Here’s looking at the stuff that dreams are made of.
Robert Sacchi, born in the Bronx, is one of several Bogart impersonators that have been active over the past few decades ever since the Bogart cult surfaced on university campuses in the 1960s. Of them all, Sacchi’s efforts probably come closest to actually recreating the Bogart persona — from his facial features to the Bogart twitch and other body language. In 1980, Sacchi starred in a film entitled The Man with Bogart’s Face, an independent production released through Twentieth Century Fox. The film is an affectionate tribute to Bogart, the hard-boiled detective, and Hollywood films of the 1940s. Image Entertainment has now made The Man with Bogart’s Face available on DVD in quite a nice-looking transfer.
After plastic surgery to transform his face into that of Humphrey Bogart, our hero sets up shop as a private detective under the name of Sam Marlow (“$200 a day plus expenses”). He soon acquires a rather dizzy Marilyn Monroe-like secretary he calls “duchess.” Cases at first are hard to come by, but finally he meets up with Elsa, a woman whose father — a former film props master — has been murdered. While investigating, Marlow runs into a number of individuals who seem to have an unusual interest in the murdered man. They include a Commodore Anastas (a Sydney Greenstreet-like Greek tycoon), his Gene Tierney-like daughter, a rich Turkish rival named Hakim, Mr. Zebra (a Peter Lorre-like figure), and Zinderneuf (a Lionel Atwill lookalike). It turns out that all are interested in finding two lost blue sapphires known as the “Eyes of Alexander.” Elsa is soon murdered also and Marlow is drawn into a dizzying maze of intrigue that is only resolved after a visit to Catalina Island and a rendezvous on the high seas.
The Man with Bogart’s Face is a film that could very easily have gone very wrong. It’s difficult to do these sorts of tributes to/recreations of the past without the main characters seeming very contrived and the whole atmosphere feeling completely artificial. This can particularly be the case when one presents in colour an era that the audience normally associates with black and white.
It’s therefore a great pleasure to be able to report that this film seems to have avoided all such pitfalls quite effectively. Obviously, the screenplay (by Andrew J. Fenady from his own novel) was written with great affection for Bogart and the films of the 1940s. It’s peppered with situations that are reminiscent of various Bogart films and lovingly refers to scenes and players in other films of the era. Ably communicating the script’s affection for a person and an era is a fine cast.
Of that cast, credit must primarily go to Robert Sacchi, whose Bogart impersonation is right on the money and at times uncanny in its accuracy. In addition to being a good impersonator both facially and physically, it helps that Sacchi can actually act creditably also, for he’s on camera virtually throughout the film. An evocative supporting cast plays all its characters completely straight. Thanks to director Robert Day (a veteran who has had a wealth of experience in North American television after coming to the U.S. from his native England in the 1960s), there’s no suggestion of any sort of tongue-in-cheek approach that could alienate part of the audience. The main supporting roles are well-played by seasoned pros including Franco Nero (Hakim), Victor Buono (Anastas), Herbert Lom (Mr. Zebra), and Jay Robinson (Zinderneuf). Showing up in small cameos are veteran players such as Mike Mazurki, Yvonne De Carlo, Victor Sen Yung, George Raft, and Henry Wilcoxon.
The DVD of The Man with Bogart’s Face comes to us courtesy of Image Entertainment. The presentation is in the original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, anamorphically enhanced, and utilizing 16 scene selections. This is a fine-looking image — crisp and clean with colours accurately rendered and very little edge enhancement of consequence. There are a few instances of softness to the image, but they appear to arise from the original source material rather than representing a problem with the transfer. High marks to Image on this one.
I turn here to the sound. Not that there’s anything wrong with what we get. The delivery is in Dolby Digital Mono — what else for a film focusing on the 1940s — and it’s a nice clear track that presents the dialogue throughout and the songs over the opening and closing credits quite adequately. For some strange reason, however, Image has decided that it also needs to present the limited musical score on an isolated mono track as the disc’s lone special feature. Why? There’s nothing about the score to warrant such a decision. Does Image now feel it needs to boost the desirability of its discs by being able to advertise supplements on them, since it’s received some flak for its lack of extra material in the past? Far better to let the film stand for itself than add supplements of questionable value. Given the nature of the film’s cast, efforts would have been better spent on delivering some informative cast bios and filmographies.
The Man with Bogart’s Face is quite an entertaining little item. It succeeds admirably in reminding us of the virtues of the 1940s hard-boiled detective film and what we lost when Bogart departed the scene. There are so many connections to films of the 1940s that you’re likely to miss some on a first viewing, making repeated viewings still entertaining. Image makes that easy also with a pleasing transfer. Recommended.
The defendant is found not guilty. You can play this one again, Sam.