Dead Reckoning [1947]

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Apologies to anyone who isn’t a fan of Humphrey Bogart – this blog is rapidly turning into some kind of Bogie homage. I did nothing to avoid this by watching yet another Bogart film last night – John Cromwell‘s rather disappointing “Dead Reckoning“.

I really cant work out what went wrong here. On the surface John Cromwell might as well be making a Sam Spade film, and seems to have all the right ingredients. Bogart’s character has been lifted with minimal change from The Maltese Falcon, and has some brilliantly dark and cutting lines. Unfortunately Bogart -along with his well-written dialogue and delivery – is the only positive point.

After a strong and intriguing start, the film’s plot begins to meander and flatten, and at times becomes downright convoluted and confusing with too many red herrings and false leads. There are a few great scenes – Bogart coolly avoiding a murder set-up, and demonstrating some awesome skill at dice – but they are strung together so flatly, in such a contrived, derivative plot that it is easy to lose interest.

Lizabeth Scott appears in a role that was obviously designed with an actress such as Lauren Bacall or Rita Hayworth in mind, and proceeds to put in one of the most wooden and cringe-worthy performances I have seen in a film-noir, highlighted by one of the most awkwardly mistimed lip-synch songs that I have ever seen. I believe this is the first performance of Scott’s that I have experienced, so I may be doing her a disservice, however there is nothing here that makes me want to check out any of her other roles.

I have been very fortunate with film choices recently, and have had a good run of some great films, but Dead Reckoning was an average, nay below average, experience for me. It’s testament to Bogie’s skill that he was able to remain thoroughly convincing and entertaining amidst a sea of (admittedly stylish) mediocrity. If it wasn’t for his faultless performance it is likely I wouldn’t have finished watching. For die-hard Bogart fans only.

Even the trailer is corny…

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Crossfire [1947]

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IMDb summary : “Homicide Capt. Finlay finds evidence that one or more of a group of demobilized soldiers is involved in the death of Joseph Samuels. In flashbacks, we see the night’s events from different viewpoints as Sergeant Keeley investigates on his own, trying to clear his friend Mitchell, to whom circumstantial evidence points. Then the real, ugly motive for the killing begins to dawn on both Finlay and Keeley…”

More message-movie than conventional film-noir (is there any such thing?), this is a cracking detective story that tunes in to the anti-semetic sensitivities of 1940s America.

It is worth noting that while Crossfire makes a (rather obvious and heavy-handed) statement renouncing antisemitism, the book that the film is based on actually focused on homophobia. As the Hays Code forbade any kind of discussion or representation of homosexuality, and tapping into the zeitgeist of 1940s America (the film arrived more or less alongside the similarly-themed “Gentleman’s Agreement“), the film changes a homosexual victim to a Jewish victim, but in truth the film could be about any form of extreme prejudice and would arrive at the same conclusion.

There are still a couple of remnants of the original focus on homosexuality however. Armed with this knowledge it makes a lot more sense as to why a Jewish man would invite a young upset squaddie back to his room alone. It’s also clear why this young soldier would then go out looking for female company to assert his masculinity after this encounter with a Jewish man. While watching the film it isn’t really noticeable, but the pieces slot together even better when in hindsight you replace “Jewish” with “homosexual”.

With a simple plot and a strongly played message, Crossfire’s strength lies in the characterisation of its main players, none more so than the intelligent portrayal of Captain Finlay by Robert Young. The Oscar winning Gloria Grahame is earthy, sassy and alluring as card-girl Ginny. Robert Mitchum‘s character is solid, but as later stated by Mitchum himself, could have been played by anyone. Robert Ryan is utterly believable as a drunken war vet who seems to be covering something up. The fantastically well-written characters, a swiftly paced screenplay, some great acting and the noir-style visuals elevate the film above what could be a conventional message movie, into a very entertaining detective drama.

A great film. Big thanks to iluvcinema for another spot-on recommendation. To finish up, here is a great little propaganda trailer / teaser, which shows you just how it was perceived by audiences and the studios at the time.