Dead Reckoning finds film noir favorite Humphrey Bogart in unusual territory -- he's no detective, just a guy who wants to discover the truth about his strange missing buddy. As a result, he's not as in control as usual, and has to struggle a little harder in a setting that is not so familiar to him. That setting turns out to be rather more brutal than might be expected, and there's an air of senseless brutality that hangs over the whole film. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the almost random nature of the film plays up its existential leanings. Fortunately, director John Cromwell doesn't let these leanings become overpowering, and overlays them with plenty of solid action, confusing plot twists and shady characters spouting the kind of classic hardboiled dialogue that is the hallmark of noir. As for Bogart, the character may be in strange circumstances, but he's no stranger to the actor. He plays the role with effortless skill, adding just enough depth in unexpected places to keep the audience on its toes. Lizabeth Scott does the best that she can, but she's hampered by the obvious insistence that she be a Lauren Bacall stand-in -- a misguided notion anyway, as Bacall's femmes generally stopped short of being as fatale as Coral Chandler. If Scott falls a little short of the mark required here, the cracked, throaty voice and penetrating beauty do count for a lot.
John Cromwell's Dead Reckoning is one of the most complex and fascinating of the films that Humphrey Bogart made at Columbia Pictures; along with Knock On Any Door and The Harder They Fall, it is also one of trio of Columbia titles that closely resemble his Warner Bros. output on a thematic level. But it functions on deeper, darker, doom-laden psychological depths than all but one of his Warner titles (the appropriately named Dark Passage, which dates from the same year); more than any other of Bogart's features, the movie captures a palpable sense of fatalism that accompanied the end of the World War II, even for those who'd come through it well. The movie showed up on laserdisc relatively late in that format's heyday, but this DVD makes the latter look like the relatively pale, worn television prints that one used to see of this movie. It isn't perfect, with some thin but surprisingly obtrusive vertical scratches marring Leo Tover's otherwise gorgeous cinematography late in the first half-hour, in the first scene at Martinelli's club -- but most of the movie has beautiful, deep, velvety contrast throughout that reveals the necessary details even in the darkest scenes. In fact, the clarity and sharpness is a delight to the eye, making this disc generally a treat to look at as well as to watch. Columbia TriStar has given the DVD an extraordinary 28 chapters, which is exactly what this movie calls for. The plot description is fairly thorough, given its relatively short length. Only some annotation is missing, concerning the fascinating cast: Dead Reckoning offered just about the biggest role that Morris Carnovsky, a legend in the American theater who was later blacklisted, ever had onscreen; Wallace Ford, a highly underrated dramatic actor, and renowned radio actor Marvin Miller, were also present -- all of this beg for comment. The disc opens to a relatively simple menu offering a selection of a half-dozen subtitles, as well as some advertising art and trailers from The Caine Mutiny, Lawrence of Arabia, and Bridge on the River Kwai. The disc also contains the same four-minute account of Bogart's career, focusing on his Columbia Pictures output, that Sirocco contains.