—Hilarious Show / Depressing Sponsor—
Your Bogie Film Fix:
Director: Ralph Levy
In a sketch on The Jack Benny Show, notorious gangster ‘Babyface’ Bogart (Humphrey Bogart) is arrested and interrogated by Det. Lt. Benny (Jack Benny).
What I Thought
If you can get past the fact that a number of the performers on this show died from cancer – it’s one of the funniest roles that Bogart ever played and a great episode of Jack Benny’s long running TV show.
Like much of the television from this era, this episode of The Jack Benny Show is really a half hour pitch for Lucky Strike Cigarettes. The show is bookended by endorsements for the tobacco product, and the biggest joke in the entire broadcast comes from Bogart’s bouncing and singing the Lucky Strike jingle.
What can we really say looking back? The world was naïve about the effects of smoking. The tobacco companies fought a long and hard campaign to convince humanity that their product was safe – a battle that’s still, amazingly enough, being waged today. And it’s sad to watch so many people joyfully celebrate a product that within just a few years would rob us of Hollywood’s greatest star . . .
All that being said, I think we should be removed enough from the era, and from Bogart’s death, to truly celebrate how hysterical this episode is. While a lot of the jokes, especially in the monologue, are a little forced and hammy, the same could be said for most of the jokes on late night TV today. The real magic comes with the interplay between the performers during the ‘Babyface’ Bogart sketch.
Bob Crosby’s running gag about his song being cut was great. Sara Berner’s portrayal of ‘Slim Finger’ Sara was perfect, giving the sketch numerous chances to make callback’s to her horrible singing voice. The switcheroo with the old man and the cop was laugh out loud funny even though I knew it was coming. And perhaps my favorite part of the show was the fake slap fight between Benny and Bogart during the interrogation scene.
Since it’s pretty widely available through various DVD subscription services and online, I’m gonna go ahead and say this is a must see for any Bogart fan, and even if you’re not a Bogart fan, you’ll still find some good laughs.
The Bogart Factor
Bogart knew how to cameo, always playing up his gangster image to the max. Here we have a trench coat, a grizzled gangster character, an interrogation scene, and gunplay. And, like always, Bogart gives 110% to the role even though it’s just a silly little sketch for TV.
It was fun at the end to hear that he was making the appearance in order to promote his upcoming film, Beat the Devil. How much fun would it have been if he’d brought along a costar? We’ll never know, but the cross-promotional moment was surely a big one for the crew at The Jack Benny Show and the folks at Lucky Strike. A real Hollywood legend playing for gags and willing to sing a goofy jingle probably pleased a lot of corporate types. The fact that it’s one of the most famous episodes of Benny’s show is a testament to Bogart’s legacy.
Jack Benny plays himself and Detective Lieutenant Benny in the episode. To be fair, Dt. Lt. Benny is no different at all from the real Jack Benny, so adding a title in front of his name is a joke unto itself. Benny is great here and, as I’ve always been a big fan (I read numerous Benny bios in high school and college), I loved seeing two of my idols coming together for some fun.
Don Wilson plays himself and Detective Wilson – again, one and the same character. Don Wilson is another guy who’s really easy to love and laugh with (at). Ever wanted to be able to do at least one good impression? Just say, “Oh, Dooooooon!” and it’s a guarantee that anyone familiar with Jack Benny will know exactly who you’re doing. Who else is so well known just because someone famous used to repeat their name week after week?
Bob Crosby plays himself and Detective Sergeant Crosby in another dual role that’s really the same role. Out of all of Benny’s cohorts, I really know the least about Crosby, but he’s very funny in this episode. The moment that he realizes that ‘Slim Finger’ Sara gets to do a song after his was cut might arguably be one of the funniest bits in the show.
Sara Berner plays ‘Slim Finger’ Sara, a pickpocket that’s arrested just before Bogart. The moment Berner started talking, I thought it was going to be another shrill voiced mob doll that I’ve really grown quite weary of seeing. Much to my delight, Benny uses, but doesn’t overuse, Berner’s character to the point that she has some of the best callbacks in the show.
Classic Bogie Moment
I cannot get enough of Bogart playing for laughs. Much of the time, he was playing off the “tough guy” persona that he’d elevated to legendary heights. He was so good at keeping a straight face in his comedic roles – although here, I think he was burying his face in his hand to stifle some laughs.
The Bottom Line
It’s thirty minutes of great fun as long as you don’t dwell on where the funding came from. . .