Dead Man – 1945

dead man

My Review

—Mediocre, but Still Fun—

Honorary Radio Bogie Fix:

Radio Fixes 2

The Lowdown

A train-hopping hobo (William Tracy) is haunted by the voice of a railroad bull (Bogart) after killing him.

What I Thought

Based on a short story by famed novelist and screenplay writer James M. Cain (The Postman Always Rings Twice, Double Indemnity, Mildred Pierce, Algiers, etc.), this one’s worth a listen for the author’s pedigree alone. While this story doesn’t come close to his best works, its paint-by-numbers plot is still entertaining enough. And – I have no doubt that 70 years ago, this plot might have played out a little more unexpectedly to a general public that wasn’t nearly as media-saturated as we are today.

Is this production of Dead Man good? It’s okay. It’s an easy listen at half an hour and more than good enough to pass the time on a commute to work or an airplane ride. Not as good as several of Bogart’s radio film adaptions, the actors do well with what they have.

This broadcast of Dead Man was one of Bogart’s rare pre-Bold Venture dips into radio that wasn’t a cameo appearance or a film adaption. Supposedly handpicked by Bogart himself, the noir-ish feel of a story that focuses on a murderer consumed with guilt and paranoia seems right up the Hollywood legend’s alley.

The Bogart Factor

Bogart does well here as Larry Knott, the railroad bull who’s murdered. Yes, his ghostly voice sounds a little like he’s standing across the street and speaking through a bullhorn, but how much can you really do on the radio when you need to distinguish someone as an ethereal presence that also needs a good dose of tough guy added in? There are so many roles in his filmography where Bogart plays a guilt ridden ne’er-do-well that is slowly becoming mentally unhinged (Black Legion, San Quentin, Dead End, Conflict, The Two Mrs. Carrolls, etc.) that it’s kind of refreshing to hear him as the innocent conscience haunting another killer. It wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine Bogart playing the lead role himself if the story had made it to the big screen. If anyone knows the ins and outs of guilt-driven-mania, it’s Bogart for sure.

While it’s not a must listen unless you’re a Bogart completist, it’s worth a listen for anyone interested in a James M. Cain/Bogart collaboration.

The Rest of the Cast

William Tracy plays Lucky, the hobo who kills Bogart at the beginning of the story, only to be guilted into madness by his disembodied voice until he can stand it no longer. Tracy does well here with the material he’s given, more than able to give his private conversations with Bogart plenty of angst and tension.

The Bottom Line

You could do worse for old time radio. If you’re already a subscriber to an old time radio podcast, this one has either come up, or probably will eventually.

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