—Surprisingly Well Done—
Honorary Radio Bogie Fix:
You can read my original synopsis of the film here, but this adaption has been edited down so drastically that many of the supporting characters have been axed in order to focus almost solely on the relationship between ex-con Roy Earle (Humphrey Bogart) and his moll-in-the-making, Marie (Ida Lupino).
What I Thought
The best radio film adaptions are able to pare down a 90+ minute film into just under an hour, giving us a heavy dose of the most dramatic moments and letting the main stars take over almost all of the focus. Here though, High Sierra is wheedled down to under 30 minutes and some of the film’s major supporting characters have been completely removed from the story altogether.
Gone are Henry Travers as the traveling farmer looking for a break in California and his young daughter who catches Bogart’s eye and provides much of the motivation for Roy Earle at the end of the film. Forget the long romantic conversations under the stars and the father/son relationship bonding. That whole subplot has been sliced out. Roy Earle’s sidekicks Red and Babe have been trimmed down quite a bit as well, as has Earle’s mentor and boss, Big Mac.
What’s left? Well, there’s still a robbery. The thieves still meet in cabins in the woods. The mountain top standoff is still the climatic ending. But what the adaption spends 99% of its time on is the relationship between Bogart’s Roy Earle and Ida Lupino’s Marie. This entire radio program hinges on the ability of the two main actors’ to convince us that their relationship is more important than anything else in the script.
The verdict? It works wonderfully well.
When I saw that the show only lasted 28 minutes, I was ready for a real stinker, but the Lady Esther crew wisely keeps what we love most about Bogart and Lupino’s characters and shifts the script a bit to make their motivation to fall in love happen much more quickly and naturally than it does in the film. With no other woman for Bogart to fall in love with, Lupino’s encouragement and bravery impress him. He’s not looking for jewels, he’s looking for a life beyond crime – something that he sees potential for in Lupino. Lupino is on the run from her painful past and knows that the men she’s traveling with aren’t it. She meets Bogart. She likes Bogart. Bogart is her way out. With the other characters relegated to tiny bit parts, the heist becomes inconsequential and the story becomes more about whether or not these two multi-time losers can get away with their crime and actually enjoy a quality life together.
It’s better than it has any right to be, and at just under ½ an hour, it’s a great listen for your daily commute.
Bogart and Lupino
I would dare say that these two have more spark as a couple in the radio adaption than they do in the film. The script is trim and tight, both actors are performing so well that you’ll think you’re listening to audio from the film, and the short running time will leave you longing for more – in a good way.
Bogart comes off a bit softer here with his ‘crew’ than he does in the film. Instead of having an outside love interest, his story is contained neatly within his relationship with Lupino. It gives the character of Roy Earle a greater sense of maturity and loneliness that leads us to really pulling for him to fall in love with Lupino. To be honest, I really missed, “The Gun went…” *tap, tap, tap* scene, but I can let that go.
Lupino also comes off as much more sympathetic than she did in the film. This version of Marie is a woman that we can root for. Life has dealt her a bad hand, but perhaps this one job with this one guy can turn it around.
The Rest of the Cast
As per usual, we’re not given the names of any of the other cast members. But whoever they had filling in for Willie Best as Algeron was so spot on with his impersonation that they could have just as easily given Best credit. Likewise, the voice actor filling in for Barton MacLane as the ex-cop turned bad guy, Jake Kranmer, was another spot-on substitute.
So what if the sound man playing the part of Pard the dog sounds more like a man than a dog when he barks? That’s part of the charm of Old Time Radio, right?
The Bottom Line
Short, sweet, and surprisingly good.