronica Lake, a soupcon of Barbara Stanwyck, etc.

    2.) I once read some reader's comments on DEAD RECKONING (either IMDb or Amazon, I forget which) saying Scott opens her mouth "like a goldfish, albeit a very pretty goldfish" during her number at The Sanctuary Club.

    3.) And finally, how fitting that this suspense story set during Easter weekend should begin with our complicated hero Rip spilling his tale of two-fisted terror to a priest!

    Discuss amongst yourselves! :-)