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.


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.  


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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