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Dead Reckoning (1947)


Written by Tim Dirks

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Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Dead Reckoning (1947)

This overly complex, who-dun-it film noir from Columbia Pictures and director John Cromwell was about doomed romance, conspiracy and betrayal.

In the film's opening set in the southern town of Gulf City in the year 1946, an injured fugitive named Capt. Warren 'Rip' Murdock (Humphrey Bogart), a returning WWII military paratrooper veteran, fled to a church confessional where he spoke to Father Logan (James Bell), an ex-paratrooper ("the jumping padre"). He told about recent events in his tumultuous life - related in flashback.

At the end of WWII, 'Rip' described how he and his army buddy Sgt. Johnny Drake (William Prince) were to be decorated with the Congressional Medal of Honor to Drake and the Distinguished Service Cross to 'Rip.' They were enroute by plane from a Paris hospital to NYC and then to Washington DC by train to receive their war service honors.

Capt. Warren 'Rip' Murdock (Humphrey Bogart)
Sgt. Johnny Drake (William Prince) - aka John Joseph Preston

Drake told 'Rip' that he was haunted by a blonde in his past, and was advised:

Johnny, why don't you get rid of the grief you've got for that blonde, whoever she is? Every mile we go, you sweat worse with the same pain. Didn't I tell you all females are the same with their faces washed?

Mysteriously, camera-shy Drake ran off and jumped onto another departing train in Philadelphia when photographers and news-reporters appeared to take photos on the platform during a five-minute stop. 'Rip' suspected Johnny's fears of being uncovered as a fraud: "I got it alright why Johnny had taken a powder. He'd faked a birth certificate to enlist. John Joseph Preston, eh? The Yale pin said so."

'Rip' went AWOL to try and trace Drake's whereabouts. He was led to Drake's sultry southern Gulf City hometown (on the Gulf of Mexico) where he rented a room in the Hotel Southern - he was surprised that his visit was expected (Johnny had already made a reservation for him). A cryptic front desk phone message awaited him that he would be contacted later by Drake, signed by the paratrooper code-name "Mr. Geronimo" ("a paratrooper's jump call"). 'Rip' was impatient for contact: "What to do in a hot wind, smelling of night-blooming jasmine except wait and sweat, and prime the body to sweat more?"

While waiting for contact from Drake over a two-day period, 'Rip' dug through Drake's past (or John Joseph Preston's past) via old Gulf City Statesman newspapers. He learned that Drake (or John Preston) - about a month before he had enlisted in October of 1943 - had confessed and been charged with the murder of Stuart Chandler. The victim was the wealthy and elderly husband (and real estate magnate) of night-club singer Mrs. Coral 'Dusty' Chandler, Drake's own love interest (and Coral's "English tutor" - English professor actually), when he became involved in a deadly love-triangle. The murder had been witnessed by a waiter named Louis Ord (George Chandler) at the Sanctuary Club, Coral's place of employment, where "Victim and Preston Clashed Over Wife." To escape prosecution during a manhunt, John Preston had fled to join the Army with a fake name - Drake.

John Preston Charged with Murder - in September 1943 - of "Rich Realtor" Stuart Chandler
Waiter Louis Ord at the Sanctuary Club Was a Witness to Chandler's Murder

'Rip' was confused by the allegations: "How could Johnny be a murderer? Why come back here where he was even hotter than the weather? And why? Why not another word from him since that first call?"

Then, 'Rip' heard on a late night police-band radio station about a just-discovered fiery car accident that had occurred two days earlier and an unidentified charred body at the County Morgue. 'Rip' met with homicide officer Lt. Kincaid (Charles Cane), and realized the corpse ("as crisp as bacon") belonged to Johnny. A melted blob of Drake's Yale University 1940 senior society gold graduation pin (with his alias name John Joseph Preston) near the body confirmed the identity of the victim. 'Rip' vowed that he would seek Drake's killer and exonerate his buddy ("But I knew all at once I had a job. They don't give out the Congressional Medal to dead guys wanted for murder but he was gonna get it, even if he got it on his grave. I was going after whoever tried to gyp him out of it. Why should anybody kill Johnny? Because he knew too much? Because he hadn't shot Chandler and maybe knew who did?").

A continuing search led 'Rip' to the Sanctuary Club and the nervous club waiter-bartender Louis Ord, the "star witness" at the Chandler inquest. The club was owned by slick and crooked mobster Martinelli (Morris Carnovsky). Louis told 'Rip' that Drake had been hiding out in his apartment (up until two days earlier), and that Drake had given him a letter (written in code) to give to 'Rip' that might hold vital clues.

Next to him at the club's bar, 'Rip' also met up with another female guest - Drake's enigmatic, blonde ex-lover - Mrs. Coral 'Dusty' Chandler (Lizabeth Scott), the widow of deceased husband Stuart Chandler. (Allegedly, Drake had killed Chandler before he joined the Army.) Coral was an ex-cabaret lounge singer at the Sanctuary Club.

In her memorable entrance sequence, the camera (from his POV) panned up Coral's long legs and evening gown as she prepared to smoke a cigarette - 'Rip' held out a match to the alluring femme fatale. He described her as "Cinderella with a husky voice." In voice-over, Rip reflected about Drake, after thinking about how he had been enamoured by one of her songs when she used to work at the club:

I hated every part of her. I couldn't figure her out yet. I wanted to see her the way Johnny had. I wanted to hear that song of hers with Johnny's ears. Maybe she was alright. And maybe Christmas comes in July, but I didn't believe it.

While sharing a table with 'Rip,' Coral guest-performed the song: "Either It's Love or It Isn't" (dubbed by Trudy Stevens). After dancing with her, he shared news of Drake's morbid death, and he described her reaction in voice-over: "Her whole body had gone soft as custard when I slugged her with it. But I kept thinking, she has to know something." Early on, 'Rip' felt uneasy about Coral:

I didn’t like the feeling I had about her - the way I wanted to put my hand on her arm, the way I kept smelling that jasmine in her hair, the way I kept hearing that song she'd sung. Yeah, I was walking into something, alright.

Early the next morning after finding himself deliberately drugged in Martinelli's office after gambling in the casino, 'Rip' awoke from a stupor in his hotel room ("Coming out of it was like after being tapped on the button. Everything foggy - fur in my throat, an anchor on my head, and ringing in my ears"). He found Louis dead with a broken neck on the second bed in the room - presumably he had been killed by Martinelli to acquire Drake's letter, and planted there to frame 'Rip' for Louis' murder. After dumping Louis' body into a large laundry basket, 'Rip' was met by Lt. Kincaid (who had been given an anonymous tip), but was able to avoid incriminating himself.

When he met with Coral later that afternoon in his hotel lobby (and cleverly avoided Lt. Kincaid's tail on him), they drove out of town for lunch at the Dixie in Flamingo Beach for privacy. As she was driving, 'Rip' described his philosophy regarding women - one of the film's most oft-quoted dialogues:

The trouble with women is they ask too many questions. They should spend all their time just being beautiful....I've been thinking: women ought to come capsule-sized, about four inches high. When a man goes out of an evening, he just puts her in his pocket and takes her along with him, and that way he knows exactly where she is. He gets to his favorite restaurant, he puts her on the table and lets her run around among the coffee cups while he swaps a few lies with his pals....Without danger of interruption. And when it comes that time in the evening when he wants her full-sized and beautiful, he just waves his hand and there she is, full-sized....But if she starts to interrupt, he just shrinks her back to pocket-size and puts her away.

Over lunch, 'Rip' confided in Coral, telling her: "I don't think Johnny killed your husband." She admitted (information that she hadn't told the coroner) that she had witnessed the fight between Johnny and her husband Stuart before he was murdered, and that Johnny had taken the blame for the accidental shooting:

"I was right there when it happened. Johnny was afraid they'd somehow blame me, tie us both up with it. You know how they do. Ex-nightclub singer, young college professor's in love with her, then murder her husband. But that wasn't the way it was....Stuart had always been crazy jealous. That night, he was drunk too. When we got home, he started hitting me and jabbing a gun into me. He was mad enough to kill me, and I was terrified. And then suddenly, Johnny came into the room. He'd followed us home from the club. He took the gun away from Stuart, or he was trying to, I don't know what happened. But it seemed to go off right in my ear. I passed out and when I came to, Johnny was kissing me. That was the last time I saw him until he came back, two days ago."

'Rip' was skeptical of her story, but remained uncertain.

In an effort to still acquire the coded letter that Drake had written to him, presumably now in Martinelli's safe, Rip's efforts to hire a safecracker in town named McGee (Wallace Ford) failed, so he decided to obtain it himself. He found the safe already open in Martinelli's office, caught a menacing whiff of jasmine perfume (Coral's favorite), and then was knocked unconscious.

'Rip' regained consciousness during threats from Martinelli's sadistic, psychopathic bodyguard Krause (Marvin Miller) to beat him up unless he turned over the missing letter. 'Rip' tricked Krause and Martinelli into believing he had an incriminating letter to turn over to police about their complicity in causing Johnny's fatal car crash. Upon his return to his hotel with Krause to supposedly retrieve the letter, 'Rip' was able to escape in the chaos (when Lt. Kincaid appeared at the front entrance). He fled to the local church where he met up with Father Logan - the film's opening. He offered his suspicions about Coral to the Father:

I remember there was a whiff of jasmine just before I was knocked out. Maybe, maybe it was her. Suddenly I got a feeling I know it was. Jasmine.

To find out what had actually happened (to discover who was responsible for the recent killings and to find the original killer of Coral's husband), 'Rip' visited Coral at her apartment, where he expressed how he felt betrayed. He suspected that she had knocked him out in the office, and had possibly stolen Johnny's coded letter. She vowed that she was innocent and added: "I ought to hate you for thinking a thing like that." Her tears didn't move him to believe her: "I'm not the type that tears do anything to. I'm the brass-knucks-in-the-teeth to- dance-time type."

However, she was tricked into admitting that she convinced Johnny to take the murder 'rap' when she was the one who had committed her husband's murder: "You killed him, why lie?...It was in your hands, not Johnny's, when it went off." She basically confessed that 'Rip's' suspicions was accurate. Afterwards, she said that she had given the murder weapon to Martinelli to get rid of, but Martinelli began to blackmail her (to acquire her inherited money).

'Rip' found himself falling in love with the alluring but treacherous and duplicitous Coral, while still ambivalent. When she made a call to the police to admit her guilt and clear Johnny's name, it was enough to prove her honesty to him - and they kissed. She vowed to go anywhere with him ("little trip to paradise") - and he agreed: "Anything you want, any way you want to go. The two of us."

Duped and in love with her, he proposed that they run away together, but first he insisted on reclaiming the missing murder weapon (with her fingerprints) from Martinelli. As 'Rip' (at gunpoint) demanded the weapon from Martinelli in his nightclub office while Coral waited outside in the car ("Keep the motor running and the headlights on"), Martinelli gave him an entirely different story - Coral had been misleading and deceiving 'Rip' all along, and she was the one who had blackjacked him:

  • Martinelli and Coral were a married couple ("She was my wife when she married Chandler. There never was a divorce")
  • Martinelli was the one who killed Coral's rich husband Stuart Chandler, who had lied about having only six months to live; Johnny thought that Coral had killed Chandler, and confessed to the crime to protect her; Johnny was framed for the crime, and Coral inherited Chandler's money: (Martinelli: "Since I was in it with her, that gun could send us both Coral and me to the chair....Old Chandler was so anxious, he not only offered her marriage, he told her he had a bad heart. And in six months she'd come into all his money. Then after the marriage, I found out from the doctor that the old man might live to be 80. That night, Johnny Preston had a quarrel with Chandler, and people heard it. That was all I needed. I followed the old man home and shot him - with Coral's gun." Krause: "The Preston kid thought she did it, took the rap")
  • Martinelli ordered Krause to 'shadow' Johnny when he returned home, but overplayed his hand ("I didn't mean him to get killed. I only told Krause to shadow him"), leading to Johnny's car-crash death

'Rip' tossed some unstable war souvenir hand grenades at Martinelli to convince him to give up the gun, setting the building on fire. Krause jumped out a window to escape, as both Martinelli and 'Rip' fled from the burning building. As they emerged out the front door, the double-crossing Coral shot and killed Martinelli, thinking it was 'Rip.'

As 'Rip' drove Coral to police headquarters to turn her in (with the murder weapon), and to tell the whole story of her duplicity, he threatened her: "You tried to kill me just now. You expected me to be the first one out of that room...You're going to fry, Dusty...when a guy's pal is killed, he ought to do something about it."

As he was driving, she held a gun on his mid-section, and demanded the murder weapon. He accelerated to 80 mph and warned: "If you shoot, baby, you'll smear us all over the highway," but she fired anyway - leading to a loss of control and a violent car crash into a tree. 'Rip' survived the crash with injuries, and was able to clear his pal Johnny's name (and have him awarded his Medal of Honor posthumously).

'Rip' At Coral's Deathbed

Subsequently, Coral died from her injuries (he was at her bedside and held her hand). He urged her to enter death as if jumping from a plane: "Like going out the jump door. Hold your breath and just let go, Mike. Don't fight it. Remember all the guys who've done it before you. You'll have plenty of company, Mike. High-class company. Geronimo, Mike."

Clue to Johnny Drake's Real Name - His Gold 1940 Yale Graduation Pin

Note to 'Rip' From Drake in Gulf City

Lt. Kincaid (Charles Cane) at Morgue

Sanctuary Club

Waiter/Bartender Louis Ord (George Chandler)

Memorable (POV) Entrance Scene of Coral Chandler (Lizabeth Scott) in Sanctuary Club at the Bar

Club Owner Martinelli (Morris Carnovsky)

Bodyguard Krause (Marvin Miller)

Coral's Reaction to News from 'Rip' of Johnny's Death

On the Drive to Flamingo Beach

Coral's Confession That She Was Present With Johnny When Her Husband Was Killed

'Rip' Falling in Love with the Femme Fatale

Confronting Coral in Her Apartment about Her Husband's Death

A Kiss from 'Rip' to Affirm His Love For Coral

Planning "A Little Trip to Paradise" Together

Martinelli's Revelation About Coral's Deceptiveness

Martinelli Shot by Coral at the Front Door

The Concluding Drive to the Police Station

Coral Holding a Gun on 'Rip' - and then Firing


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