Dead Reckoning (1947): John Cromwell’s Noir Melodrama, Starring Bogart and Lizabeth Scott

John Cromwell directed Dead Reckoning, a film noir, starring Humphrey Bogart and Lizabeth Scott and featuring Morris Carnovsky.

Dead Reckoning
Dead Reckoning (1947) film poster.jpg

theatrical release poster


The tale was written by Steve Fisher and Oliver H.P. Garrett based on a story by Gerald Drayson Adams and Sidney Biddell, adapted by Allen Rivkin.

Leaving a church, Father Logan, a known ex-paratrooper padre, is approached by Captain “Rip” Murdock. Murdock needs to tell someone what has happened to him in the past few days in case his enemies get to him.

A flashback follows.

After World War II, paratroopers and close friends Captain Murdock and Sergeant Johnny Drake are mysteriously ordered to travel from Paris to Washington, D.C. When Drake learns that he is to be awarded the Medal of Honor (and Murdock the Distinguished Service Cross), he disappears before his picture can be taken.

Murdock goes AWOL, follows the clues and tracks his friend to Gulf City in the South, where he learns Drake is dead; the burned corpse is recovered from a car crash.

Murdock finds out that Drake joined the Army under an assumed name to avoid a murder charge. He was accused of killing a rich old man named Chandler because he was in love with his beautiful young wife Coral. Murdock goes to a nightclub to question Louis Ord, a witness in the murder trial. Ord reveals that Drake had given him a letter for Murdock. Murdock also meets Coral and Martinelli, the club owner. Seeing Coral losing heavily at roulette, Murdock not only recoups her losses at craps, he wins her $16,000. For some reason, however, she is uncomfortable with the situation. When they go to collect the money in Martinelli’s private office, Murdock accepts a drink; it is drugged. When he wakes up the next morning, he finds Ord’s dead body planted in his hotel room. He manages to hide the corpse before police Lieutenant Kincaid, responding to an anonymous tip, shows up to search his room.

Murdock teams up with Coral. Suspecting that Martinelli had Ord killed in order to get the letter, Murdock breaks into his office, only to find the safe open. Just before he is knocked unconscious by an unseen assailant, he smells jasmine, the same aroma as Coral’s perfume.

When Murdock awakens, Martinelli has him roughed up by his thug, Krause, to try to find out what is in the coded letter. However, Murdock is able to escape his captors when taking him back to his hotel, the police arrive. The flashback ends, and Murdock slips away.

Murdock jumps into the waiting car and drives off with Coral. As they are speeding away, he accuses her of having just tried to kill him. When she shoots him, the car crashes.

He survives, but she suffers fatal injuries. In the hospital, Murdock comforts her in her final moments.

Dead Reckoning was originally intended by Columbia chief Harry Cohn as vehicle for Rita Hayworth, sort of a follow-up to the popular 1946 erotic melodrama, Gilda. Cohn thought the pairing of Hayworth and Bogart would be commercially alluring. However, Hayworth was in a contract dispute with Columbia, and refused to make the film. She was replaced by Lizabeth Scott, who was borrowed from Paramount producer Hal Wallis. Scott was then being promoted as “The Threat,” and often compared to Bogart’s wife, Lauren Bacall: both were former models, and both had deep sultry voices.

On a loan-out from Warners, Bogart was unhappy with being sent to Columbia at the height of his career. Warners kept any extra money paid by Columbia over and above Bogart’s usual salary.

Bogart had the right of refusal over director, and he picked John Cromwell. Bogart and Cromwell had worked together on Broadway when Bogart was young actor and Cromwell cast him in his first bit part in 1922.

Bogart was responsible for Murdock’s speech to Scott about men carrying women around in their pockets, taking them out when needed to have dinner with or make love to. It’s an idea that Bogart had expressed when he had been drinking.

The song “Either It’s Love or It Isn’t,” sung by Lizabeth Scott, had words and music by Allan Roberts and Doris Fisher

Some of the exteriors were shot on location in St. Petersburg, Florida. Other location shooting took place in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; LaGuardia Airport in NYC; and Biloxi, Mississippi.

Humphrey Bogart as Capt. Warren “Rip” Murdock
Lizabeth Scott as Coral “Dusty”/”Mike” Chandler
Morris Carnovsky as Martinelli
Charles Cane as Lt. Kincaid
William Prince as Sgt. Johnny Drake (John Joseph Preston)
Marvin Miller as Krause
Wallace Ford as McGee
James Bell as Father Logan
George Chandler as Bartender Louis Ord
William Forrest as Lt. Col. Simpson (uncredited)
Ruby Dandridge as Mabel (uncredited)


Directed by John Cromwell
Screenplay by Steve Fisher, Oliver H.P. Garrett, story by Gerald Drayson Adams, Sidney Biddell, Allen Rivkin (adaptation)
Produced by Sidney Biddell
Cinematography Leo Tover
Edited by Gene Havlick
Music by Marlin Skiles
Color process Black and white

Production and distribution: Columbia Pictures

Release date: January 15, 1947
Running time: 100 minutes