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Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Columbia Writes The Book Of Noir

Dead Reckoning (1947) Another Bogart Flash Back

Why Say It's Explosive? Isn't Dynamite Always Explosive?

A flashbacking crime thriller that Humphrey Bogart literally phones in. I can't recall more of his time and dialogue spent holding a receiver. He's calling after fate of a war buddy who jumps their train on route to receive a Congressional Medal Of Honor. Most of setting is a Louisiana town, as in deep south, which accent Bogie mocks as he speaks to a telephone operator. I'm told an actor's true test is in how real they make a phone scene play; a few got (Academy) rewarded for excelling at it: Louise Rainier, Edmond O'Brien. You wonder why Bogart does his imitative drawl because no one else in Dead Reckoning speaks remotely southern. I was surprised a third of the way in to realize it took place way down there.

Dead Reckoning was a loan-out done just before Bogart re-upped with Warners. It's actually better than some of what he'd been in lately for the home lot. Initiates to noir could watch this and imagine it's a glossary of genre tics: the flashback structure, narration throughout (HB's), the femme fatale ... every trope and then some to make Dead Reckoning seem a parody of a not-yet declared style. Bogart speaks in sports metaphors, being "thrown for a loss," "pitching high and wide," etc. I sometimes blunder into same at Greenbriar, not because I like or know the sport, but merely from watching too many movies like Dead Reckoning. Bogart's character is also just out of the service and not quite weaned off combat. I felt like a fight, he says, well before provocation gets underway. Helpmates against villainy offer surplus grenades that Bogie knows should go to Army Ordinance, but he'll use them all the same to subdue civilian opposition.

Bogart wanted Lauren Bacall for the bad girl part, but Warner said no (they would loan William Prince as the doomed buddy), so Columbia borrowed Lizabeth Scott from Hal Wallis. Scott said Bogart was polite and cooperative, but that she overheard him say "Isn't this a stupid way to make a living?" to no one in particular. Was his a general statement on acting, or Bogart merely commenting on this silly movie? Bogie's real love interest is the doomed buddy. He'll let Liz take the fall rather than see a pal go un-avenged. Besides, women aren't to be trusted. HB's a lot like Popeye in one of those cartoons where the sailor and Bluto have sworn off dames. There's even a part where Bogie goes down a laundry list about "The Trouble With Women." Speaking of that, how many times have we seen dead bodies disposed of by putting them in laundry hampers or down chutes? You'd think cops would eventually start looking in these places first.

Bogart's final blow-off for Scott is a brazen steal from what he handed Mary Astor in The Maltese Falcon. It had only been five years --- had viewership forgotten? Again a desperate woman shoots a man who's behind the wheel of a speeding car, the quickest way to an end title noir knows. Jane Greer would do as much for Mitchum in Out Of The Past a following year, and Barbara Stanwyck used a cigarette lighter to put across similar point for Richard Rober in a few season's later The File On Thelma Jordan. These are tropes beloved of noir and why I watch certain of them over and again. Did Bogart read the scripted speech to Liz and hold his nose? Maybe part of that "stupid living" aside was awareness he was repeat-dialing a gag done before, and better. Bogie was forty-seven and aging out of thrillers fast, that obvious on a man looking ten years past calendar age. Was he wearing a hairpiece this early? I had thought it was donned first around Dark Passage, but his (or someone's) hair in Dead Reckoning looks too luxuriant to be true.

This above still I've had since college shows Bogart and Lizabeth Scott entering the "Dixie Restaurant" where they're greeted by Grady Sutton. He's an ideal host for menus and honey-drippin' hospitality, but was cut from the final print (I can practically hear his dialogue, and regret its absence). This wider view of the Dixie is also absent from Dead Reckoning. What we get is Bogart/Scott close at their table and no other diners or staff visible, other than a waiter Bogie tells to scram. I see a thing like this and wonder how many dollars went to waste staging all that, let alone paying Grady Sutton. I'll bet the credit list of movies he worked on, but wouldn't be seen in, was long as ones we know him from. A fully-dressed set, spoken parts, tables filled with extras --- what was final expense? Dead Reckoning was an important Columbia picture, but it was still a Columbia picture, and Harry Cohn surely blanched at dollars spent so cavalierly. For what info is worth, Dead Reckoning earned a hotsy $2.3 million in domestic rentals, a biggest hit for Columbia that year behind The Jolson Story, Gilda, and Bandits Of Sherwood Forest.

Bogart's later Santana group for Columbia could have used some of production lavished on Dead Reckoning, result of latter being in-house Columbia as opposed to the Santanas where half or more of budget was borrowed by Bogart's indie concern to make them happen. With star salary factored in, plus Columbia's distribution fee off the top, the Santanas had to think thin or lose money. Dead Reckoning, coming before these, is a handsome show and welcome break from sameness at Burbank. Columbia TV sales would be enhanced by this and over half-dozen other titles they could salt syndicated packages with once the Bogart cult kicked in. I've been soft for Dead Reckoning since age fourteen. That was the year Bogart made landfall as a for-life favorite, and even though we had few of his WB classics to warm NC late nights, there was at least those of Columbia extraction, plus post-wars done on free lance basis. I've written before on glories of Tokyo Joe, In A Lonely Place, and The Caine Mutiny. Dead Reckoning streams in HD at Apple I-Tunes, a ravishing sight after years of translucent blacks and milky whites.


Blogger Mike Cline said...

Leaving CAINE out of the mix, DEAD RECKONING is my favorite Bogie Columbia.

8:16 AM  
Blogger stinky fitzwizzle said...

"Explosive dynamite" is redundant and repetitive!

12:47 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

You left out the most important part -- how was Lizabeth Scott's performance of "Either it's Love or it Isn't"?

By the way, neither Bogart nor Dick Powell's kid seem particularly thrilled to meet each other.

2:36 PM  
Blogger Phil Smoot said...

I always get the Bogart titles "Dead Reckoning" and "Dark Passage" confused. Can't remember which is which.

4:37 PM  
Blogger CanadianKen said...

Re: "how was Lizabeth Scott's performance of "Either it's Love or it Isn't?": We'll never know - because her vocals were dubbed by Trudy Stevens (a lady who performed similar duties for the actress a few years later in "Dark City"). Scott did have an interesting singing voice - limited in range - but throaty and sensual. She even released an LP of her own in the late 50's. However studios often chose to redub actresses whose vocalizing was character-rich but musically unconventional, replacing them on the soundtrack with professional singers - ladies who could certainly hit all the notes - but were rarely able to capture the specific star quality of the ladies they subbed for.

9:23 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

Thank you. I thought I was the only one.

7:15 AM  

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