One ex-G.I. navigates murky waters to clear the name of a deceased comrade in 1947's Dead Reckoning. Humphrey Bogart's weary, candid expression is a nice centre for a film noir crowded with duplicitous gangsters, a dodgy dame, and all hands trying to take custody of the truth. Filled with clever dialogue, the movie also has some great compositions and a few that are kind of plain, making me wonder if there were some studio imposed reshoots.
Dead reckoning is a means of navigation at sea in which, for whatever reason, you lack good instruments and material so you have to figure out your position entirely by your last known position modified by time and speed. Of course, a lot of other factors, like current and wind, can mess up your calculations pretty quick.
Rip (Bogart) is a paratrooper just back from World War II. His buddy, Drake (William Prince), is a hero and about to get a medal but he flees the scene before reporters can get a good look at him. This is the first hint there may be more in Drake's past than Rip knows about. Even so, Rip is convinced Drake is a good egg and when Drake winds up dead it becomes Rip's top priority to make sure his legacy reflects what a good man he was.
But Drake was mixed up with some seedy folks, it turns out, including a gangster running a casino (Morris Carnovsky) and, of course, a woman, a husky voiced singer named Coral Chandler played by Lizabeth Scott.
Scott is okay but her resemblance to Lauren Bacall provokes the question, "Why isn't Lauren Bacall in this?" Well, because it's Columbia, Humphrey Bogart was on loan from Warner Brothers and--there's more to it but you get the idea. Bacall might've provided a stronger riposte for the (in)famous scene where Bogart talks about how women should be small enough to keep in your pocket until called for. At first, Coral says this is conceited but then she has the insight that this is as much about the man's insecurity as his desire to control women:
CORAL: I understand. What you're saying is: women are made to be loved.
RIP: Is THAT what I'm saying?
CORAL: Yes, it's a confession. A woman may drive you out of your mind, but you wouldn't trust her, and because you couldn't put her in your pocket, you get all mixed up.
Which is a scary thing for her to say considering she may have been involved in Drake's death.
Dead Reckoning is a good noir with a lot of classic elements. It bears some uncanny resemblance to Out of the Past, released the same year, though Out of the Past is a much stronger film with a smoother narrative and more consistently good compositions. But Dead Reckoning is certainly worth your time.
Dead Reckoning is available on The Criterion Channel as part of their recently relaunched Columbia Noir collection.