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Dead Reckoning (The Nitrate Picture Show)

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Dead Reckoning. Humphrey Bogart. Kuumat paikat / Heta dagar. John Cromwell, US 1947 Print source: Library of Congress, Culpeper, VA Running time: 102 minutes The Nitrate Picture Show (NPS), George Eastman Museum, Dryden Theatre, Rochester, 5 May 2019. NPS: About the print This copyright deposit print from the Library of Congress does show some changes with the audio track, as it switches from variable area to variable density midway through reel—listen for change in volume. There are slight emulsion cracks along the edges and a slight curl toward the emulsion, as well as intermittent edge creases. Shrinkage: 0.63% About the film “There are a lot of things about the script of Dead Reckoning that an attentive spectator might find disconcerting, but the cumulative effect of the new Humphrey Bogart slug ’em–love ’em and leave ’em picture at Loew’s Criterion is all on the good side of entertainment. Old ‘Bogey’ takes the drubbing of his cinematic life from a tough, psychopathic character who delights in ‘messing up’ his victims to the strains of sweet music, but the revenge our hero ultimately enjoys is a dilly and, correct us if we’re wrong, sets something of a new high in savage melodramatics.” — T. M. P., New York Times, January 23, 1947 “In Columbia’s homicidal orgy now on view at the Earle, Mr. Bogart is cast as Capt. Rip Murdock, of the paratroopers, intent—after the first reel—on solving the mysterious disappearance of his sergeant, Johnny Drake, on the eve of receiving the Congressional Medal. Miss Scott is the languorous blonde, Coral Chandler, of whom Johnny prattled incessantly in both his day and night dreams—that throaty love song, purling from her gentle lips, the scent of jasmine in her hair, etc., etc. Between them, they churn up as sanguinary a yarn of violence and murder as ever compounded high nervous tension or challenged credulity.” — Nelson B. Bell, Washington Post, April 18, 1947 (NPS) AA: Wikipedia: "In navigation, dead reckoning is the process of calculating one's current position by using a previously determined position, or fix, and advancing that position based upon known or estimated speeds over elapsed time and course. The corresponding term in biology, used to describe the processes by which animals update their estimates of position or heading, is path integration." "Dead reckoning is subject to cumulative errors. Advances in navigational aids that give accurate information on position, in particular satellite navigation using the Global Positioning System, have made simple dead reckoning by humans obsolete for most purposes. However, inertial navigation systems, which provide very accurate directional information, use dead reckoning and are very widely applied." "By analogy with their navigational use, the words dead reckoning are also used to mean the process of estimating the value of any variable quantity by using an earlier value and adding whatever changes have occurred in the meantime. Often, this usage implies that the changes are not known accurately. The earlier value and the changes may be measured or calculated quantities." (Wikipedia). Dead reckoning in other languages: laskelmasuunnistus / död räkning / Koppelnavigation / navigation à l'estime / navigazione stimata / cчисление координат. Revisited a film noir that I had not seen since September 1971. The director John Cromwell was a Hollywood professional whose career was interrupted by the black list, as was the one of Morris Carnovsky who plays the gangster boss Martinelli. Dead Reckoning is a Humphrey Bogart vehicle, and cast in the female lead as Dusty Chandler is Lizabeth Scott, imitating Lauren Bacall as closely as possible. The heroes are war veterans, demobilized paratroopers: Rip Murdock (Humphrey Bogart), Johnny Drake (William Prince), and Father Logan (James Bell).  The plot is convoluted. It is possible to make sense of it but I give up and get caught in the torrent. I receive the movie as something between L'Âge d'or and a straight gangster thriller. There is a flashback structure (but in the middle the movie is reset into "real time"). There is voiceover narration (too much of it). The dialogue is hard-boiled. It's a nightmare movie with brutal killings. Rip's face is beaten to a pulp and he barely survives a car crash. There is a whiff of jasmine before Rip is knocked out. There are subjective vertigo montages of losing consciousness when Rip is drugged or beaten. Rip's special weapons include fire grenades. Dusty Chandler, who always wears jasmine perfume, is a treacherous woman who has conspired to have her husband murdered for his fortune. Dusty and Martinelli have framed Johnny for the murder. When Johnny seeks justice they have him murdered, too. Next in line is Rip who wants to bring Johnny's murderers to justice. While suspecting Dusty Rip gets caught in her spell as well. In a brilliant film noir torch song sequence Dusty sings "Either It's Love Or It Isn't". Dusty confesses that with Johnny it was a one-sided love affair. "It happened to Johnny. It didn't happen to me. It never happens the way you want. It never reached the pitch" (the quote is approximate). In true film noir mode the ambiguousness around the woman lingers until the finale. "Night blooming jasmine grows all over the country", is Dusty's defense when Rip suspects that it was she who clubbed him unconscious. After the lethal crash of the finale Rip recovers while Dusty perishes on her deathbed at the hospital. In John Cromwell's direction there is no Liebestod approach like in Criss Cross. The romantic angle is tame, and the general atmosphere is balanced more towards a fundamental distrust in relationships, not without nuances of cynicism and misogyny. Cromwell's touch is prosaic when material like this might be more effective in an all-out dream mode, in an uninhibitedly oneiric and romantic treatment. It was a luxury to see a glistening vintage nitrate print displaying Leo Tover's film noir cinematography in its original glory.

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