Screen Guild Theater – If You Could Only Cook – 1941

My Review

-A Little Too Light on the Comedy-

Honorary Radio Bogie Fix:

The Lowdown

A frustrated car executive (Adolph Menjou) meets up with a unemployed secretary (Priscilla Lane) in the park and they pretend to be married so that they can get hired on as a cook and a butler for a big time gangster (Bogart).

What I Thought

This one’s an easy listen, but there’s not much meat on the bone, even for Classic Radio fans. While I’ve never seen the original film starring Jean Arthur, its positive reviews would lead me to believe that something was lost in the translation to radio. At a mere 30 minutes, the plot is pretty bare and any thought of character development seems to have been tossed out the window.

Is it worth a listen? Maybe if you’ve got a long drive or flight and you’re a big fan of Priscilla Lane.

The Bogart Factor

Playing a foodie gangster, Bogart’s portrayal of Dan Nolin is not much more than a stock racketeer role that he could play in his sleep. While he gives it his all, the script doesn’t give him enough to make the role more than an amusing extended cameo. It’s mentioned at the end that he was out promoting The Maltese Falcon.

The Rest of the Cast

Priscilla Lane plays Joan, the unemployed secretary that pretends to be married so that she can get a job as Bogart’s cook. As I said before, there’s very little here for the cast to work with. While Lane probably has the meatiest role in the whole production, her motivations for wanting to work for a gangster and for falling in love don’t really get time to add up. That said, Lane is talented enough to make the most out of this small part and it’s not hard to see why the men in the production would find her so cute.

Adolph Menjou plays the frustrated car executive James. Perhaps the film version spends a little more time explaining Jim’s motivations for disappearing from his job (nobody seems to notice) and leaving his fiancee for days leading up to their nuptials (again, apparently unnoticed) when it merely seems like he’s having a bad day. He falls in love. Why? His fiancee is supposed to come off as a real shrew, you know, because she called him at work once.

Roger Pryor hosts the show and plays Bogart’s gangster sidekick, Flash. Normally this type of role would be comic relief, but in a light comedy where the main gangster is already playing for comic relief, Pryor doesn’t have much to do but say lines that could have been given to Bogart.

The Bottom Line

Not a complete waste of time, but probably only entertaining for die hard Priscilla Lane or Bogart fans.

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Katharine Hepburn – The Making of the African Queen

Honorary Allnut Fix:

Don’t be fooled by the title – the only person responsible for Hepburn’s near-loss of sanity was John Huston. If Hepburn’s to be believed, the least important components of this film for Huston were, in order: The script, the wardrobes, and the actors.

Written as a polished version of a private journal (although how polished can it be when it regularly references vomiting and bowel movements), The Making of the African Queen is an incredibly insightful look behind the scenes of one of Hollywood’s greatest films.

Yes, if this memoir was restricted to only Hepburn’s anal retentive observations about the quality of life while living in Africa and working with John Huston, we might be left to believe that this was the most miserable period of her life. Hepburn’s charm though, comes with her ability to immediately poke holes in her own ego and readily admit when her fellow collaborators were in the right despite their own peculiar attributes and tendencies.

Filled with glorious black and white photos from Hepburn’s own collection and well known studio stills, The Making of the African Queen is an incredible chronicle of Hepburn’s fascinating working relationship with Director Huston as she learns to cope with, and appreciate, the eccentric auteur’s unique lust for life and occasionally confusing style of directing.

Hepburn badgers him endlessly about the script. (Who needs a finalized script until filming begins, right?) She fussily cares for him along the way like a three-way cross between a beleaguered sister, a frustrated wife, and a devoted assistant. (Hepburn fixes the buttons on the fly of his pants, accompanies him on an elephant hunting excursion, and dutifully joins in to help the cast and crew resurrect The African Queen after the ship sinks to the bottom of the river.) And in the book’s most telling moments, Hepburn reveals Huston’s brilliant, blunt, and simple style of direction that led to some of her most famous scenes from the film. (Yes, he cruelly made her mourn the loss of her film brother for an extended prank, but the “stiff upper lip” direction formed 95% of what makes Hepburn’s acting great here!)

What about Bogie? Well, he’s around. Bacall was on the trip, so they were often off doing their own thing while Hepburn was exploring Africa. Hepburn though, treats Bogart more like a minor character in the book. She loves his acting and professionalism. She enjoyed his endless needling off-screen and learned to respect him as a private man who had a hard time letting people into his inner circle. And in the end, she couldn’t have been happier to support him in his much deserved Oscar win for the role of Charlie Allnut.

What one will take away the most from this book is Hepburn’s dedication to her craft and her determination to make sure that she gave this film her very best. Whether she’s carefully pouring over the script to make sure it feels authentic, or lugging a full length mirror through the jungle to make sure her wardrobe and hair are the best that they can be, we see an actress that is willing to give her all for a role – even if that means acting through a severe case of the runs and losing 20 pounds in the process.

And did I mention the pictures?

The behind-the-scene moments portrayed are priceless, and the double page spreads are worth the price of this book alone. Even at her physical worst, Hepburn is so stunningly G-O-R-G-E-O-U-S.

If you’re a fan of Hepburn, Bogart, Huston, or The African Queen, this one’s definitely worth a read. To close, I’ll leave you with perhaps one of the most satisfying bits from Hepburn after the whole adventure had wrapped:

“Now, what do you suppose ever happened to Charlie and Rose? Where did they live? Did they stay in Africa? I always thought they must have. And lots of little Charlies and Rosies. And live happily ever after. Because that’s what we wanted them to do. And every summer they take a trip in the old Queen – and laugh and laugh and laugh and laugh. . .” 

I couldn’t ask for anything more.

The Love Lottery – 1954

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Bogie Film Fix:

Sliver of a Bogie (Barely There)

Director: Charles Crichton (Perhaps best known for the wonderful A Fish Called Wanda?)

The Lowdown

Hollywood’s biggest heartthrob (David Niven…yes, I know…) tries to escape the public eye and ends up being blackmailed into raffling himself off for marriage.

What I Thought

While trying to track this film down, I’d been warned by another Classic Film fan, “No spoilers, but don’t expect too much from Bogart’s cameo.” That was certainly the understatement of the year as he’s barely in the film for more than a few seconds.

That being said, I actually enjoyed the film quite a bit. Sure, David Niven is a bit long in the tooth and not quite as good looking as he needs to be to play Hollywood’s biggest heartthrob – certainly not enough to warrant hundreds of girls trying to rip him to shreds at every appearance – but it’s a goofy musical comedy and he’s David Niven, so we can forgive a lot.

Director Crichton excels here with the musical dream sequences that plague Niven’s sleep as he slowly begins to crack under the pressure of his own stardom. It’s not hard to imagine that this could have been Leonardo DiCaprio if not for Martin Scorsese, or even George Clooney if not for his eventual hunger for stronger scripts and the director’s chair. Strange, just a touch gruesome, and very well choreographed, Niven’s dreams are the standout scenes from this film.

It’s the conventional script that holds this one back. So a movie star wants to raffle themselves off for marriage? Most casual film fans could probably fill in the blanks and come up with a similar script. A young and infatuated fan wins, but then isn’t sure it’s what she truly wants. A woman within the Lottery organization eventually begins to fall for the actor despite her logistical mathematician’s view of the world.

A + B = C…

Still, it’s worth a watch and might make a good double feature with Director Crichton’s cult classic, A Fish Called Wanda.

The Bogart Factor

Bogie has no lines at all here and is only on screen for mere moments at the very end of the film, but without spoiling the joke, his appearance is worth a laugh! If you’re only here for Bogart recommendations that are worth watching, I’ll save you the time of tracking this one down:

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The Cast

David Niven plays Rex Allerton, the Hollywood dreamboat that every girl on earth wants to maul. Niven is Niven, so he’s very good in the role and very funny. If you can get past the fact that he’s miscast as Hollywood’s most sought-after hunk, you can enjoy his performance.

Anne Vernon plays June, the mathematician brainiac who crunches the numbers for “The International Syndicate of Computation.” You see, the Syndicate is this Illuminati-like organization that makes millions of dollars by arranging for…uh, never mind. It never makes a ton of sense and simply acts as the McGuffin that puts Vernon’s character in the same room as Niven’s. Vernon is a bit underwritten, but in her early scenes of seduction over Niven, she does very well.

Herbert Lom plays Amico, perhaps the most interesting character in the entire film. Amico runs the syndicate of numbers that employs Vernon, and he’s the one who arranges to blackmail Niven into the “love lottery.” Lom comes off as low-level Bond villain, and even after watching the film twice, I’m not sure I grasp his (or his company’s) true motivations for putting Niven into such a tailspin. That being said, he’s got a great screen presence and is a good foil for Niven.

Peggy Cummins plays Sally, the young fan who wins the raffle and gets Niven. She’s fine, but her subplot is introduced late into the film and given very little time to develop. All in all she holds her own, but it could have been a much deeper role.

The Bottom Line

If you’re a Niven fan, or a fan of musicals and haven’t seen this one yet, it might be worth a watch. If you’re looking for any sort of Bogie fix – forget about it…

Joan Leslie

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Birth Name: Joan Agnes Theresa Sadie Brodel

Date of Birth: January 26, 1925

Date of Death: October 12, 2015

Number of Films that Joan Leslie Made with Humphrey Bogart: 5

The Lowdown

Born in Michigan, Joan Leslie jumped into show business early, joining her two older sisters in a family singing trio known as The Three Brodels. Leslie was two-and-a-half years old at the time, and would go on to perform around the country with her sisters on the vaudeville circuit to help her folks earn money during The Great Depression.

Discovered by MGM while performing with the trio in New York, Leslie made her way through more than a dozen films in bit parts and uncredited roles before landing a contract with Warner Brothers where she appeared with a high profile role in High Sierra next to an about-to-explode Humphrey Bogart.

Leslie would go on to receive great reviews in several more high profile films (Yankee Doodle Dandy and Sergeant York, notably) before finally being blacklisted by Warner Brothers after breaking her contract on religious and moral grounds. Leslie would eventually end up back with MGM, the studio that started it all for her, and finished out her career on the big screen and television before retiring in 1991.

I’ve always considered Joan Leslie to be a real joy to watch on screen. Mostly cast alongside of Bogart in the young and naive ingenue role, Leslie’s real life moral convictions played well on the big screen. And while she may have quit Warner Brothers to keep her convictions intact, Leslie was not afraid during her career to show a darker side to her characters if the script called for it in a sensible way.

I’m very happy to add Joan Leslie to the pantheon of The Usual Suspects!

The Filmography

High Sierra – 1941

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Leslie plays Velma, the young and disabled love interest to Bogart. Director Raoul Walsh uses her in small but powerful doses, and he doesn’t shy away from showing us that Leslie has a bit of a darker side towards the end. Leslie does great in the role and holds herself up against Bogart very well. Perhaps the best and most nuanced of her roles with Bogart, the audience is left feeling both sad for Bogart at the loss of potential redemption through love, but also a bit relieved at the thought that this young child won’t end up with a much older gangster. You can read my original post on the film here.

The Wagons Roll at Night – 1941

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Leslie plays Bogart’s baby sister, and the main love interest to Eddie Albert, Mary Coster. While she’s an even more innocent country kid than she was in High Sierra, Leslie doesn’t really have a whole lot to work with. Director Ray Enright’s instructions may well have been, “Look cute and fall in love with Eddie Albert. That’s all you need to know.” The role is almost identical to the one that Jane Bryan played in Kid Galahad as the younger sister who gets caught up in danger after falling for simpleton who’s making his way through showbiz. You can read my original post on the film here.

Thank Your Lucky Stars – 1943

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Leslie plays Pat Dixon, an aspiring young song writer who’s willing to do anything to get her music heard by the world. Leslie is a lot of fun in the role, although it’s a bit underwritten. She adds a nice little physical mannerism to Pat in that every time she starts to get a great idea, she tucks her head down and pounds on her temples. It’s also a lot of fun to see her impersonate James Cagney’s “My mother thanks you, my father thanks you. . .” speech from Yankee Doodle Dandy, considering that she’s the one who costarred with him in that film! Unfortunately, Leslie doesn’t appear in Bogart’s brief cameo, but it’s a fun film that you need to see regardless! You can read my original post on the film here.

I Am an American – 1944

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Leslie plays herself in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo with several other Hollywood celebs (including Bogart) during a rally to support the war effort. None of her lines are heard, and Leslie is shown for just seconds speaking to a crowd before it cuts to a speech by Dennis Morgan. You can read my original post on the film here.

Two Guys from Milwaukee – 1946

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Leslie plays the manicurist love interest to both Dennis Morgan and Jack Carson, Connie Read, and she’s very good in the role. Yes, she does seem a little shallow to leave Buzz behind for a prince just because he’s a prince. And yes, I’m still not quite sure what the whole psychotherapy dream at the end had to do with making her choice between the two men – but again – plot coherency shouldn’t be at the top of your priorities for enjoying this film. Again, no face time with Bogart during his small cameo, but the film is lots of fun and worth a watch. You can read my original post on the film here.

*The Usual Suspects is an ongoing section of the blog where I highlight some of Bogart’s more regular collaborators. You can read the rest of the write ups here.*

Roger Ebert’s Casablanca Commentary

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Honorary Bogart Fix:

5 Bogie

The Lowdown

Acclaimed film critic Roger Ebert overlays Hollywood’s most famous film with his own comprehensive commentary.

What I Thought

Any regular readers will know that I drank the Roger Ebert Kool-Aid a long time ago.

As a kid growing up in the Midwest without cable TV, the two greatest things that happened to me on network television (5 channels at the time) were when newbie network Fox began airing old action flicks on Saturday afternoons, and when At the Movies with Siskel and Ebert began airing around the country in syndication.

We had one rental store in town and these two cantankerous film lovers were my only pre-internet guide to making my way through the racks and racks of films that all looked good to me. It was only after I dropped my $1.25 that I’d find out you can’t always judge a film by the VHS cover art, and I needed help making the most of my money.

I continued watching and reading Roger Ebert after Gene Siskel’s unfortunate passing. I didn’t always agree with him, but when I disagreed, I could almost always understand his point. (One of the few complete disagreements I ever had came when Ebert decried that video games were not art.)

I began to love and appreciate the man even more after following his battle with cancer on his blog. It turned out that his observations on life were even more compelling than his observations on films. I devoured his book Life Itself and the loved the subsequent documentary of the same name. Then I fell especially hard for the art of film criticism after finding this little nugget in the used book store:

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To this day, the moment I finish any new film, my first instinct is always to see if Ebert agreed with my assessment, only to realize that I’ll have to make due with the massive body of work that he left behind.

Have I spent enough time building up my admiration for Roger Ebert yet? So is it any surprise that I thoroughly enjoyed his commentary over Casablanca?

Any notable film critic’s thoughts on the film would probably be fun to hear. (I’m a big fan of David Edelstein and occasionally like to read Richard Roeper. Then there’s this podcast that never fails to deliver – http://filmspotting.net/ – always a great listen.) What sets Ebert apart though, is his PhD level knowledge of Casablancas cast, director, legacy, and place within the history of American cinema.

The man led shot-by-shot breakdown’s of the film for live audiences for goodness sake. I would argue that he probably knew the film as well or better than any man or woman alive before he passed.

So what do we get with his commentary?

For starters, I’ve seen the film more times than I can remember but now I have a new appreciation for Ingrid Bergman’s acting style. Ebert gives us a masterclass on her use of “looking down” to project inner turmoil, as well as a quick lesson on the use of shadow to disguise anything on an actor that CGI would go on to take care of decades later.

He works through many of the myths and legends that have surround the film for years. Yes, Warner Brothers wanted George Raft to play Rick at one point. No, they were never really interested in Ronald Reagan. Sure, Hal Wallis influenced the film in subtle, yet significant ways – he wanted a big band, real parrots, and less hats!

Perhaps Ebert’s most stirring observations come when discussing Casablanca’s historical context, Warner Brother’s severe distaste for the Nazi’s, and the incredible amount of foreign actors that populate the film. There’s a reason this movie seems so authentic. The emotions of fear, betrayal, and anger are more than likely all too real for nearly every supporting actor and extra as they watch Hollywood Nazi’s recreate the authoritarian march of Germany’s boots through Europe that they all lived through.

Then we come to the debate of whether or not Ingrid Bergman knew which man she’d end up with at the end of the film before she filmed the final scene. I won’t give you any spoilers, but I think Ebert makes a pretty solid case that settles the question for me.

Do I disagree occasionally with his thoughts? A little. No, I don’t think Paul Henreid was nearly as wooden as Ebert makes him out to be. And on a minor quibble, revolvers have the rotating cylinder – otherwise they’re just pistols Roger!

All of this only touches the surface of what Ebert’s lifelong passion for films adds to the enjoyment of Casablanca. If you’ve seen the film so much that you can’t imagine finding anything new within it, I would highly recommend tracking down a copy with this commentary.

Roger, we miss you dearly.

Here’s Ebert’s thoughts on the film from his site in 1992 – As Time Goes By…

Bogart: In Search of My Father

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Honorary Bogie Book Fix:

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The Lowdown

Stephen Bogart, the son of Hollywood’s greatest icon, parallels his father’s life with his own – giving readers insight into Classic Hollywood, overcoming addiction, and dealing with love and loss within a family while the world watches.

What I Thought

I’ve said it before – if you want a detailed, expansive, beautifully documented history of Humphrey Bogart’s life and career, you need to check out the Sperber/Lax bio Bogart. If you want the casual fan’s take on Bogie without all the geeked-out minutiae that hardcore fans love, read Stefan Kanfer’s Tough Without a Gun.

But if you want an honest and passionate account of Humphrey Bogart’s personality and personal relationships with friends, family, and Hollywood royalty chiming in, you really need to read Bogart: In Search of My Father.

Fair warning – Lauren Bacall’s By Myself and Then Some is next on my reading list, but for now, Stephen Bogart’s memoir is the most in depth account of his father’s personal life that I’ve read so far.

What could have been a light and touching look into Humphrey Bogart is much deeper as Stephen uses his father’s legacy – both the peaks and the valleys – to work through his own personal highs and lows as he comes to grips with what it means to be his own man and “Bogie’s son” at the same time.

Stephen’s years of avoiding his father’s looming presence is made understandable. Who could live in that shadow? Who could live up to that legacy? Who could every come to grips with losing a father at such a young age and then having to deal with it in the blinding spotlight of the media? How could someone ever carve out their own niche in the world with so much family baggage attached?

Father and son both came from broken families. Humphrey because of his distant and troubled parents. Stephen because of the loss of a father he barely knew. Humphrey bucked and burdened most of the authority figures in his early years as he tried to figure out who he was in the world. Stephen lashed out and struggled with his peers and his mother as he tried to come to grips with who he was despite what the world told him.

Humphrey self-medicated with booze and cigarettes right up until his death.

Stephen openly discusses his personal substance abuse struggles and the strong desire not to follow in his father’s footsteps when it comes to drugs and alcohol.

What makes Stephen’s look into his father’s life so compelling is the fact that he doesn’t hold back from the dark corners in order to keep from tarnishing the legacy. Humphrey Bogart’s life is laid bare, warts and all, within the stories, myths, and recollections of his closest friends and coworkers from his personal and professional lives.

Along the way, we get plenty of great drinking stories. (Bogie and John Huston playing football with a grapefruit.) We get a deep and personal history of the origins of The Rat Pack. (Bacall coined the name for the group.) We get some really fun insight into Bogie’s behind-the-scenes hijinks. (Bogie and Raymond Massey daring one another to take over for their respective stuntmen to expectedly dangerous results.) And overall, we get an incredible oral history of Humphrey Bogart from his most intimate inner circle. (Again, Katherine Hepburn’s touching words in regards to Bogie’s passing coupled with Stephen’s own memories of the pain are moving to the point of tears.)

But most importantly, we watch Stephen Bogart rekindle a father/son relationship that he’d for so long assumed was unattainable. It’s a lesson told to us through an unguarded baring of the soul that made me a little more brave to reexamine both the sunny spots and the shadowy recesses of my own life and family.

A must read for anyone who wants to go beyond what they see of Bogie on the silver screen!

Lux Radio Theater Presents – Moontide – 1945

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Honorary Radio Bogie Fix:

Radio Fixes

The Lowdown

An alcoholic boatman (Bogart) rescues a suicidal woman (Virginia Bruce) and they try to use their relationship to escape the boatman’s checkered past.

What I Thought

This one’s a real hidden gem that I’d never heard of until it popped up as a recommendation on my Spotify account.

While most radio adaptions of famous films get the short shrift of 30 minutes or less, Lux gives this one plenty of room to breath with it’s 55 minute running time. Hosted by Mark Hellinger, the producer of the original 1942 film starring Jean Gabin and Ida Lupino, Hellinger was responsible for producing quite a few of Bogart’s film’s over his career.

Perhaps the most surprising moments come during the show’s intro when Hellinger describes his first encounters with a young stage comedian name Humphrey Bogart. Towards the end of the show, we get Bogart and Hellinger together again talking about Bogart’s comedic days on stage, and it’s interesting to consider that Bogart may have lived a good chunk of his life working towards roles that were the antithesis of his gun toting tough guys or ex-pat drinkers.

The broadcast also benefits from an elevation in cast as we get Humphrey Bogart over the film’s original Jean Rabin. I’m not knocking Rabin, but Bogart rarely gave anything less than his best to his radio performances, and his work here is as good as any other radio he’s done.

Bogart plays Bobo, a bait fisherman who occasionally gets blackout drunk and forgets whether or not he might have murdered someone. He plays the part with plenty of wary pause and reluctance – much like a man at the end of his his rope might behave, and the tension raised by the did he do it or not dramatics within his relationship to Virginia Bruce make the love story crackle.

Would I rather have heard Ida Lupino recreate her role? Of course. I have a big crush on Ms. Lupino, and it would have been nice to hear her voice. But then again, I can always go back to the original film, right?

There is a portrayal of an Asian bait fisherman that is insensitive by today’s standards, but other than that, this one’s worth checking out if you can find it!