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Rip Murdock and Johnny Darke are en route to Washington when Johnny disappears and then turns up dead. Rip learns that Johnny had been accused of murder and sets out to find out what he can. He falls in love with Coral whose husband Johnny is supposed to have killed. Written by
Ed Stephan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Postwar Bogart in a Derivative Yet Gripping Film Noir
If Humphrey Bogart had ever decided to film one of Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer thrillers, it would have turned out something like 1947's DEAD RECKONING. Although it's not actually based on a book, John Cromwell's tautly-directed film noir owes more than a little of its plotting and characterization to earlier classic crime novels-turned-classic Bogart movies. Indeed, when my husband Vin entered the room while the film was on, he began watching it with me and soon asked, "Is this THE BIG SLEEP, or THE MALTESE FALCON?" However, DEAD RECKONING is steeped in the kind of bitter post-war viciousness that distinguished Mickey Spillane's writing -- not that there's anything wrong with that! :-) Bogart commands the screen as Rip Murdock, a former Army paratrooper (lots of colorful references to parachutes and jumping here) and one of the most misogynistic good guys he ever played (not that you can blame Rip, after the wringer he's put through in this film). Captain Rip starts out trying to find out why his Sergeant and pal Johnny Drake (William Prince) has 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. 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 :-), where he's quickly sucked into a whirlpool of secrets, double-crossing, murder, and such inventive mayhem as tossing napalm-powered Molotov cocktails at sinister smoothie Morris Carnovsky and his psycho henchman Marvin (THE MILLIONAIRE) Miller to make them talk. Standing in for quintessential Bogart leading lady Lauren Bacall (and original leading lady Rita Hayworth, who was hung up making THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI) is Lizabeth Scott as mysterious chanteuse Coral Chandler, the kind of dame guys go gaga for against their better judgment (she's got so many pet names from her various beaus that the first time I saw the film, I wasn't quite sure if her name was "Coral," "Dusty," or, of all things, "Mike"!). While Scott's no Bacall (don't get me wrong, Scott fans, I like her, but to my ears, her husky voice always sounds more phlegmy than sultry. Every time Scott speaks, I half-expect someone to offer her a cough drop!), she's certainly chock full of luminous blonde beauty, plus Scott has an air of wounded vulnerability that makes me empathize with her in spite of myself. Sometimes the film is gloriously, deliriously 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 DEAD RECKONING works, it's dynamite (literally, when Bogart and Scott join forces with safecracker/explosives expert Wallace Ford)! Even when things get 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. If you love Bogart and you like your film noir grim yet glamorous and over-the-top at times, DEAD RECKONING is well worth a look.
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