Friday, June 7, 2019

Noir Watch: Dead Reckoning (1947)

Watched:  06/06/2019
Format:  Noir Alley on TCM on DVR
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1940's

I know it seems like I heap praise on every single noir that comes along, but I'm usually trying to find some good in the film or a reason it was included in Eddie Muller's Noir Alley line-up.

Muller himself warned us up front that Dead Reckoning (1947) wasn't going to shake the Earth, and in practice - the movie has a wide variety of components that, if I were to tell you "it stars so-and-so, it has this and that plot element, it has a unique location" you'd be nodding and getting noir-jazzed for the movie.  But, in execution...  the movie just feels like a lesser picture almost immediately, and it just never manages to catch fire.

The plot itself sounds terrific.  A pair of paratroopers return from WWII and find they're about to be given the Congressional Medal of Honor and... I can't remember what Bogart was getting, but it wasn't small potatoes.  This has all been a surprise until they're on a train headed for DC - and upon learning of his good fortune, Bogart's pal flips a lid and runs away.  Bogart tracks him to his Florida coastal hometown where he finds he's already been murdered, so he tracks down the dude's lady-love, played by Lizabeth Scott and immediately gets embroiled in some shadowy affairs with a gangster and a host of double-crosses and half-truths, all relayed in heavy-handed voice-over.

Scott herself

Lizabeth Scott was pitched as "The Threat" during this era - as in, a threat to the career of Lauren Bacall who exploded onto the scene without even really trying (and if you've seen a Bacall picture, you get it).  Scott was *not* a threat to Bacall, and while I have a warm place in my heart for her, the studio PR hacks would have done well to just let her be herself, because she is indelibly herself in every movie where she appears.  Husky voiced, and, frankly, maybe a bit more striking than she is beautiful (and striking is good), she's got her own persona and had someone provided her with better material (frankly, I think she has a certain Grace Zabriskie potential that never would have been explored in her prime, and even then...), she could have been great.  But, instead, Bacall became a legend and Scott became the one film nerds are still hashing out 70-odd years after the fact.

But, like I say, I don't think Scott is the problem.  She's fine here, and I'll take her low voice dealing with all the challenges one crosses in a murder scheme over chirping ingenues bursting into tears as their go-to.  I don't even mind the unnecessarily winding plot.  There's just low stakes to the whole thing, and it never feels like it gets any bigger - just keeps hitting two different tones over and over without ever really putting together anything interesting.  Visually, I suppose a post-war St. Petersburg, Florida is a novelty (although it's cast as a fictional city in the film), and Bogart isn't sleep walking through, but he's also not doing his best work or given a chance to do his best work - and it never feels like he connects with Scott like a certain someone else.  And that lack of energy to the movie just permeates - so I don't even point the finger at the in-front of the camera talent.  It's a bit as if a talented director just couldn't ever quite get themselves around the plotting of the thing enough to figure out where to hit the good notes.

The rest of the cast is... good.  I mean, we get Wallace Ford playing a retired safe cracker.  Our gangster is set up as a threat but in the way of low-level local casino racketeers who might get tough, but are mostly just gentlemen operating in a gray area.

All in all, this is not required viewing.  I'd recommend several Bogart films, but this one is for the completionist or the curious.  It does feature a bizarre speech by Bogart about making women capsule sized except for, if we're being honest, sex.  And it's weird enough before Muller explained post-film that Bogart had espoused this belief in real life and they included it in the film, and one wonders how much Bacall slapped this idea right out of his head (Bogart's first wife had been a real piece of work, which might explain how he saw women at the time).

Anyway, it's kind of awful and here it is:

Kids, times used to be different.

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