Thursday, August 07, 2008

Dead Reckoning (1947)

"It seems to me that the Bogie fad has faded, returning him to his real admirers," observed X. Trapnel recently. The Siren hopes that's true, because Humphrey Bogart, compared with other "icon" actors such as Marilyn Monroe and James Dean, gives the Siren the most consistent thrill of pleasure, again and again, even in a relatively bad movie. This was brought home to her when she saw Dead Reckoning.

The Siren was startled to find she'd written little to nothing about Bogart, then realized the omission makes a sort of sense. Bogart is somebody a cinephile covers early on. Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, High Sierra, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The African Queen, The Big Sleep--unlike trying to fill in other filmographies, these are not items you have to hunt down one by one like so many peppercorns rolling to the far corners of the kitchen. Even his smaller parts from the 1930s, like Dead End and The Roaring Twenties, are absorbed early. He's so much a part of history, even for those barely aware of a time before color, that discussion seems superfluous, and yet discussing him is very rewarding. He was a highly technical actor, conscious of every effect, right down to the tremor in his cheek to signal anger (which Kenneth Geist says irritated Barefoot Contessa costar Marius Goring no end).

The best piece the Siren has read about Bogart remains Louise Brooks's "Bogie and Bogart." Its portrait of a cultivated man, doggedly pursuing stardom even as he's beset by his own attractions to impossible women (that is, until Bacall came along) jibes a lot more with what's on screen than just Bogie the tough guy. Certainly his persona was tough, but his characters also fall frequently for the femme fatale. He catches on, of course--he's Bogart--but not before almost becoming just another sap.

Which brings us back to Dead Reckoning. What a weird experience this movie is, like getting into a sleek car that keeps shuddering into a stall. Bogart's character runs through rain-slicked streets in a Southern town called Gulf City (standing in for Panama City? it certainly isn't New Orleans) and winds up in a church confessing to a just-discharged Army padre, even though he isn't Catholic. (Joe Breen must have loved that.) Then the movie skids into flashback about a trip to Washington as Bogart wants his buddy to accept a Medal of Honor--stall. Startup again as the buddy runs away and Bogart pursues to a rather Grand Hotel-ish accomodation in Gulf City. He finds out his buddy was once suspected of murder, but then his friend's body is discovered, charred beyond recognition. Off to the casino to find Lizabeth Scott, the buddy's true love. Scott sings a song--movie doesn't just stall here, it slams into a telephone pole.

Anyway, the Siren avoids excessive plot summary and you see where this is going, yes? In its fitful way Dead Reckoning hits all the noir themes. Soldiers in mufti. Buddy in trouble. Den of vipers. Cops no help. Woman shady, or maybe not, or maybe yes. Smooth-talking casino owner (Morris Carnovsky, not bad but demonstrating that George Macready deserves a LOT more credit for being so damn brilliant in the same role in Gilda). There were five writers on Dead Reckoning and boy does it show--the narrative arc is more like Morse code. Director John Cromwell gets some nice shots in here and there and some interesting visual motifs. Bogart and his dead pal were paratroopers and this is used as a recurrent image of falling, most interestingly when Bogart is knocked cold at a key moment in the film. But Cromwell wasn't a great enough talent to smooth out a script like this.

The script also robs the actors of the ability to create fully formed characters. The dialogue is too wordy (not a complaint the Siren often makes) and people run around with half-baked motivations. There is also a corpse stashed in a trunk at one point and while it's possible I missed the line, I could swear no real explanation is ever given as to where the poor slob winds up.

Despite all this the Siren couldn't stop watching, as Bogart kept giving her moments to love. There's one bit when the cops hammer on his hotel door at a bad time. He stashes the corpse (the same guy that eventually winds up in the trunk), changes out of his clothes, answers the door and while the cops are questioning him, he nonchalantly gets into bed in his silk jammies with black piping, still daring the coppers to hassle him. I tried to imagine Dick Powell doing this and couldn't--the movie would immediately turn into "Honeymoon Hotel," no matter how tough Powell had been acting beforehand.

The Siren thinks Bogart's needling is a key part of his cool. In real life he was famous for unapologetic rudeness to anyone who struck him as a phony. On screen he plays it the same way, a guy unable to resist mouthing off even if it's about to get him slugged, maybe even because it's about to get him slugged. Did anyone ever take a punch like Bogart? He gets beat up about midway through, mimes extreme pain quite well and yet you wholly believe that sneer that remains plastered to his face throughout, even as that bad attitude makes the thug even angrier.

Another element: his rock-solid sense of belief. At one point Bogart's character is driving along with Lizabeth Scott (and the corpse in the trunk, but let it slide) and he goes into a bit of dialogue about how a woman should be shrunk down to four inches tall and kept in your pocket until it's time to er, blow her up. I would have transcribed this exactly, but shock made me drop the pencil--you can read it here. Anyway Bogart delivers this mind-boggling speech with the same conviction he gives everything else--he doesn't wink or condescend no matter what kind of drivel he's speaking. But give him a good line and he'll wipe the floor with it, as when he's threatening Carnovsky with an incendiary device: "How do you like yourself, medium rare?"

It isn't a bad movie, just a mediocre one, a noir that has all the requisite elements--maybe too many requisite elements--and still misses the mark. But Bogart, playing a character whose shifting moods and motivations could give another actor whiplash, still fascinates. For the Siren he always will.


Vanwall said...

Siren, it would be hard to describe "Dead Reckoning" in any coherent manner, so you've done a pretty good job of recommending the only reason to see it, if at all - Bogie. That's it, nothing else, even with lovely Lizabeth Scott, with her voice so husky it could pull an Iditarod winner, and a cast of...tens or so of H'wood's plainest performers.

The basic plot of this one, "Gilda", and so many other post-war missing buddy noirs that I used to get 'em mixed up a little - well, most of them seeming to borrow heavily from the earlier and cleverer "Somewhere in the Night" with that great John Hodiak performance; gee, another one-note recommendation, huh, and it even has an atrociously weak singing performance by that Guild Girl that could match Scott's in this one.

Brooksie had a pretty good take on Bogart, and it was as much a monograph on Leslie Howard, as well - what opposites do attract, eh? The only thing that Bogie really projects in this film is a kind of desperation, which may be as much his interpretation of the ponderous and disorganized script as it is a telling indicator of the direction, what little there was. I think it needed only a flat Whit Bissell performance to be in the pantheon of "What was that film?" noirs and oaters, but even Bogie might make up for that, he's just that fascinating.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

I agree, Bogie's always fascinating to watch, possibly because he seemed to be one of only a handful who were really in it for the acting. I don't know if it was an emotional fulfillment or just a game to him, an intellectual challenge like chess, but his technical proficiency goes a long way to making the tough guy roles believable as well as sympathetic.

"I tried to imagine Dick Powell doing this and couldn't--the movie would immediately turn into "Honeymoon Hotel," no matter how tough Powell had been acting beforehand."

(Chuckles) Yeah.

J.C. Loophole said...

Bogie was my very first, non-comedic (IE: Stooges, Marx Brothers,etc) introduction to my obsession that is classic film. Instantly he crackles and you just connect into what he is doing on screen- even if the plot be prodding or convoluted. Witness: The Big Sleep- does anyone truly know how the plot works? Really? Can you coherantly and concisely explain it? In the end- it doesn't matter, and that is rare for a film to do so well, despite it's complications. It's Bogie and Bacall and the dialogue that keeps you coming back for more.
Two of my favorite Bogie pixs couldn't be more... different. All Through the Night, a comedy where Bogie is genuinely funny (he could be and wasn't enough) and then The African Queen. It's a crime and a wonder why we do not have The African Queen on R1 DVD, and yet my local Best Buy has shelves of Grindhouse and insipid CGI knock off cartoons that they can't give away.

Greg said...

That's funny you mentioning not profiling Bogie before. I've thought about that too with big actors and directors. I don't think I'll ever do a post on Citizen Kane, Casablanca, The Wizard of Oz etc. What's the point? Or better yet, where is the starting point? Some things are so well covered and viewed and understood in film history by cinephiles, who are after all the main reading audience of film blogs, that there's no reason to bring them up.

That said, I'm very glad you brought Bogart up. I've always found him to be a useful example when describing charisma and starpower. With people like Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman and the like, it's easy to say a part of their captivating power was their beauty, but Bogart had no conventional beauty. And yet you stare and focus and can't take your eyes off him. Because he had that ... that... undefinable thing, that presence that words like "charisma" are really too weak to cover. Whatever it was, he had it and you knew it.

X. Trapnel said...

Wonderful post, Siren. While there may have been greater actors, Bogart, for sheer presence of personality is, for me, the most vivid and endlessly watchable figure in film. And yes we do come to him early (very early; my first film memory [age 5 or 6] is seeing a man running from the police and being disappointed when it turned out not to be Bogart. I probably didn't even know his name then but he was already a reassuring presence). How Bogart's power eluded the bosses at Warner Bros. for so long is a mystery (though there may be a clue to their dim thought in all those films in which Jeffrey Lynn triumphs over Garfield, Cagney, and Bogart himself).
"Bogie the tough guy." That and a misty-minded notion of existentialism is all the Bogie cult ever amounted to. (Exhibit A: Play It Again, Sam; just try watching this and seeing how long before you want to crawl under a table). Mainly it served to blur the precision and fine-tuned, watchful responsiveness of Bogart's acting (Yes, he was very technical--as all good artists are. I love watching his wordless reactions to "I'm shocked! SHOCKED!": consternation, disbelief, disgust, and resignation, all in an instant). That responsiveness goes to the heart of Bogart's susceptibility to women (on film; I'll steer clear of real life). Even when misdirected (as in High Sierra) it always seems to draw on emotions beyond the immediate context of the film, a sense of hope, unsentimental idealism, and a knowledge of the precariousness of love that is psychologically very true. Who else could have invested "I was born when she kissed me, I lived a few weeks while she loved me..." with such a sense of private catastrophe?

Re: Dead Reckoning. The corpse in the trunk may be in some noir afterlife comparing notes with the chauffeur from The Big Sleep.

Thanks, J.C. Loophole for mentioning All Through the Night a wonderful amalgam of Fritz Lang and Damon Runyon, with Bogart playing a Cagney character. Nobody will convince me that Hitchcock didn't take a long, hard look at this film. Why do we hear so little about Vincent Sherman who directed this, The Hard Way, and an excellent John Garfield picture, Dangerously They Live?

FDChief said...

You hit all the right notes, here, Siren. Of the mid-century movie "tough guys", Bogart has always struck me on-screen as projecting that dangerous, still center of menace that is the real toughness. You caught it with your mention of Powell; his toughness, and it IS a kind of toughness, is fundamentally a part of him. He puts it on and puts it away. He's a kind of working-day hard man, adapting to his circumstances and the players around him.

Bogart has as much or better acting chops, but he also has something deep inside that he can pull up and show you that seems genuinely scary. I don't know what it says about Bogart the man. But it seems to me that, beyond the characters he plays, inside the actor is a very hard man indeed.

Regarding the film (which I haven't seen) I wonder how much of the trouble involves Lizabeth Scott. She might be the go-to noir actress, but ISTM that I've never seen anything she's in that she doesn't manage to come off somehow unconvincing. Nothing screamingly obvious: it's not that she's wooden, or slips out of character, or anything gratingly awful. She just never seems...comfortable...on-screen in the way that Bacall or Veronica Lake were. Is it just me, or was she really as limited an acress as I remember her?

crumit said...

Siren, I've been a appreciative lurker here for a long time but I'm such a Bogie admirer I have to pipe up. I've always wondered whether Bogart's ability to make Grade C material like Dead Reckoning so watchable was the result of the many years he spent in the wilderness of supporting players at Warners. Not just because the studio system was good actor training, but because it was so insulting to him in particular.

Yes, he occasionally shows up in good parts in movies from the 30s like Black Legion or Dead End, but is there another actor of his stature who was forced to endure a decade of playing Gangster #2 parts? (Not to mention being hilariously miscast when the studio needed an Irish stableboy, a Mexican bandit, or a bunny-loving mad scientist...)

From High Sierra onwards he rarely turned in a lackluster performance. He was an amazing actor, but I also think he probably spent the rest of his career looking over his shoulder at The Return of Dr. X.

Exiled in NJ said...

"it was as much a monograph on Leslie Howard, as well - what opposites do attract, eh?"

What almost perfect irony! Bogart going from the menacing Duke Mantee while Howard rested his jaw on his palm, to taking the Leslie Howard role as Frank McCloud in Key Largo.

Late wife and I must have seen this when we did our minor Bogie thing, but the memory fails, unlike with Dark Passage and others.

And by the way, has anyone ever figured out who murdered Owen Taylor?

The Siren said...

I must be crazy because I do find Bogart quite handsome, although maybe not because Brooks found him handsome as well, at least in youth (and that's it for most of us mere mortals as well).

"Missing Buddy Noirs" -- yep, that needs to be a title of a book. I am also fond of Leslie Howard, who was a much better Henry Higgins than Rex Harrison and yet is tied to simp Ashley for all eternity. Brooks was the only writer who really managed to convey what a ladykiller Howard was. Her description of their knees touching in the taxi!

Jacqueline, I hope that didn't come across as too bad a Powell diss, because I really like Powell and he's very good in the few noirs that he did, as well as The Bad and the Beautiful. He just didn't have that to-the-bone attitude that Bogie had.

J.C. and Exiled, in Todd McCarthy's Hawks bio it turns out that the first cut of The Big Sleep had a scene that explained the Owen Taylor murder, albeit in a very convoluted expository speech. The scene was cut and it didn't seem to hurt the movie at all. Nobody cares about the poor chaffeur, just like the dead waiter in Dead Reckoning. So much for noir as an ode to the common man. :D

I am still laughing over X. Trapnel's idea that the waiter and chaffeur are comparing notes in the afterlife. "So, where'd they leave YOU hanging?"

I really love Woody Allen but yeah, I always thought Play It Again, Sam was a pretty shallow take on Bogart and not very funny.

The Siren said...

Jonathan, I've had the temerity to do very brief posts on Tokyo Story and The Searchers and mentioned Citizen Kane and Ambersons in passing, but you are right--I haven't written up the really big ones. The closest I have come was, of all things, Cameron's Titanic. It might make for an interesting blog-a-thon: The Great American Movie. Pick an 800-pound-gorilla of a people's classic, something even your kid sister has seen, and find something new to say. Quite the mental exercise.

The Siren said...

FDChief, I know what you mean about Scott and you put it very well. There's a tentativeness to her screen presence. She's never putting it all up there, you feel. This was an early film and she got better as she went along--I wrote up Too Late for Tears some time back, in which she was a much more convincing femme fatale.

She's still with us, did you know that? 85 years old. Attagirl, Lizabeth.

Crumit, welcome and please de-lurk some more. You can't say of Bogart that he never gave a bad performance, alas, not if you have seen Dark Victory. **cringe** I think he always said his worst was Swing Your Lady, a hillbilly musical (can you IMAGINE??) that probably has a lot of camp appeal provided you've got the right liquor on hand.

Exiled, Bogart loved Howard for insisting he be cast in The Petrified Forest, and not Edward G. Robinson, and his daughter was named after Howard. I always thought that was really touching. He was very loyal, something else that carried over into the screen persona.

X. Trapnel said...

Siren, thanks for the grace note on Leslie Howard, criminally wasted by Hollywood (but who knew there would be so little time). Yes, his Henry Higgins is for the ages ("Throw him out!" on the xylophone and more) and perhaps in heaven we'll see his John Tanner in Man and Superman. Anyone familiar with the English cultural/intellectual world of Shaw's (very long) time will see how resonant Howard's performance is and how Rex Harrison is stagebound by comparison.

I recall reading an anecdote in which Howard was caught by his wife in a dressing room tryst with his leading lady: "Oh, darling, we were...ah...rehearsing."

Karen said...

It's an interesting point about Bogart, and the reclamation of him as an actor from the dorm-poster world of cultural icon. It's true that Bogart films are among the first one ever sees when dipping a toe into classic film, or even, you know, dropping by the house of someone with taste and seeing what's on the TV. He's omnipresent, but still somehow unknown (x.trapnel is dead right about Play It Again, Sam which is, unsurprisingly, more about Woody Allen than Bogie).

One of the things I love about Bogart is how, while the quintessential tough guy, he often looked so anguished. He let you see the human heart of almost all his characters--and when he didn't, you could be pretty sure they didn't have one.

Another thing I love about Bogart is that, although he came from an upper class NYC family, his speech patterns were utterly of the street. I don't get it, but I like it (interestingly, it's something I find annoying in Jean Harlow).

I also like that he became the quintessential tough guy with a name like "Humphrey."

I'm telling you all these things I like about Bogart in order to avoid admitting that I've never seen Dead Reckoning. Sigh.

Vanwall said...

I've heard Bogie was very loyal to certain friends, something H'wood needed more of - I wonder what it was like competing for a part against him, tho. Bogie's face was just right for the kind of lighting back then, too - he could look intriguingly handsome when the lights and darks flashed across his craggy face.

When old Houseley Stevenson is stropping the razor prior to slicing and dicing Bogie's character's face in "Dark Passage", my first thought was of those ancient Roman busts of prominent patricians that left in all the details of their lives that showed on their faces; I could just see Houseley carving such a face as one would a marble block, leaving the truth of the man as his physiognomy, those sad eyes, special lips and his humbly arrogant expression, and by God if Bogie didn't look like the Roman Senator Who'd Seen It All, and was damned for it. Yeah, he was good lookin'.

Lizabeth Scott was almost too well-featured for noir; I mean that as a compliment, as she was just about perfectly sized and shaped for the umbra and penumbra of B&W, and her face was a whole book of shadows and lights so different from the rest of the blonde doomsters. I think she was often used just for the planes of her cheeks and those interesting lips of hers. I loved her work, 'specially in "The Strange Love of Martha Ivers" - she was the anchor character in that one, surprisingly. I guess I'd watch "Dead Reckoning" for her, too.

Karen said...

Leslie Howard "is tied to simp Ashley for all eternity"? Is he? I guess. For me, although I did see him first as Ashley (I was 8), he will always be the Scarlet Pimpernel and Pimpernel Smith to me: noble, daring, clever, loyal.

The Siren said...

Karen, he's Pimpernel for me too, and Higgins, but GWTW is too large an identity for any of its stars, or even minor players. When Evelyn Keyes died recently her (miniscule) part in GWTW led every obit, as she must have known it would. I'm sure Olivia de Havilland, with a magnificent and varied career behind her, will suffer the same headlines when her time comes (a long way off still I hope!)

X. Trapnel (and Karen too, since you rec'd the film!) I really liked Howard in The Animal Kingdom, showing what he could do with a rather heelish part if the script were good enough.

Vanwall, oddly what struck me about Scott in this movie was her resemblance to Brooke Shields.

Exiled in NJ said...

Watching him send Brigid off to Tehachapi will always do it for me. He is working from superior material, and little is changed from Hammett's book, but he makes me convinced he cared about her enough to make it a struggle in his mind.

"You killed Miles and you're going over for it." In the back of his mind, he's finding a big stick to beat off Ivy.

Anyone know of a decent print of Beat the Devil; every one I have seen is very washed out?

The Siren said...

Beat the Devil must be PD because the print I saw was lousy as well. I didn't much care for the movie; seemed like one of those flicks where the cast seems to be having a blast but it's like watching somebody else's party. Definitely a love/hate film.

X. Trapnel said...

The Animal Kingdom is a little creaky that might work better with a reshuffled cast instead of setting Myrna Loy's airy charm as the socially conventional wife against Ann Harding's sack of potatos "free spirit." (the most enjoyable thing about Harding's character is watching the subway pass over the Queensborough Bridge from her apartment window). Needless to say all the chemistry is between Howard and Loy.

Karen, I'm glad you agree about Play it Again, Sam; Allen's Bogart is more Mike Hammer than Philip Marlowe.

goatdog said...

I haven't seen a lot of Lizabeth Scott, but what I've seen I don't like. It seemed like she was in this role because she sorta-kinda looks like Lauren Bacall, and she sorta-kinda sounds like her, so they thought they'd milk a little of the goodwill toward the Bogie & Bacall films for this basically deficient noir.

Frank Conniff said...

Another great piece, Siren. You said that Bogart is always good, even in bad movies, and then you mentioned "The Barefoot Contessa," reminding me that even though I've always loathed that film, Bogart is terrific in it. For someone who is such an iconic tough guy, Bogie sure is great in the scenes early in the film, when he's a beaten down writer/director on the wagon who has to keep his job by groveling before the vicious producer he's working for. And Siren, while I share your tolerance for talky movies, "The Barefoot Contessa" certainly tested that tolerance, at least for me, and it was especially disappointing coming as it did in the wake of all the brilliant talk that Mankiewicz provided in "A Letter To Three Wives" and "All About Eve" Anyway, I haven't seen "Dead Reckoning" yet, but now that I've read your piece I will be on the lookout for it.

Peter Nellhaus said...

I've got a couple of the lesser known Bogart films creeping up on the rental queue. Last seen was Across the Pacific, part of my effort to be more complete on John Huston.

Campaspe: If you haven't seen in, you might enjoy Scott in her last film appearance, Pulp.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Bogart's "tough guy" persona is compelling because we always seem to be meeting him after the action that made him tough. Action he really would rather forget. It's this sense of regretful melacholy that makes him a star in the grand romantic mode -- though otherwise there's nothing romantic about him. He looks like a thug, but he has the heart of a true hero.

Lizabeth Scott (who is still with us) is quite fun figure, mixting as she does bits of Bacall with bits of Veronica Lake.

But all the wrong bits.

I've wriotten about her at length in an analysis of Desert Fury (1847) which can be found in the book Film Quarterly: 40 Years -- a Selection

Karen said...

1847, eh? Wow, it IS impressive that Scott's still with us!

DavidEhrenstein said...


Gloria said...

From the comments, I see that "All Through The Night" has a following of its own (I love that film myself).

Off-Topic: I just LOVE the current "Renoir: chip from the old block" blog icon

Vanwall said...

I think one thing modern viewers should keep in mind about Bogart, and all other actors with a long-term classic career with the Studios, is that any evolution wasn't always for the actor's best interests, but there were benefits regardless. Bogart was well on his way to being a handy plug-in thug, and not all the peripheral players get the chance he had in "The Petrified Forest" to break away from that kind of assembly line film-making by such a striking performance. "High Sierra" gave him a chance to play ambivalence and a part that called for a man sometimes unsure of himself or his future, something that was not in his gangster roles, which were as straightforward as a shark's. And nobody ever wore a snap-brim fedora better, which was one of his signature features as a Studio tough.

Yeah, if they lived long enough for the eventual fall of the first Studios regime, actors got chances to be someone else onscreen, but Bogart also had something the Studios had carefully nurtured - his tough guy persona, even as a villain, made it so much more effective for him to project a kind of restrained menace later on, making many of his performances all the more interesting. The viewing audience back then had the advantage of seeing the character of Bogart re-enforced with each successive release, and if you were watching movies from the Roaring Twenties on, the Studios were planting those expectations hoping they would be part of the audience's interpretation of the films. If he hadn't labored all those years as the second-tier bad guy, there wouldn't have been a collective memory of his previous performances, AND their word-of-mouth reviews that were passed on, and his acting may have been very different without it. The whole world-weary "Bogie" mystique is based upon his second life in movies, not his first, but without his George Hally in "The Roaring Twenties" maybe his Rick Blaine would've been much more conventional - that and keeping a hat off his head. ;-)

Gerard Jones said...

I had the pleasure of seeing Joan Leslie interviewed by Eddie Muller at the most recent Noir City (SF noir festival). He asked about male stars she worked with and she raved about how enjoyable Cagney was, how utterly charming and considerate Cooper was. Then he asked about Bogart.

"He was a very talented actor," she said. But what was he like as a person, Muller wanted to know. "It was an honor to work with such a talented actor," she said.

(Or words to that effect.)

A few nights later they showed Conflict, an even more incoherent Bogart movie than Dead Reckoning.

Gerard Jones said...

Oh, and I also love the Double Renoir at the top of the page! I didn't get it until I read Gloria's post, but now I do! So clever! And pretty!

Gloria said...

Well, by odd coincidence, when I saw the image I just had started to work on a post which briefly mentions the sitters of the portrait, Gabrielle Renard and Little Jean! ;p

mndean said...

I saw Dead Reckoning some time ago, and I had many of the same reactions. It was incoherent, but I also had some trouble with Lizabeth Scott - she's almost TOO much the noir siren, and it lends something artificial to her performance.

I was amused at your description of Beat The Devil, because even though I like it in a guilty pleasure way, it's a movie where Bogart just didn't fit. I don't think he much cared for the film himself, and if I remember correctly, he felt the same way about Sabrina, too.

Bogart's '30s career at Warner seems like a real waste of talent now, with a few nuggets thrown in that showed he had talent and magnetism. Unfortunately, it seemed after he had a meaty role, he'd be back to being the smooth antagonist to Cagney or Robinson, or in some blighted B picture. I haven't had the pleasure (so to speak) of watching Swing Your Lady, but I can't imagine it being much worse than Sh! The Octopus. Warners occasionally put out product that would even shame Monogram or PRC.

Exiled in NJ said...

Late wife and I gave my in-laws a copy of Beat the Devil because my wife loved it. That was 1998 or so; last summer I saw my brother-in-law for the first time since 2001. He said father-in-law is always trying to pawn it off on him, and he can't stand the film. "Makes no sense" is how he phrased it.

Jennifer Jones is great, and when she suddenly plants a kiss on Bogie, his 'what the hell is going on here' expression is priceless. Of course, the story went that the script was almost ad-libbed, being written daily, or was this another John Huston tall tale?

DavidEhrenstein said...

The story follows the novel on which the film is based. Huston wrote the overall plotting, Capote supplied the diaogue. Jennifer Jones plays Capote -- a creative liar. This film is a key to his work and is personality.

And when he was called by the agent for whom he was working to deliver documents to the set Stephen Sondheim manned the clapper board for several days as an a.d.

The Siren said...

David, welcome. I love that description of Bogart. Indeed he almost always played men with a dark and frequently violent past, and as vanwall says that linked up nicely with the audience's memories of him playing hood after hood in the 1930s.

Gerard and Gloria, I'm glad you like the banner. I had fun making that one. Bogart seems to have been loved by many costars and loathed by others, ditto directors. Either he blended in with you or he didn't.

Exiled, I do remember Huston saying or at minimum implying that a great deal of Beat the Devil was winged but as David says it was probably another Huston tale-spinning. (Hawks used to embellish a lot in later years too.) Jones as Capote -- rewatching with that in mind might make the movie more interesting to me. Not to mention having a print that doesn't make me feel like I'm going blind.

Goatdog, from what I have seen Scott started out as not much of a much, a mix of the wrong Bacall and Lake bits as David says. But I do think she got much better the more movies she made; she was really quite enjoyable in Too Late for Tears.

Dan Leo said...

We were talking a while back about scene-stealing actors' "business" -- and I love watching Bogie do his "bits". There's the set-piece monologue in "High Sierra" where he's basically telling the young punks not to fool with him, and he raps his knuckles on the table, rat-tat-tat, imitating the rattle of a Tommy gun. And another scene where he finishes his cigarette and drops it into the dregs of his coffee cup -- brilliant.

Cigarettes killed Bogie, but nobody ever used them as props as masterfully as he did.

Ellen said...

One saturday afternoon back in 1970 my sister said there was a movie coming on I might enjoy. The movie was All Through The Night. That afternoon watching Humphrey Bogart for the 1st time I got hooked on movies. Dead Reckoning was one of a group of movies that made the rounds on San Francisco station KTVU Ch 2's Dialing for Dollars. I must have seen it 10 times in the space of 2 years. It along with Flamingo Road falls into the small sub Genre of Corrupt southern town noir. Very enjoyable flick . Barry Gifford has a good write up of it The Devil Thumbs a Ride.

Beveridge D. Spenser said...

Regarding Bogart's "business", I once made a study of him rolling cigarettes in "Maltese Falcon". You know, he rolls 4-5 of them, but mostly with his hands beneath the desk. In one scene, he lets Effie do it.

But you still get a strong sense of him rolling his own.

wwolfe said...

It's funny that I should come across this post today, because I just experienced a very Bogart moment yesterday. I was watching "Romance On the High Seas," as un-Bogart a movie as you could imagine, save for the fact that it was written by Julius and Philip Epstein, of "casablanca" fame. Oscar Levant, playing the comic relief, at one point observes: "When I was in high school, I was voted Most Likely to Succeed. In college, they said I had a brilliant future. I wonder whatever became of me." As delivered by Levant, it was too cute, but I found myself imagining Bogart saying it and it suddenly was a classic movie line. I can hardly believe there's not a scene in "Casablanca" of Rick Blaine nursing a drink at the bar of the Cafe American where he says this line with his patented self-micking rue. (Likewise, there's another moment in "Romance" where Jack Carson offers a bribe to some official on the ship, who says, "You rich folk think money can buy anything - and how right you are." A definitive Major Renault line, except for the small fact that Claude Rains never got to say it.)

One of my favorite Bogart moments is almost never seen: his cameo in "Thank Your Lucky Stars," the Warner Brothers' WWII all-star talent show. It features moments of pure delight - Bette davis singing "They're Either Too Young or Too Old" and Errol Flynn having the time of his life as an English music hall performer - alongside very scary bits (Joan Leslie imitating Harry Lauder). In one scene, Bogart is threatened by some unprepossessing soul (whose name escapes me), causing Bogart to collapse into a heap of quivering fear. He then says to the camera, "Gee, I hope my tough-guy movie fans don't see this." It's impossible to imagine any of today's tough guys being able to laugh at themselves in this way. I have to believe that has a lot to do with Bogart's appeal.

Buttermilk Sky said...

For those who think Bogart always overcame dubious material (and I love the guy myself), have you seen "Battle Circus"? Sounds like a WWI flying ace picture, but it's really about a MASH unit in the Korean War with Bogart as Hawkeye and the dreaded June Allyson as Hot Lips. I can't imagine why he made it, apart from maybe a desire to work with Richard Brooks. A real oddity.

Erich Kuersten said...

Hey! I just blogged about this one myself not too long ago, on my acidemic site, talking mainly about the weird "Frisson" when Bogie thinks Lisabeth Scott is really his paramour Lauren Bacall (it takes a full minute for the glitter to fade out of his eyes, "this is not my Bacall, this is a rank imitation!," he might say, had he wanted to paraphrase Abie the fish peddler in Animal Crackers.

Timothy Cahill said...

Dear Siren, I'm a newcomer, totally hooked, and just watched Dead Reckoning last night, so was tickled to see you'd written about it. You're exactly right about the places where it stalls, and the last five minutes — even with the "medium rare" line — are clinically inane. But Bogart is terrific and the noir photography is grand, including the way Bogie disappears into that inky shadow when he's talking to the priest. Btw, the corpse is removed from the trunk and planted at Carnovsky's house, as a ploy to get him out of his office so our man can rifle his safe. You never see B take the body from the car, but you do see him in the background of the scene, slightly out of focus, with the dead guy over his shoulder. In one of the more incoherent plot points, the plan works — the police are tipped off and the bad guys summoned to appear at the scene — but for no apparent reason they return five minutes later and the movie proceeds sans corpse or cops.

johncarvill said...

Just re-watched 'Dead Reckoning' last night for the first time in years. Always seemed a shame that, directly following the sublimity of 'The Big Sleep', Bogart's next film was such a mish-mash. Bogart is still great, but the film itself is a bit of a car crash. Or, as you rightly say, a series of jarring stalls.

Great write up, full of spot-on observations. Loved the bit about narrative arc being more like morse code.

I am ambivalent about Louise Brooks's famous Bogie article, btw. Maybe because it seems sometimes to be ambivalent about my beloved Bogart.

If you're interested, here's a piece I did for popmatters a few years back, it started out as a book review but got expanded into a general tribute to the great man:

John Carvill

DorianTB said...

Hey, Siren, I got a huge kick out of your smart, thoroughly entertaining DEAD RECKONING post! I must confess that one of the things I enjoy about DR is its loopy "Bogart's Greatest Hits" feeling. It speaks volumes that when my usually film-savvy husband Vinnie came in to watch the film with me about 15 minutes in, he watched it for a bit, and finally said, "Is this THE MALTESE FALCON or THE BIG SLEEP?" And yet that's one of the things I find strangely endearing about DR. That "women should be pocket-sized" speech, and Lizabeth Scott's response to it, never fails to crack me up. I've heard that Rita Hayworth was going to play Coral/Dusty/Mike (they couldn't even make up their minds what to call their femme fatale!), but she was supposedly still working with then-hubby Orson Welles on THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI. The script still might be kind of loopy, but with Hayworth as the leading lady, I for one wouldn't have minded!

If you're interested just for the fun of it, feel free to check out my take on DR over at TALES OF THE EASILY DISTRACTED. Since the film takes place during Easter week, we playfully call it our favorite Easter movie:

johncarvill said...

"It seems to me that the Bogie fad has faded, returning him to his real admirers,"

Well, I don't know the time-frames this assessment relates to, but I'd say it's probably accurate. Bogart has become a bit like the Beatles: the influence is everywhere, even when not generally recoginsed, but the original is actually somewhat neglected by mainstream audiences. And, just like the Beatles, people think they know Bogart, and therefore they don't need to reacquaint themselves - but go back and listen to some of those early Beatles albums and you'll find out how much you'd forgotten (or even didn't know to begin with).

Bogart's shadow hangs over huge swathes of modern cinema, but I think the general audience feels the shadow without always being aware of what's casting it. Although he was a fairly big star in his (late) day, and enjoyed a posthumous cult from the 60s on, today Bogart is a little under-represented online. How many decent dedicated Bogie websites are there? Count 'em: none. As you say, compare with Marilyn Monroe or James Dean... There's also, as I have moaned endlessly about elsewhere, no good book on Bogart's movies. There's one worthwhile biography (Sperber & Lax), but no good book that focuses on the films, which is odd given that it's the films that count.

As for Dead Reckoning, you're dead right: the film keeps stalling and never really gels. Yet there are, as there always are, cherish-able Bogart moments in there. (I particularly recall the way he says - I may be paraphrasing here - "I'm a man who likes to collect my mail.") In fact, it's worth noting that although there are scads of bad Bogart movies, there isn't a single instance of a movie being bad because of Bogart; quite the reverse.

Anyway thanks for this post. Love your website. More on Bogie in future, please...