—A Fun/Flawed Abridged Version—
Director: Dee Engelbach
Honorary Bogie Fix:
For my Maltese Falcon synopsis, you can read my original write up on the film here. No major plot-altering details have been changed for the radio version, so it should suffice! Besides, if you’re reading this post and you haven’t seen the film yet . . . what’s your deal?!
What I Thought
This is one of three radio versions of The Maltese Falcon that Bogart performed over the years after the film’s initial release. I’m reviewing this one in particular because good friend of the ‘Bogie Film Blog,’ @MeanStsOTRPod, podcasted this episode of Academy Award Theater last Sunday on his Down These Mean Streets podcast. (Go listen to it right now. It’s okay. I’ll wait for you to come back.) If you’re a podcast listener and a fan of classic film, you should probably subscribe to this guy’s feed on iTunes. It’s always worth it. Somewhere down the line the Bogie Blog will cover the other Falcon broadcasts on Thursday posts.
Produced on CBS for Academy Award Theater by “The House of Squibb” (Bristol-Meyers Squibb now), this is a very abridged version of the film wherein Bogart gets to sum up and skip over about ¾ of the film with voiceover narration. So we lose some key scenes from the film, but we get lots of extra Bogart voice work instead. Is the tradeoff worth it? Not quite. It feels a bit rushed and the plot is a little tougher to navigate, but can you really complain when we get to hear Bogart, Mary Astor, and Sydney Greenstreet back together again? While the script may not be top notch quality, it’s definitely worth a listen.
Unlike previous live radio broadcasts that I’ve posted about, the audience doesn’t seem miked as well, so we only hear them react/laugh a few times in the show when Bogart or Greenstreet have a particularly good line or reaction. So other than a few minor line flubs by Bogart, you’d hardly even know that they did this one before an audience.
Despite the shortened run time and the exclusion of some of The Maltese Falcon’s best moments, the interplay between Bogart and Greenstreet is amazingly fun. The relationship between Bogart and Astor seems slightly tweaked from the film as well, but I’ll cover that more in the cast review below.
My only question – who played Peter Lorre’s part as Joel Cairo? I can’t seem to find the answer with my typical lackluster research, so if anyone out there in blogland has the answer, let me know! While he’s no Lorre, he still did well!
Make sure you pay attention to how the phrase Why not? is used multiple times by multiple characters throughout the broadcast! I just watched the film and I can’t remember if they did the same thing with those two words or not. It’s a fun little usage of the question as it’s repeated back and forth in several scenes for various reasons and emotions. Maybe as an English major I’m a sucker for little things like that, but I thought it was fun.
The Bogart Factor
We get to hear Bogart do a ton of voiceover narration as they obviously have to condense the plot considerably to fit it into a half hour time slot, so it’s fun to hear him tackle a pretty tried-and-true private eye trope.
Being in front of an audience on a live broadcast also means that he only gets one take to do his lines, and as anyone’s who’s seen the Breakdowns outtakes knows, Bogart could have a bit of a temper when he flubbed a line and let loose with an occasional curse. Here though, he’s very professional when he drops a word or repeats a phrase, and it’s hardly noticeable.
If nothing else, you’ve got to give this one a listen just to relive the chemistry between Bogart and Greenstreet. Both of them amp up their respective character’s senses of humor – especially in initial conversation with each other, and it’s a whole lot of fun.
Mary Astor reprises her role from the film as the femme fatale, Brigid O’Shaughnessy. For the original film, Director John Huston reportedly had Astor run around the set before scenes in order to give her a breathy and flustered demeanor. We don’t get that here and it seems to take a little bit of the edge off of her performance, but we do get something a little more subtle and interesting. Great emphasis is placed upon Brigid being a “liar” by all of the broadcast’s characters, and when Astor acknowledges it, there’s a wonderful personality shift that takes place. Astor plays Brigid a little more naïve and naughty until Bogart calls her out on her manipulative behavior – then she instantly switches over to a more cold and calculating – borderline sociopathic – demeanor. I liked it a lot even though it wasn’t as fun as the filmed version.
Sydney Greenstreet reprises the role of Kaspar Gutman, the “fat man” who’s chasing the bird around the world. Check out how much he’s revved up his laugh for this radio adaption! His giddiness is so over the top that his laugh is able to generate a few of the audible audience laughs throughout the show. He seems to be having a lot of fun as he dives back into his Oscar nominated role, and it’s well worth the time of any Greenstreet fan to give it a listen.
Like I said earlier, I’m still trying to track down the man behind Joel Cairo for this show. He had pretty big boots to fill as he stepped in for Peter Lorre, and he does well. He sounds similar, but is clearly not trying to do a Lorre impression which is nice. His accent is subdued to the point that it’s not distracting. And his chemistry with Bogart is one of the best parts of this broadcast.
Classic Bogie Moment
In all of his pre-superstar days in B-films and small roles, no one could die onscreen like Bogart. You have to check out the moment here where he only has audio to use when he’s drugged and has to pass out. Between his slurred speech and the thud that follows, it creates a pretty realistic loss of consciousness – and it’s a bit reminiscent of all those painful grunts as he slumps to the ground after being shot in his early films!
The Bottom Line
Not quite as good as the earlier broadcast that included Lorre, but an easy listen and time well spent with three of cinemas greats! Listen to it on a car or plane ride and have fun.