Dead Reckoning

February 10, 2010 at 4:33 PM (Film Noir Reviews, Uncategorized) (, , , , )


“Roulette wheels have a way of running over me.” That pretty much sums it up for Capt. Rip Murdock. On his way back from the war with his buddy, soon to be medal of honor recipient Johnny Drake, Rip probably felt as if the good times were about to begin. Little did he know that the roulette wheel of fate was about to roll over both he and Johnny. Living in the world of film noir, Murdock should have known as much. Right from the beginning, you know something is going to go terribly wrong in Dead Reckoning. 

Dead Reckoning is a 1947 film noir starring Humphrey Bogart and Lizabeth Scott and directed by John Cromwell. Other major supporting characters include Morris Carnovsky, Charles Cane, William Prince and George Chandler. Cromwell also directed another notable noir The Racket and is the father of actor James Cromwell, the murdering police chief Dudley Smith in L.A. Confidential. John Cromwell, like several other noir directors, was a victim of the black list and had to endure 7 years in exile from his chosen career.   

Though Dead Reckoning is rather unknown today, it is one of the better Bogart noirs. The story is told in flashbacks with voice over. As Capt. “Rip” Murdock (Bogart) and Sgt. Johnny Drake (Prince) are traveling on a train, Johnny finds out that he is to receive the the Medal of Honor and jumps off the train. Rip then gets the assignment to find him. 

Rip does  find him—in the morgue, on a slab. From then on, Rip’s journey is to find out what happened and who is responsible. He ends up at a club, where the singer Coral Chandler (Scott) and the bartender Louis Ord (George Chandler) are friends of Johnny. Coral is an old flame of Johnny’s before the war though she was married. The body of Coral’s husband was found and rather than proclaim innocence and let justice do its thing, Johnny, in normal noir fashion, takes off. He then uses a fake name to enlist and join the war so he can fade into oblivion. He should have known better as well.   

Elements of Noir 

There are few elements of noir that are missing from this film. It doesn’t hurt that two major noir stalwarts are in the film, Bogart and Lizabeth Scott. In addition, There is the femme fatale, a shadowy underworld of gambling and rackets, suave gangster types, plot twists, fate rearing its ugly head and some snappy dialogue. 

Johnny is the first victim of fate. He falls in love with Coral and then her husband is killed. He runs away to join the war and avoid a trial that would not be kind to him, he thinks. Johnny then becomes a big hero and is about to have his face plastered all over the headlines and newsreels causing him to set out on the run again. Fate also has a little in store for Rip, Coral and even Louis Ord the bartender. 

Visually, the film is strikingly dark, with virtually every scene in the film dominated by darkness and shadows. The few daylight scenes that are in the film seem out of place and take away from the power of the imagery of the rest of the film. The city as backdrop, hanging over and behind them, constantly adds to the noir aura of the film and the loneliness of virtually all the main characters.

 (Spoiler) 

Nothing in this film appears as it truly is. Rip at one moment seems as if he can take on the world, and the next minute, you can see his vulnerability and almost complete helplessness. Coral seems sincere one minute, in her white dress set off against the shadows, but is wearing black for much of the film and her jasmine perfume hangs in the air when Rip is blackjacked from behind.  

Recommendation 

Though it will not crack a list of the top film noirs of all time, Dead Reckoning certainly does not disappoint. If you like smoky nightclubs, husky voiced nightclub singers, a love triangle, never knowing exactly who the bad guy is, and some tough luck for your protagonist, then you will like Dead Reckoning

There are some problems with the film; Lizabeth Scott, though beautiful and sexy, is not much of an actress. The scene where she is serenading Rip is a bit painful, so much so that Bogart seems to be fighting the urge to end the scene. The voice over is a bit too much and some of the dialogue is over-the-top. The worst is thesnappy dialogue included in the voice over, such as “The only thing missing was the sledgehammer highball and the pair of snake eyes dice.” The baseball references are also annoying and just seem thrown in. 

The good things in the film are Bogart himself. Rip is reminiscent of Bogart’s Marlowe character in The Big Sleep. Just like in The Big Sleep, Bogart’s character throws together a few disguises and manners of speaking. Mr. Martinelli is a wonderfully smooth bad guy who is every bit the match for Rip. The film draws you into the story from the beginning and keeps you guessing as to whether or not Coral is a schemer or just unlucky like Rip and Johnny. 

While there are better films, if you ever get a chance to see Dead Reckoning it is well worth the time.

 

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Dark Passage

January 31, 2010 at 5:07 PM (Film Noir Reviews) (, , , , , , )


Dark Passage is a 1947 film noir starring Humphrey Bogart and his new bride Lauren Bacall. It was the 3rd of 4 films they were to make together and the first in which they were married. The film is based upon the novel of the same name by David Goodis and the screenplay was written by Delmer Daves who also served as the director. Other members of the cast include the great Agnes Moorehead, Bruce Bennett and Clifton Young. 

Delmer Daves is not a household name among noir aficionados, with Dark Passage really being his only noir directing credit. However, he did direct the original 3:10 to Yuma, which is a wonderful noirish western that you may prefer over the remake from a few years ago. Daves was an accomplish screenwriter, who finally got the chance to direct with Destination Tokyo starring Cary Grant and John Garfield in 1943. 

Clifton Young (Baker) had small roles in a few other noir films such as Possessed and Deception, though this is his most important noir role. Bruce Bennett (Bob) seemed to go back and forth between westerns and noirs, appearing in Treasure of the Sierra Madre with Bogie and other noirs such as Mildred Pierce and Mystery Street.  

Agnes Moorehead is a wonder and steals the rug out from under both Bogart and Bacall in this film. There is probably no bigger Bogart fan in the world than me, but the best performance in this film is Agnes’s portrayal of the selfish, over-bearing Madge. Agnes rose to prominence along with most of her entire cast masts with Citizen Kane and continued to star in Orson Welles films and also appeared in the noir 14 Hours.  

 The film is noted for its POV focus, much like Lady in the Lake, though it is less a gimmick in this film and more a part of the plot. Bogart plays Vincent Parry, and the movie opens with him escaping from prison. He is picked up by a man named Baker (Clifton Young), but Baker becomes wise to the fact that Parry is an escaped convict. Parry then slugs Baker and begins to steal his clothes and car. However, a beautiful young painter Irene Jansen (Lauren Bacall) comes to his rescue and drives him out of trouble and to her apartment. 

It turns out the Irene is a devotee of Parry and visited his trial. Parry was convicted of killing his wife, as was Irene’s father. Irene is certain that both Parry and her father were innocent. However, in Parry’s case, the marriage was seriously on the rocks and his love for his wife was virtually non-existent. 

Because his face plastered all over the newspapers and his description all over the airwaves, Parry decides, with the help of a saintly, crooked cabbie, that plastic surgery is the ticket to ultimate escape. Even after the surgery, Parry has difficulties hiding from the cops. He ultimately decides to find out who killed his wife, so he can clear his name and live a normal life. 

Elements of Noir (Spoilers) 

This film is packed with elements of noir. The title lets you know right away that the film is going to be dark, much of the film is shot at night in San Francisco, and several of the characters exhibit the characteristics of those that inhabit the noir world. Vincent Parry is a man who has been dealt a horrible blow by fate, one that he feels unable to do much about. 

Parry wants to find the person who killed his wife, but he also seriously considers simply running away. He says, “…got the Indian sign on me. It seems I can’t win.” Parry thinks he has no way to win against what has already determined for him. Even though it is not true in Parry’s situation, the cabbie reveals a common noir thread—fatalism. He talks about a friend of his that got into a big fight with his wife and threw a bread knife at her. “She ducked,” the cabbie said. “Maybe if your wife had ducked there’d be no trial, no Quentin, no on the lamb.” 

Irene Jansen is the damaged woman who helps the damaged man get things back together. She is too nice to be a femme fatale, but she does have the stones to help out a man escaping from prison. 

Madge, on the other hand, is pure noir and black in her soul. She cares “nothing about no one” and it is mentioned several times early in the film that even if she doesn’t want something, she can’t stand for someone else to have it. She is the femme fatale, though lacking a bit in the femme department. 

Though he had little experience with noir, director Daves produces some wonderful images. The shadows and chiaroscuro lightning are wonderful in this film, and the long, wide shots of San Francisco in the daylight are wonderful, reminiscent of sprawling wide open shots you would see in a western.  

Recommendation  

While not Bogart’s best performance or his best film, Dark Passage is certainly a film noir treasure. It is wonderfully directed by Delmer Daves, Agnes Moorehead is great, and Bogart is still good in the movie, just not great. The story keeps you going and the gimmick does not take over the film like it does in Lady in the Lake

Bogart’s face is not seen in this film during the first hour, a rarity in the days of star power. The reason this works, more so than in Lady in the Lake, is that it is much more a part of the plot. Early in the film you see Bogart’s figure, but he remains in the shadows to help cover his face. Later on, he is covered by bandages because of the surgery. It is the taking off of the bandages that first reveals the face of Bogart, though all throughout the first hour, you know its Bogie because of the voice. 

This film does not get the recognition it deserves. Many only know it because of the early POV and that Bogie’s face is not seen for the first two-thirds of the film. However, when you are watching the film and in that world, you are entertained, on the edge of your seat in many instances and you want to know what is going to happen next. Add to that the great images and that is all you can truly ask of any film.

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The Best of Film Noir

July 2, 2009 at 10:08 PM (Film Noir Documentaries) (, , , )


The Best of Film Noir is a very elementary introduction to the genre. It mentions some of the most notable films, such as Double Indemnity, The Big Sleep, Touch of Evil and Out of the Past. It also gives you brief glimpses of Bogart and Robert Mitchum, but it doesn’t go into any great detail about the elements of noir or a history of how it came about.

The Best of Film Noir does provide a few interesting archival interviews, especially in the bonus section that includes quick studies of Rod Steiger, Bogart and Orson Welles. There is also some archival footage of Bogie and Bacall at the 1955 Oscars and a funny story of Bogart starting a fight at a party that had to be broken up by John Wayne.

 After the one hour documentary, there are condensed versions of D.O.A. and Detour, which I don’t understand. If you want to see those films, you should just watch the whole movie. Also in the extras after the documentary is a quick commentary by film critic Jeffrey Wells, which is informative for newcomers to the film noir genre.

 If you already have a healthy understanding, you will not get much from this documentary that you don’t already know. The best thing about this documentary is the archival footage and interviews. If you are new to film noir, it is a good place to get a few recommendations as to films you should check out.

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