Dead Reckoning (1947)

Toronto Film Society presented Dead Reckoning (1947) on Sunday, January 20, 2019 in a double bill with 99 River Street as part of the Season 71 Sunday Afternoon Film Buffs Series, Programme 4.

Production Company: Columbia Pictures.  Producer: Sidney Biddell.  Director: John Cromwell.  Assistant Director: Seymour Friedman.  Screenplay: Oliver H.P. Garrett, Steve Fisher, based on a story by Gerald Drayson Adams and Sidney Biddell and adaptation: Allen Rivkin.  Musical Director: Morris Stoloff.  Music Composed by Marlin Skiles, Hugo Friedhofer.  Orchestration: Joseph Dubin, Arthur Morton.  Cinematography: Leo Tover.  Still Photographer: Ned Scott.  Film Editing: Gene Havlick.  Art Direction: Stephen Goosson, Rudolph Sternad.  Set Decoration: Louis Diage.  Costumes: Jean Louis.  Sound: Jack A. Goodrich.  Stunts: Chuck Hamilton, Hugh Hooker.  Release Date: January 2, 1947.

Cast: Humphrey Bogart (Capt. “Rip” Murdock), Lizabeth Scott (“Dusty” Chandler), Morris Carnovsky (Martinelli), Charles Cane (Lt. Kincaid), William Prince (Sgt. Johnny Drake), Marvin Miller (Krause), Wallace Ford (McGee), James Bell (Father Logan), George Chandler (Louis Ord), William Forrest (Lt. Col. Simpson), Ruby Dandridge (Hyacinth), Matthew “Stymie” Beard (Bellboy), John Bohn (Croupier), Paul Bradley (Man), Sayre Dearing (Croupier), Harry Denny (Dealer), Dudley Dickerson (Room Service Waiter), Tom Dillon (Priest), George Eldredge (Police Officer Casey), Matty Fain (Ed), Sam Finn (Raker), Bess Flowers (Nightclub Guest), Kay Garrett (Dealer), Joe Gilbert (Croupier), Alyce Goering (Woman), Dick Gordon (Dealer), Wilton Graff (Surgeon), Jesse Graves (Waiter at The Dixie), Chuck Hamilton (Detective), Alvin Hammer (Photographer), Maynard Holmes (Desk Clerk), Hugh Hooker (Bellboy), Charles Jordan (Mike), W.E. Lawrence (Stewart), Harold Miller (Nightclub Guest), Garry Owen (Reporter), Mark Roberts (Bandleader), Robert Ryan (Detective), Jack Santoro (Raker), Syd Saylor (Morgue Attendant), Ray Teal (Motorcycle Cop), Lillian Wells (Pretty Girl), Frank Wilcox (Hotel Desk Clerk), Isabel Withers (Nurse).

The country’s politics were changing and by the time of the 1946 elections, a conservative backlash was sweeping the country. Hollywood was not isolated.  Ads promoting Hollywood Independent Citizens Committee of the Arts, Sciences, and Professions (HICCASP) were designed by animation cartoonist Chuck Jones promoting candidates.  Humphrey Bogart headed the list of endorsers ranging from the late president’s oldest son, James Roosevelt, to screenwriter Dalton Trumbo.  Bogart’s name was on the program committee for a star-packed dinner at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel that supported more openness on nuclear research.  He was also among the sponsors of an open forum on The Challenge of the Post War World to the Liberal Movement held by the feisty left-of-centre magazine The Nation at the Ambassador Auditorium.

At the Bogart/Bacall residence, evening gatherings were a combination of strong opinion and strong drink.  The regulars were described as “liberal thinkers, writers, newspapermen, intellectuals, men who talk and argue.”  An exception was Pulitzer Prize winner Louis Bromfield, American author and conservationist, who gained international recognition by pioneering innovative scientific farming concepts.  He and Bogart would often end up in heated disagreement.  Bacall, half-joking, would put a sign, reading: “Danger!!  Alcohol and Bogart at work!  Do NOT discuss Politics—Religion—Women—Men—Pictures—Theatre—or anything else!”

Bromfield was the one backing a winner.  In the primary election that spring, a liberal-supported statewide ticket had been defeated and a new virus had been injected into the political process.  HICCASP reported its candidates were “immobilized” by “redbaiting”.  That November, five-term serving politician Jerry Voorhis lost his what had been considered a safe seat to the political unknown Richard Nixon after a campaign charging Voorhis with voting “the Moscow line.”  In Wisconsin, a similar tack worked for another unknown, Joseph R. McCarthy.  In the state capital of Sacramento, HICCASP was denounced as a Communist front.  Hollywood liberalism was slowly withering.

On the set of director John Cromwell’s Dead Reckoning, co-star Lizabeth Scott watched Bogart pause at times, look off into the distance, smile sourly and say to no one in particular, “Isn’t this a stupid way to make a living?”

Scott was a discovery of producer Hal Wallis.  Her high cheekbones and shoulder-length blond hair led columnists to dub her “The Threat.”  She had initially been tense about working with Bogart but instead found him “warm, charming, delightful.”  In one scene, Bogart was to pull two large and heavy men out of a closet.  The slender, 5-foot 6-inch Bogart “said to the crew, ‘Hey, you guys, you’ve got to help me out.’  They put the men on a little platform with four wheels, and Bogart pulled them out with such ease and strength, it was really something to behold when you saw it on the screen,” said Scott.

He never shot past six o’clock, ate alone in his dressing room on the contents of a lunch pail from home and a bottle or two of beer, and followed that with a half hour’s nap.  For all the calm of his day, his discontent was often evident to younger colleagues.  Scott was always aware of it.  “Not that he didn’t want to be an actor, that he didn’t enjoy the fame, the success, the material aspects; but that somewhere within himself, he thought he should be doing greater things.”  This was also noticed by 34-year-old writer and director Richard Brooks, who later became good friends with the 46-year-old Bogart, whom he first met during the time of the shooting of Dead Reckoning.

Just a bit of history for us to keep in mind while watching, and enjoying today’s film.

Source:  Bogart by A.M. Sperber and Eric Lax (1997)

Introduction by Caren Feldman

The Story: Rip Murdock and Johnny Drake 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.

Fun Facts: 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 The Lady from Shanghai (1947). Lizabeth Scott’s singing was dubbed by Trudy Stevens. In the train scene, after they discover that Drake is to receive the 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, which was taken at the National Press Club in 1945. The blonde was Lauren Bacall.

“Bogart’s fine as a tough WW2 veteran solving a soldier-buddy’s murder. Well-acted drama.”  – Leonard Maltin

“There are a lot of things about the script of Dead Reckoning that an attentive spectator might find disconcerting, but the cumulative effect of the new Humphrey Bogart slug ’em-love ’em-and-leave ’em picture at Loew’s Criterion is all on the good side of entertainment. Old ‘Bogey’ takes the drubbing of his cinematic life from a tough, psychopathic character who delights in ‘messing up’ his victims to the strains of sweet music, but the revenge our hero ultimately enjoys is a dilly and, correct us if we’re wrong, sets something of a new high in savage melodramatics. Five writing gents laid out the plot of this rambling, intricate chase whodunit. If their ingenuity at creating story situations falters now and again, and if some of the things they call on Mr. Bogart to do are just this side of sound reasoning, let it be noted that they have provided the star with some of the best all-around dialogue he has had in a long time. And he gets off a mean mouthful in this picture, having long stretches to fill in developments as an offscreen voice. Coming home as a paratrooper captain, Rip Murdock becomes an unwitting detective when his sergeant buddy, who is to receive the Congressional Medal, leaps off the train at Philadelphia and disappears. To keep this synopsis intentionally vague, let’s just say Murdock finds out a few things about his buddy which lead him into the arms of a sultry blonde and more trouble than he had bargained for with a group of tough mugs. John Cromwell, who as a rule devotes his directorial talents to more sedate and imposing subjects, keeps the story flowing smoothly, and except for one dullish stretch while Murdock and his blonde interest are killing an afternoon, the suspense is skillfully drawn out. Mr. Bogart is, of course, beyond criticism in a role such as Dead Reckoning affords him. The same, unfortunately, may not be said about Lizabeth Scott, whose face is expressionless and whose movements are awkward and deliberate. Morris Carnovsky gives a polished performance as a bigtime mobster with no stomach for physical violence and Marvin Miller is all venom and a yard brutish as his henchman. For those with a taste for rough stuff, Dead Reckoning is almost certain to satisfy. All others are hereby cautioned to proceed at their own risk.” – The New York Times

Notes compiled by David Burgess

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