Thursday, January 29, 2004

REVIEW: Dead Reckoning

* * (out of four)
Seen 26 January 2004 at the Brattle Theater (Humphrey Bogart: The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of)

The next time someone says "Hollywood just doesn't make them like they used to any more", and I feel like the "there's always been crap" rebuttal rather than the "there's great stuff out there" line, Dead Reckoning is one of the movies I'll pull out. It's not really awful, but it's decidedly mediocre, and is evidence that having pretty horrible dialogue despite five credited writers is not a new phenomenon.

Returning home from World War II, Captain "Rip" Murdock (Bogart) and Sergeant Johnny Drake are due for the Congressional Medal of Honor and Distinguished Service Cross. But Johnny bolts from the train when photographers show up, and Murdock is sort of charged by the army with locating him. This leads him to Gulf City in the south, where he finds that Johnny wasn't who he seemed and a murder just before the end of the war still casts a long shadow, with Coral Chandler (Lizabeth Scott), the widow of the victim and Johnny's lover, in the center.

Despite Bogart probably being an A-list star by the time this came out, it is definitely a B movie, a pulp full of tough guys and gangsters and useless police officers. Rip and Coral seem to fall in love all too quickly, Rip seems to forget he's investigating on behalf of the Army (which could make his dealings with the local cops much more smooth), and the last act contains an excess of plot twists and reversals, though many of them are painfully telegraphed. Director John Cromwell also makes some unusual stylistic choices, like keeping Bogart's character in shadow for the framing scenes (much of the story is told in flashback) even though we've already seen his face; perhaps the chase scene which opened the movie was originally meant to come later. It also features, in a moment of unintentional hilarity, Ms. Scott singing, and all the other characters remarking on how great a singer she is, when, quite frankly, she's terrible, and not in a "tastes change over time" way. It's one of those numbers which grind a picture to a halt and make a modern audience beg for it to stop.

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