Wreck Deadening

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Always crashing in the same car: Helen Vinson makes Cary Grant crash in IN NAME ONLY (1939) and Lizabeth Scott does the same for Humphrey Bogart in DEAD RECKONING (1947). Two by John Cromwell.

I’d always missed out on DEAD RECKONING, which I hadn’t seen, because I confused it with DARK PASSAGE, which I’d seen a couple of times and forgotten. So, not that I’m investigating the films of John Cromwell, I realize that this is an interesting-sounding flick with Hunphrey Bogart and Lizabeth Scott (very much styled in Bacall mode). It’s kind of like a mash-up of favourite Bogart tropes. He gives a speech to Scott at one point saying he wishes he could shrink her and keep her in his pocket — according to Bacall, this was a line he used on her in real life. And the ending steals all sorts of stuff from THE MALTESE FALCON.

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The sense of the movie as mash-up is augmented by its odd, ramshackle structure, with a framing structure built around a long flashback, and then a third act that’s outwith the bookends. I kind of approved of this, since once we no longer have Bogart narrating (via a kind of confession to a priest), it feels like all bets are off. Also, Bogie’s hero is worryingly competent for the first forty minutes or so — it feels like nobody can get the drop on him. Starting in media res with Bogart fleeing for his life, face all bloody, lets us know that bad stuff can still happen to this tough guy.

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Say it ain’t Phroso!

This is a Columbia picture, so Bogart isn’t surrounded by so many stock players I recognized. Morris Carnovsky is a good smooth baddie, Marvin Miller (voice of Robbie the Robot!) is the sadistic henchthing, and Charles Cane overdoes the schtick as a dumb cop. I certainly ought to have recognized Wallace Ford (Phroso the Clown from FREAKS) but he really does look completely different in this. It was only fifteen years later and suddenly he’s a little old man.

Cromwell has clearly seen and appreciated John Brahm’s THE BRASHER DOUBLOON, since he duplicates that movie’s view-from-the-floor POV shot, twice ~

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Hmm, actually it’s the same year. Maybe both Brahm and Cromwell saw an upshot they liked in something else the previous year? The ceiling shot viewed from a trundling gurney in POSSESSED is ALSO 1947. Maybe the missing link then is A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH? Anyhow, Cromwell and one or some of his five scenarists pull a fast one, because the second one isn’t from the expected person’s POV…

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9 Responses to “Wreck Deadening”

  1. Raul Ruiz was big on from-the-floor POV shots. In face in “The Crowns of the Sailor” it was the POV of the sole of someone’s shoe.

    Bogart and Lizabeth Scott make a good noir couple and the film’s last shot has no precedent that I can think of.

  2. It’s a great ending and she acts the hell out of it. Fiona thought the literalisation of the skydiving metaphor was a bit much, but I’ll give them the benefit.

  3. I believe Three Crowns of the Sailor is where Ruiz also had a POV inside a character’s mouth. A tongue’s eye view?

  4. Yep, that’s the one.

  5. No, I think it’s City of Pirates, where he also set out to break Edgar Ulmer’s record for most set-ups shot in a day.

    Scorsese: “Best inside a mouth shot though is Jaws 3, a shark eating its victim filmed from inside the shark. In 3D! A new low in taste!”

  6. Great piece! Psyched to see this.

  7. Yes, it was City of Pirates.

  8. […] THE SCAVENGERS has sort-of interesting B-list talent (Vince Edwards, Carol Ohmart) but this Philipines thriller, from the tail end of Cromwell’s directorial career, suffers from a fairly hackneyed script and a music track that’s on random, behaving like a player piano that got hit during a saloon brawl. The dramatic cues always seem to come on seconds too late, or too early. The movie LOOKS pretty good, though, and gathers some conviction as it goes: Ohmart’s last scene has thrilling echoes of DEAD RECKONING. […]

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