Rip Murdock is ready for a fight when he walks into the Sanctuary Club in Gulf City. He couldn’t have done better if he’d thrown the first punch. She catches him right between the eyes, the “Cinderella with the husky voice” who sits on a bar stool near him and asks for a Ramos Gin Fizz. We get a full introduction to Lizabeth Scott as Coral Chandler – starting from her legs and on up to a face made for close-ups – and we know Rip hasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell.
It was a twist of fate that led Captain Warren “Rip” Murdock to the Sanctuary Club that night. Two days before he’d been on a train to Washington with his buddy, Sergeant Johnny Drake who was to receive the Congressional Medal. Without warning Drake had jumped off the train and disappeared in Philadelphia causing Murdock to make a detour in hopes of finding his friend. Unfortunately by the time Rip is face to face with Johnny again the latter’s body is lying on a slab in the morgue, burnt to a crisp. Rip sets out to find out how Johnny ended up dead, but instead learns that his friend had been involved with all sorts of shady characters including the sultry blonde named Coral Chandler.
Directed by John Cromwell, with a screenplay written by Steve Fisher and Oliver H. P. Garrett based on a story by Gerald Drayson Adams and Sidney Biddell, the story in Dead Reckoning can seem somewhat convoluted at times. The whodunit melodrama allows for an entertaining 100 minutes, however, thanks to enjoyable dialogue and the film’s actors. Humphrey Bogart is good as Rip Murdock who recites the story in flashback. Bogie does well by noir dialogue and gets more than his share of it here. As Rip Bogie is not his usual tough-guy self, but manages to get the better of several scary people. He also gets the ultimate payback in the film’s satisfying ending, but not before he ends up in the arms of his friend’s ex-love who plays him like a fiddle.
It’s also worth giving a shout out to Morris Carnovsky who delivers a nice performance as Martinelli the big-time mobster who hates physical violence. Despite his criminal tendencies Martinelli need not ever see violence because he has a dumb henchman (Marvin Miller) who enjoys that part of the business. In any case, all the tough, bad guys – alive and dead – are brought together thanks to Lizabeth Scott whose character drives the story forward. It’s simply the scheming, but irresistible femme doing what she does best.
“Oh, it’s a blue, sick world, Rip” Coral cries to the man she pledges her love to, her savior and the one she tries to kill on more than one occasion. It’s all in a day’s greed. At first glance Rip thought of Coral Chandler as a Cinderella with a husky voice, but he’d learn soon enough she is more like the evil step sister trying to (figuratively) fit the size six glass slipper onto her size ten, calloused foot. Despite the fact that Dead Reckoning is only Lizabeth Scott’s third film, that she’s not yet completely comfortable with the femme fatale role she’d play so convincingly in later outings she delivers the goods. Coral, which is too lovely a name for the likes of this woman, is ready to love at a moment’s notice, but always with her finger on the trigger.
Lizabeth Scott would say in an interview that there was something about the lens that she adored, and that adored her back. From a viewer’s perspective there’s no arguing that love affair. Scott poured it on thick and from the moment we see her in Dead Reckoning, the breakout picture for the sultry blonde, it’s easy to see why she came to represent the archetypal femme.
This post was my contribution to the May/June Special “I Love Liz” issue of The Dark Pages, The Newsletter for Film Noir Lovers. The must-read issue is replete with fantastic articles dedicated to Lizabeth Scott and her films as a tribute to the actress who died earlier this year.
For more Film Noir be sure to tune into TCM this Friday for the last day-long entry in the network’s ‘Summer of Darkness’ festival. A fantastically murderous schedule awaits! If you love film noir movie posters as much as I do you may want to visit the film noir, Summer of Darkness galleries I published to coincide with TCM’s festival: