The Friars Club Roast of Humphrey Bogart

My Review

-Don’t Waste Your Time-

Bogie Radio Fix:

The Lowdown

Just to be clear, the only reason this one even gets 1/2 a Bogie fix is because Lauren Bacall steals the show with the only two, all too brief, bright spots in the program. Bogart is almost nonexistent. You can hear him laughing off-mike for most of the show, and he has a short “thank you” speech at the end, but don’t listen for any sort of Bogie-appreciation.

Let me also say early on, anyone who knows me personally wouldn’t consider me a prude. Most of my favorite comedic films, comedians, and television shows would fall into the “R Rated” category of grownup entertainment. Swearing doesn’t bother me unless it’s used pointlessly for no other reason than the material that it resides within could not hold up on its own.

All of that said, The Friars Club Roast of Humphrey Bogart is a long, hard, obnoxious slog of a show that spends 90% of it’s time on homophobic and misogynistic comedy that has NOTHING to do with Bogart. In fact, almost all of the presenters make it a point to mention that they not only haven’t worked with Bogart in films, but they also don’t really know him personally.

Hosted by Roastmaster Red Buttons (one of the few presenters to have some good material), the show is one “roaster” after another using every conceivable slang term for the male anatomy – usually in reference to oral sex. (I know, I know – I sound like a real prude…but trust me, it’s over done.

Alan King, Charles Coburn, Lou Holtz, Phil Silvers, and Jan Murray are just a few of the presenters who show up to throw out penis jokes, talk about everything except Bogart, and admit they prepared little or no material for the show.

Before you start your replies below, I know how Friars Club Roasts work. I’ve seen lots of them – both the Dean Martin incarnations and some of Comedy Central’s celebrity hi-jinks. This one suffers from age, though. Women weren’t allowed in the room. More time is spent pointing out local celebs in the room than roasting the honoree. And, as I mentioned before, the comedy painfully does not hold up. Not solely because it’s offensive (that’s what the Friars Club is supposed to do, right?), but because the presenters have nothing else to rely on except the offensive stuff.

On the other hand, Lauren Bacall is able to upstage the entire panel in her first appearance at the roast when Buttons plays an audio tape of a message she pre-recorded since women weren’t allowed in the room. Bacall covers the same-exact tasteless topics as the men do, but her jokes are much better written – relying on word play and innuendo specifically tailored to Bogart and his career. Of note, the whole “grab my gun” joke is probably the best piece of business in the whole show, although that’s not saying much.

Bacall also makes an in-the-flesh appearance at the end of the show after Bogart gives his brief thanks, and again steals the show even though she didn’t have prepared material and was put on the spot to speak.

Have I been hard enough on the show yet? If you really want to listen, go for it. It was released on vinyl and is currently available on YouTube. But I’d say it’s probably not worth your time except for those interested in hearing Lauren Bacall show a room full of desperate men how to really do a roast.

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.

Theater of Romance: One Way Passage – 1945

radio

Honorary Bogie Radio Fix:

Radio Fixes 3

The Lowdown

Bogart (Warner’s Dynamic Star!) and Joan Bennett (who would go on to star with Bogart in We’re No Angels) are two ships passing in the night (pun intended) in this doom-fated romance between a man headed to death row and a woman with a fatal heart defect.

What I Thought

Full disclosure, I’ve never seen the William Powell and Kay Francis film that this one is based on, although it sounds like it might be worth checking out after this.

Yes – you know exactly where the plot is going. Yes – it’s hard to feel too much sympathy for Bogart every time his murder conviction is mentioned. Yes – you do wonder why the cop guarding Bogart continues to trust him even after Bogart drugs him while trying to escape.

If you can believe me though, all of that is trivial compared to the thoroughly enjoyable chemistry between Bogart and Bennett as they fall in love and spend their last days together. Neither will tell the other one their fateful secret. (And why would Bennett ever suspect Bogart’s murderous past? I mean, it’s not like every death row inmate gets to head to his execution on a cruise, right?)

At twenty-four minutes, this one’s definitely worth a listen for any Bogart or Old Time Radio fan. Plus, we get great tips on hygiene from Colgate Tooth Powder and Halo Shampoo! Did you know that bad breath can lead to unexplainable sadness? And why isn’t Halo Shampoo still a thing? Best. Shampoo. Name. Ever.

Why struck me as most interesting was that Bogart didn’t seem to be promoting a film for this one. Broadcast in December of 1945, this show came six months after Conflict was released, and six months before Bogart made his cameo in Two Guys from Milwaukee.

Maybe he liked the original film!

 

Stars in the Air Presents: The House on 92nd Street – 1952

house

Honorary Radio Bogie Fix:

radio-fixes-2 out of 5 radio Bogies.

The Lowdown

There are a couple mildly good reasons to listen to this broadcast –

First of all, you’ve got Betty Lou Gerson playing the role of Elsa. Anyone who’s a fan of classic Disney films will recognize that name as the original voice of Cruella De Vil. She’s very good in her role and gets to play – get this – a dastardly accented villainess!

Second, based on the true story of William G. SeboldThe House on 92nd Street is actually a very compelling piece of United States history where blind luck led the FBI into stumbling upon a group of Nazi spies sending info back to Germany.

The bad news is that this highly abridged version of the Twentieth Century Fox Film is cut so short that it’s hard to follow the story. Add into the mix that it can become a little tedious and mundane with the heavily fact-loaded narration, and it’s probably worth a listen only if your a Bogart completist.

Long story short, the FBI (which has to be pronounced at every turn as if it’s the most prestigious organization in the world) sends a man undercover to bust some stateside Nazis. Things get hairy. There’s a bit of a twist ending. The Nazis get what’s coming to them. And, oh! By the time this one’s over, you’ll never want to hear the phrase “pointed patent leather shoes” again.

Again, unless you’re an Old Time Radio die hard who just can’t get enough of Bogart, you should probably stick with the film, or even a trip into history with the real story.

The Bogart Factor

Relegated to mostly narration work, Bogart plays Inspector Briggs, the FBI man in charge of the undercover agent who’s sent into to spy on the Nazis. He’s fine, although he doesn’t have much to work with. You’d be better off popping in The Enforcer if you want a good dose of Bogie the lawman.

The Cast

Keefe Brasselle plays Bill, the undercover man for the FBI. Brasselle probably has the most to work with here as far as the script goes, but he’s still hampered by the abridged running time.

Betty Lou Gerson is your stereotypical German ice queen, Elsa. You know what, though? If you’ve got to hear a villain, it might as well be Cruella De Vil, right?

The Bottom Line

I think I’ve said it all. Although, broadcast in 1952 after Bogart’s Oscar win for The African Queen, it is fun to hear a war bonds commercial in the middle about holding onto your bonds as long as possible rather than the usual ramble about buying them!

 

The Jack Benny Show – 1947

benny

Honorary Bogie Radio Fix:

5 radio

The Lowdown

Jack Benny and his crew flash back 24 hours to show how Benny blew his chance to work with Lauren Bacall on his radio show.

What I Thought

I remember listening to this one several years ago, but apparently I never put up a post for it! It’s a real treat, and there are some great actual laughs to be had.

Benny spends the first half of the show with his regulars, Mary Livingstone, Phil Harris, Dennis Day, and Don Wilson. It’s exactly what you’d expect from Benny, with an extra dose of jokes about the recent Rose Bowl from just a few days before the broadcast. They make fun of Don about his weight. They make fun of Dennis about his crush on Mary. They make fun of Benny for being cheap. Nothing too surprising here, but there is a wonderful moment where Mary breaks character during the early moments of the show when talking about Day’s crush, and it’s a wonderfully cute moment for the always entertaining Livingstone. Day also gets a chance to sing I Love You for Sentimental Reasons.

The real meat of the show comes in the second half when Mary forces Jack to explain why Lauren Bacall isn’t going to be on the show. Cue a flashback to the day before, and we have one of the funniest Bogart radio cameos I’ve heard in a long time. Rochester finally makes his appearance in the broadcast as he banters with Benny for a bit before ushering in Bacall.

Benny wants to seduce Bacall so he asks to reenact the “You know how to whistle, don’t ya?” scene from To Have and Have Not. But guess who walks in just before he gets to the kiss? Again, it’s just a large cameo here for Bogart, but it’s a stellar use of his public persona. Bogart reenacts the scene himself, complete with kiss, until Benny finally stops him. The real treat though, comes when Mary enters and Bogart then rehearses the scene with her as well – complete with a kiss so long that it sends Benny into full meltdown mode.

Great stuff by a great cast. We get less gangster and more romantic playboy from Bogart this time around.

The Bottom Line

Check this one out. Other than the Rose Bowl jokes, it holds up well, and it’s one of the funniest Bogart radio appearances out there.

The Screen Guild Theater Presents: The Valiant – 1945

valiant

Honorary Bogie Radio Fix:

Radio Fixes

The Lowdown

Bogart was out promoting Conflict when he made this appearance for The Screen Guild Theater, and it’s a real gem.

Adapted from the play of the same name by Robert Middlemess (who also appears here as the warden), this is a tight little radio piece that actually gives Bogart his second chance to do some Shakespeare! (You can check out my other post on his first radio foray into Shakespeare as Hotspur in Henry IV here.)

The Valiant is the story of a prison chaplain (Pedro de Cordoba) and his Warden (author, Robert Middlemiss) who are deeply concerned about the curious case of a death row inmate (Bogart) who only has hours to live. They both know that something seems wrong about him. They don’t think he is who he says he is, but the inmate will not admit anything.

Enter a strange woman (Dorothy McGuire) who claims to be the inmate’s sister. She thinks she can get him to admit his true identity with a little prodding about family memories and a shared love for Shakespeare.

What I Thought

Adapted radio plays tend to be much too abridged from their original stories for my liking, but this one holds up rather well. Yes, they cut out a good chunk of the play in order to fit the time limit, but it doesn’t take away much.

Bogart’s interplay with De Cordoba, Middlemiss, and McGuire is strong, and although it’s easy to see where the story is heading, Bogart’s final lines make for a very powerful payoff to this play.

Was the relationship between McGuire and Bogart a little too romantic considering she thought that they might be brother and sister? Yeah. . . yeah, just a bit. Especially at the end where they share a kiss. Whew. It gets weird.

But this one is certainly a must listen for anyone who likes Old Time Radio or Bogart.

The Bogart Factor

Bogart plays death row inmate James Dyke, and let’s cut to the chase – Bogart has an opportunity at the end of the show to do a little bit from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and it’s really moving stuff considering how little he has to play with. Just like in Henry IV, Bogart’s delivery is strong, clear, and vivid enough that we don’t get lost in the language for a second. Plus, the lines tie in so well with the end of the play that it’ll likely haunt you the rest of the day.

The Cast

Pedro de Cordoba and Robert Middlemiss play The Chaplain and The Warden respectively, and both do a fine job. The real standout though, is Dorothy McGuire as Bogart’s possible sister, Josie. McGuire has the challenging task of playing Josie with an equal amount of love, longing, and deviousness as she tries to subtly pull Bogart’s true identity out from him. And, other than the creepy brother/sister romance that plays out, it’s really compelling stuff.

Bottom Line

Check it out.

 

Suspense Radio Theater – Love’s Lovely Counterfeit – 1948

suspenseradiotheatertheme

Honorary Radio Bogie Rating

5-radio

The Lowdown

Based on the novel by James M. Cain, a wannabe racketeer (Bogart) helps rig a mayoral election so that he can win the girl (Laureen Tuttle) and take over the town’s nefarious activities.

What I Thought

The story suffers heavily from being abridged to the extreme. A few important subplots have been axed, the plot takes awhile to grasp, and character turns that might have been exciting, or at the very least intriguing, tend to fall flat.

I’ve heard that there’s a James Cagney version of the show. Perhaps it’s more interesting?

Totally skippable except for Bogart completists.

The Bogart Factor

Out to promote To Have and Have Not, the part of racketeer Benny Grace fits Bogart well in this story, unfortunately, the radio script is severely lacking.

Bogart gets to play Benny in the “gray” areas of life as he shifts between good, bad, and somewhat indifferent to his city and his girlfriend. According to reviews, the original novel suffered from an overly melodramatic ending, and Bogart seems saddled with the same problem here.

How exactly does the end make sense? I’m not sure. . . at all. There’s a wedding that exonerates one character from another character’s damning testimony . . . but that character soon dies . . . so how does that save the new spouse???

The Rest of the Cast

Laureen Tuttle plays June, Bogart’s love interest. To say that her part is underwritten would be a disservice to the word underwritten. The role is for plot advancement only.

The Bottom Line

One of the very few pieces of Bogart work that I’d probably say, “Don’t bother.”