Dead Reckoning (1947 film)

Dead Reckoning is a 1947 American film noir starring Humphrey Bogart and Lizabeth Scott and featuring Morris Carnovsky. The picture was directed by John Cromwell and written by Steve Fisher and Oliver H.P. Garrett based on a story by Gerald Drayson Adams and Sidney Biddell.[1]

Dead Reckoning
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJohn Cromwell
Produced bySidney Biddell
Screenplay bySteve Fisher
Oliver H.P. Garrett
Story byGerald Drayson Adams
Sidney Biddell
StarringHumphrey Bogart
Lizabeth Scott
Music byMarlin Skiles
CinematographyLeo Tover
Edited byGene Havlick
Columbia Pictures
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • January 2, 1947 (1947-01-02) (Premiere-United States)
  • January 16, 1947 (1947-01-16) (General release-United States)
Running time
101 minutes
CountryUnited States


Leaving a church, Father Logan, a well known ex-paratrooper padre, is approached by Captain "Rip" Murdock (Humphrey Bogart). 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.

Just after World War II, paratroopers and close friends Captain Murdock and Sergeant Johnny Drake (William Prince) 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 newspaper photographers can take his picture. Murdock goes AWOL, follows the clues and tracks his friend to Gulf City in the southern United States, where he learns Drake is dead his 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 (Lizabeth Scott). Murdock goes to a nightclub to question Louis Ord (George Chandler), a witness in the murder trial. Ord reveals that Drake had given him a letter for Murdock. Murdock also meets Coral and Martinelli (Morris Carnovsky), the club owner, there. 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 (Charles Cane), 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 already 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 (Marvin Miller), 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.

Now suspicious of Coral, he goes to her apartment to confront her. She claims to be innocent, but finally admits that she shot her husband in self-defense. She went to Martinelli for advice and gave him the murder weapon to dispose of, but he has been blackmailing her ever since. In love with her himself, Murdock agrees to leave town with her, but insists on retrieving the incriminating weapon first, despite Coral's objections. He threatens Martinelli with a gun, eliciting some startling revelations. The club owner reveals that Coral is his wife. He killed Chandler (having learned the man had lied about having only six months to live) and framed Drake so that Coral could inherit the estate. Murdock gets what he came for and forces Martinelli to precede him out of the building. As he opens the door, Martinelli is shot and killed.

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.



Critical response

The New York Times gave the film a mixed review, praising Bogart as "beyond criticism in a role such as Dead Reckoning affords him", with "some of the best all-around dialogue he has had in a long time."[2] However, it was less kind to his co-star, Scott, "whose face is expressionless and whose movements are awkward and deliberate."[2] Though the plot was considered to be "rambling" and the actions of Bogart's character not particularly plausible at times, "the suspense is skillfully drawn out."[2]

Variety magazine also praised Bogart and liked the film, writing, "Humphrey Bogart's typically tense performance raises this average whodunit quite a few notches. Film has good suspense and action, and some smart direction and photography ... Bogart absorbs one's interest from the start as a tough, quick-thinking ex-skyjumper. Lizabeth Scott stumbles occasionally as a nitery singer, but on the whole gives a persuasive sirenish performance."[3]

In 2004, film critic Dennis Schwartz was critical of the film. He wrote, "This second-rate Bogart vehicle has the star depart from his usual tough-guy role, though he manages to get into plenty of the action. It plays as a bleak crime melodrama that is too complexly plotted for it [sic] own good ... There's some fun in watching the Bogart character romance the husky-voiced femme fatale character played by Lizabeth Scott, but not enough fun to overcome how unconvincing is the sinister plot."[4]


  1. Dead Reckoning at the American Film Institute Catalog.
  2. "Movie Review: Dead Reckoning (1947)". The New York Times. January 23, 1947. Retrieved August 6, 2013.
  3. Variety. Staff film review, 1947; accessed July 17, 2013.
  4. Schwartz, Dennis. Ozus' World Movie Reviews film review, November 2, 2004; accessed July 17, 2013.
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