Archive for Dead Reckoning

Damon and Pythias in Van Nuys

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 16, 2020 by dcairns

Guest Shadowplayer Chris Schneider always makes me happy when he writes something for me–

“I thought I knew the wheat from the chaff,” go the words of the song, “what a laugh!” The song is “Can’t We Be Friends.” It can be heard in two Vincent Sherman-directed crime dramas, NORA PRENTISS and BACKFIRE.

NORA PRENTISS is SISTER CARRIE, sort-of, only reworked for a post-war Warner Brothers world of chantoozies and criminal intent. BACKFIRE has other things on its mind.

BACKFIRE, which I saw for the first time a week ago, is more concerned with traumatized WW2 vets and a “Damon and Pythias” friendship — not to mention gambling and alcohol and murders being committed by a hand-with-a-gun-in-it whose identity we’re unable to see. Compare it to DEAD RECKONING for the “Damon and Pythias.” Compare it, too, to Sherman’s earlier THE UNFAITHFUL as an example of b-team noir used as an excuse for location shooting (Glendale, Van Nuys, Olvera St.) and showing off the talents of contract players.

Gordon MacRae, who’s in a Van Nuys hospital, seeks out fellow soldier Edmund O’Brien with the aid of nurse Virginia Mayo. Viveca Lindfors, who appears like a phantom at MacRae’s bedside, encourages this effort. Lindfors, who turns out to be a singer kept in niceties by an unseen gambler, is also concerned about O’Brien. Dane Clark, another friend from military days, looks on from the sidelines.

The main problem with BACKFIRE is that the putative hero and heroine, MacRae and Mayo, are so dull. Lindfors comes off best. She gets star close-ups, a Milo Anderson gown, and a French song. One reads about how, when the film’s release was held back a few years, posters and publicity were finessed so that they favored Mayo. Was the (SPOILERS ahead) off-camera death of Lindfors’ character a hasty reshoot designed to play down her importance?

DEAD RECKONING had Bogart and his soldier pal, and BACKFIRE has O’Brien and MacRae. The question this kind of story provokes — at least in LGBT viewers — is whether things are “homosocial” or actually homosexual. I ain’t sayin’ yes and I ain’t sayin’ no. Let’s just say that MacRae is awf’lly concerned about his absent beloved. Midway through, when a low-level masher keeps asking Lindfors to dance with him, O’Brien asks the guy if he wants to dance with *him*. When the film’s happy end occurs, with a truck riding off into the horizon, that truck contains MacRae and Mayo and O’Brien — like an obverse of the three-way ménage at the end of DARK VICTORY.

Too bad that the Mayo/MacRae relationship is strictly from Snoresville. Also that Dane Clark falls victim to an ill-considered plot-twist and is saddled with an unplayable final scene. Or that a servant played by Leonard Strong speaks in egregious “velly solly”-style Asian Stereotype-speak.

Oh well. At least the post-war Warners zeitgeist is in evidence. And Lindfors, who has a moment or two reminding us that she was capable of MISS JULIE (“Didn’t you know? I like it here. It’s gay and exciting. I have all I ever dreamed of as a girl.”), does look splendid.

Wreck Deadening

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on December 22, 2016 by dcairns

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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…