One of my favorite noir movies is 1947’s Dead Reckoning, a lesser known flick from the Bogart canon. The John Cromwell-helmed movie casts Bogie as “Rip” Murdock, a man searching for a WW II buddy who disappeared upon learning he was to receive a Medal of Honor. Murdock discovers his friend had a past in the Southern town of Gulf City — a past involving a dead rich man and that man’s beautiful widow, a torch singer. This last character, Coral “Dusty” Chandler, is a classic femme fatale, and she’s the classic mix of desperation, greed and sex. Complications ensue.
Really, it’s no Out of the Past, nor even Gilda, but I love it in large part due to the work of Lizabeth Scott, who died on 31 January, at the age of 92. Scott (born Emma Matzo in Scranton, PA) played Coral, in only her third major role. The first time I saw it, in my early twenties, she seemed the very definition of sultry, combining stunning good looks with a voice that seemed aged in a bourbon barrel. She definitely could have gotten me into serious trouble, and I’m no Bogart.
Scott’s career continued into the 50s and 60s, and she worked primarily in noirs (Wiki reports that no actress led in more films in the genre), but broke the pattern a bit later in her career, working with Elvis in Loving You. She also was an important figure in the history of Hollywood scandal sheets, suing Confidential magazine for claims she was a client of a call girl. The suit ended in a mistrial, but the questions about Scott’s sexual orientation have resulted in her depiction as a lesbian in James Ellroy’s fictive L.A. In point of fact, she is believed to have had affairs with a list of men including Hal Wallis and Michael Myerberg, and was engaged on a couple of occasions, including an engagement to an oilman who died before the wedding was to take place. She made her last movie in 1972, and spent her remaining years seemingly enjoying the privacy she had sacrificed during her movie career.
So the woman Paramount billed as “The Threat” is gone, but she leaves a sizable screen legacy. Goodbye, Ms. Scott, or as Rip Murdock put it, “Geronimo, Mike.”