—Much More Fun Than I Remember!—
Bogie Film Fix:
Director: Robert Zemeckis
A criminal (Robert Sacchi’s voice, Bogart’s face from past films) undergoes plastic surgery to look like Humphrey Bogart in order to hide his true identity.
What I Thought
I remember that there was a lot of hubbub when this episode originally aired. There was a small controversy during the nineties about computer technology having advanced to the point where long dead celebrities could be “resurrected” so to speak in modern films and television shows. Forrest Gump put Tom Hanks with a number of well known people. Dirt Devil vacuums had Fred Astaire dance with one of their floor units. And Robert Zemeckis brought back Humphrey Bogart from a number of old films to star in a brand new short film for Tales from the Crypt.
At the time, I was in college and only a fledgling fan of classic film. It seemed like a lot of people smarter than me were upset about Bogart’s usage, so I decided that I should be as well. Shouldn’t the actor have a say in being used in a film? Would human actors eventually be eliminated altogether in favor of CGI recreations? Might we eventually see Bogart star next to Steve McQueen and Clint Eastwood in a buddy cop film?
Oddly enough, having forgotten that this episode was directed by Zemeckis, it’s funny to look back and see that this was being argued about even before Zemeckis started messing around publicly with the technology that led to Tom Hanks being CGI’ed multiple times in The Polar Express. All the shots were done by George Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic studio as well, just a few years before he’d stir up his own CGI usage controversy in the Star Wars prequels.
So what do I have to say after this viewing?
I loved it. I really did. After seeing nearly every Bogart film made, it was a lot more fun this time as I recognized a lot of the ‘in jokes’ that were being tossed around. The whole episode is an outright homage to Dark Passage with its First Person point of view and its storyline centering around a reconstructed face. (Other than a brief flashback scene, we only see Bogart when he’s reflected in a mirror.) Isabella Rossellini gets the chance to shine with some of her mother’s own lines from Casablanca. And I honestly think that Zemeckis’ sense of humor in this episode is so in line with Bogart’s own cameo appearances from the 40’s that I imagine Bogart would have been quite tickled with the idea of how his footage was used.
More than likely, from what I’ve read, Bogart wouldn’t have cared nearly as much about his face being used as much as he would have cared that a big fat check showed up in his mailbox for it.
It’s funny, the CGI looks really good for the time that this episode was made, and it’s a real kick to try and guess where each piece of footage from Bogart’s scenes came from. Plus, it was supposedly the first time a dead actor had been given top billing in a TV show or film.
And! There’s a special appearance by a very famous (and also dead) director of horror!
The Bogart Factor
The novelty of seeing Bogart alongside of modern day stars is the real draw here, but doggone it if it doesn’t actually work pretty well. Zemeckis used footage from Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, Conflict, All Through the Night, and Key Largo to recreate Bogart as the criminal-in-hiding Lou Spinelli. Seeing Bogart go up against John Lithgow and Isabell Rossellini had me smiling the whole time. What can I say? After all this time, I was just happy that Zemeckis pulled it off so well that I got a few laughs from my favorite actor again.
Well known Bogart impersonator Robert Sacchi does all the voice work, though. Sacchi got famous for a short bit of time with his Bogart stage show and his big starring role in The Man with Bogart’s Face – essentially a full length version of this TV episode. Sacchi did the impersonation better in the film, as there are a few times the voice doesn’t quite live up to the legend, but it’s more than passable and gets the job done.
If you’re not some kind of film purist, I think you’ll give Zemeckis a pass here and just enjoy Bogart’s post-mortem appearance.
Isabella Rossellini plays Bogart’s wife, Betty Spinelli. She truly seems to be enjoying herself here as she steps into her mother’s shoes and even has a chance to use some of her lines from Casablanca. It’s been a while since I’ve seen Rossellini pop up and it reminded me how much I always enjoy her performances.
John Lithgow plays Bogart’s plastic surgeon, Dr. Oscar Charles. Lithgow was the perfect choice for the role as he gets to ham it up and play the villain as only he can, and it’s easy to imagine Sydney Greenstreet in the same nefarious part. It must have been a pretty big thrill for Lithgow to see himself on the screen alongside of Bogart.
Sherilyn Fenn plays Bogart’s executive assistant, Erika. Fenn is one of those faces that’s easily recognizable as she’s been a consistently strong character actress in film and television for several decades now, and she does great in the role.
And of course there’s Robert Sacchi as Lou Spinelli’s voice. Sacchi had his chance to shine pretty brightly for a few years, and I can imagine that it was a lot of fun to finally have his voice coming out of Bogart’s real face.
Classic Bogie Moment
There were a lot of fun moments to choose from as Zemeckis picked a lot of classic bits from Bogart’s films, but I’ll go with a shot of him alongside Rosselllini in his Casablanca tux:
The Bottom Line
Come on, it’s all in good fun! Well worth a watch if only for Lithgow’s villainous genius!