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It’s a rainy night in Gulf City, “Tropical Paradise of the South.” A beat-up Bogart shoulders up to a couple looking in a shop window. The woman recoils in disgust at his bloody face. Bogart runs down the street and into a church, where he begins his voiceover “confession” to a priest, a tale of his search for a war buddy was about to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor before disappearing.
The first thing I notice as soon as Bogie takes off his fedora in the church, without a doubt, Dead Reckoning stands out as the movie with the worst hairpiece applied to Bogart’s balding head. Warner Bros. always did a pretty good job of hiding his “receding hairline,” but the wig wrangler at Columbia attached a terrible piece on his head, with a high-rolling surf wave in front that just doesn’t look right on Bogie, and it just sits there on top of his head. In shots where we see Bogart from behind or from the side, the delineation between the hairpiece and Bogie’s real hair is obvious.
How bad is it? I can’t recall ever spending so much time worrying about Bogie’s hair in a movie before. I’d certainly seen Dead Reckoning before, but it didn’t make much of an impression because I couldn’t recall it at all, which forced me into research mode.
The female lead is Lizbeth Scott, whose femme fatale status I have always questioned. She’s no Rita Hayworth.
I mention Rita in particular because this is one of the odd Bogie noirs not from Warner Bros. He was loaned out for this film to Columbia, and his co-star was supposed to be Rita Hayworth, who had just set film screens aflame in Gilda. But she was in a contract dispute with Columbia and refused to take the part. How much that dispute had to do with her next film, starring alongside her estranged director husband Orson Welles’ noir The Lady from Shanghai.
Whatever the reason, Hayworth was not playing ball with the studio, which was gambling on a big hit with Bogart and Hayworth.
Enter Lizbeth Scott.
I read somewhere that the studios had first tried to pair Bogart and Hayworth in Gilda, but Bogart, at the top of his game at the time, felt Hayworth was too beautiful and would detract from his role. Why he changed his mind after Gilda, I can only guess that she had captivated Bogie along with everyone else as Gilda.
I would love to see Bogie in the role played by Glenn Ford in Gilda, but I can’t imagine it because the unknown Ford invested the role with a feisty underdoggedness that it would have been impossible for Bogie, at the height of his career, to have conveyed. That’s something he’d have to dig for later as the paranoic Fred C. Dobbs in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.
Man, I wish that movie had been made with Bogart and Hayworth.
Instead we have Bogie and Lizbeth Scott in a post WWII-film noir. Scott was on loan from Paramount.
A funny side note: Columbia wanted to promote Scott as a reasonable look alike for Bogart’s real wife, Lauren Bacall, but Bogart scotched all that by saying she looked more like his first wife, Mayo Methot, which, I think was not a compliment.
I don’t think the chemistry between them ever really works, not like Bogie and Mary Astor in The Maltese Falcon, not like Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca, and certainly not like Lauren Bacall in To Have and Have Not, The Big Sleep or Key Largo.
Like Hayworth in Gilda, in Dead Reckoning Scott is a nightclub singer. In one scene she delivers a song (sung by Trudy Stevens in a very convincing voice, with even a hint of the lisp Scott had) in a black dress that looks very much like the one Hayworth torched the screen with doing “Put the Blame on Mame.” But, again, Lizbeth Scott is no Rita Hayworth. (Just a quick tangent here. Hayworth once commented on her romantic life by saying “They fell in love with Gilda and woke up with me.”)
But Bogie’s character – a paratrooper Captain by the name of Rip Murdock – digs her act. After her song, he lights a cigarette for her and says “Cinderella with a husky voice.”
In typical fashion, Bogart had the snappiest lines, but there is one extended bit of male chauvinism that I can’t imagine any filmmaker including today.
Rip is at the wheel of a car with Scott’s character (Coral Chandler) when he goes into an extended speech that Bogart was known to recite when he had been drinking.
Rip Murdock: You know, the trouble with women is they ask too many questions. They should spend all their time just being beautiful.
Coral Chandler: And let the men do the worrying.
Rip Murdock: Yeah. You know, I've been thinking: women ought to come capsule-sized, about four inches high. When a man goes out of an evening, he just puts her in his pocket and takes her along with him, and that way he knows exactly where she is. He gets to his favorite restaurant, he puts her on the table and lets her run around among the coffee cups while he swaps a few lies with his pals...
Coral Chandler: Why...
Rip Murdock: Without danger of interruption. And when it comes that time of the evening when he wants her full-sized and beautiful, he just waves his hand and there she is, full-sized.
Coral Chandler: Why, that's the most conceited statement I've ever heard.
Rip Murdock: But if she starts to interrupt, he just shrinks her back to pocket-size and puts her away.
Coral Chandler: I understand. What you're saying is: women are made to be loved.
Rip Murdock: Is THAT what I'm saying?
Coral Chandler: Yes, it's a confession. A woman may drive you out of your mind, but you wouldn't trust her, and because you couldn't put her in your pocket, you get all mixed up.
With the many convolutions in this movie, the plot if a tad hard to follow. Some say The Big Sleep is the most convoluted story in the film noir genre, but my vote goes to this one.
Several character actors will look familiar for having played many minor roles, but a standout here is Sanctuary Club owner Martinelli (Morris Carnovsky). In a few short years after this movie was made, Carnovsky was blacklisted by Hollywood for refusing to name names when the House Un-American Activities Committee called him to testify about whether he and his wife were or had been Communists. Director Elia Kazan had named the Carnovsky’s, and several other friends and associates, when he appeared before the committee.
Interesting that in 1947 – the year after Dead Reckoning was made – both Bogart and Bacall were members of the Committee for the First Amendment, along with a host of other actors and directors, to protest the HUAC hearings. Bogie had been assured there were no Communists among the First Amendment Committee. When he learned that actor Sterling Hayden had been a Commie, along with other committee members such as Dalton Trumbo and John Howard Lawson, he ended his support famously with an article in a 1948 Photoplay magazine headlined "I’m No Communist.”