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Eclectic DVD presents
The Humphrey Bogart Era (1953)

"If I loved you a thousand times more than you say you love me, it still wouldn't make a difference. I've got to have money. Doctor's orders are that I must have a lot of money, otherwise I become dull, listless and have trouble with my complexion."
- Billy (Humphrey Bogart) in "Beat the Devil"

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: October 29, 2002

Stars: Humphrey Bogart
Other Stars: Robert Morley, Peter Lorre, Jennifer Jones, Gina Lollabrigida, Jack Benny
Director: John Huston, Ralph Levy

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 01h:58m:50s
Release Date: September 10, 2002
UPC: 022891102298
Genre: compilation

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

No one wore a fedora and trenchcoat any better than Humphrey Bogart, and if his style didn't quite define an era, his manner and presence are unmistakable and can't be reproduced. (Just look, for instance, at any other actor who tried to play Philip Marlowe, and the inability of all of them to shake Bogie's shadow.) This two-disc set brings together some disparate elements from what might be called the Late Bogie period, after most of his trademark performances, like The Big Sleep and The African Queen, were behind him, and when Bogart just seemed to be having a whole lot of fun being Bogart.

The feature at the center of the set is Beat the Devil, a John Huston picture produced in 1953. Bogart is one of a quintet of international adventurers, looking for fortune, legally or otherwise. Currently he and his comrades—Robert Morley, Peter Lorre, Ivor Barnard and Marco Tulli—and are stranded in Italy, waiting for the captain of their ship to sober up and take them to Africa, where they intend to make a killing in the uranium trade. Bogart's wife is played by Gina Lollabrigida, an Italian married to an American with a weakness for all things English; it's trouble when they meet the Chelms, proper British folk, as Lollabrigida falls for the husband (Edward Underdown), and Bogie for the wife (Jennifer Jones.)

The Chelms are due to sail to Africa as well, for Mr. Chelm wants to establish a coffee fortune for himself; he and the missus become a terrible inconvenience for the hardened criminals, who spend much time on land looking for ways to rid themselves of the Chelms, either temporarily or permanently. The first half of the movie takes place on land; the captain gets it together and the crew sets out for the second half, where the Mr. Chelm continues to be quite a thorn in their collective sides.

In many ways the movie feels like a parodic version of The Maltese Falcon—the leading man and the director are the same, Lorre is also along for the ride, Robert Morley serves as a comic substitute for Sidney Greenstreet, and the dream of uranium stands in for the black bird. The problem is, though, that it's not especially funny. Bogart on occasion displayed a gift for comedy—Sabrinain particular, produced the following year, comes to mind—but he's forcing the issue here, and the screenplay, written in part by Truman Capote, just doesn't give him the setups or punchlines he needs to pull it off. Not enough happens to make it a proper caper movie, and the couples swapping up partners is done only half-heartedly, and without much panache. Bogart and Huston were one of the great actor/director combinations of the time, and of course their craftsmanship is at a high level; but this isn't their finest joint venture, by a long stretch. (For that, look to something like Key Largo or The Treasure of the Sierra Madre instead.)

The second portion of the feature presentation is the October 25, 1953 episode of The Jack Benny Show (29m:18s), with Bogart as the special guest star. The show is essentially a Benny monologue and one extended sketch, in which the show's regulars play police detective, and the guest is hardened criminal Babyface Bogart. It's fun to see Bogie having fun with his on-screen persona, and in fact his comedic efforts are more successful in this throwaway venture than they are in Beat the Devil.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The print of Beat the Devil is just ghastly. It looks in fact as if it were culled from two prints: one, in which sepia tones predominate, looks bad, and the other, which is grayer, looks worse. Many scratches, poor resolution and lots of interference make this one of the poorest looking features you're likely to see on DVD.

Believe it or not, the Jack Benny episode looks even more terrible. On occasion, the resolution is so poor that not a single feature on the actors' faces can be discerned; Benny looks like Claude Rains in The Invisible Man for much of this. I appreciate that these early television shows weren't made to last, but this looks just hideous, and can be downright painful to watch.

Image Transfer Grade: F


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The audio isn't quite as bad as the image—it couldn't possibly be—but there's still plenty of hiss, crackle and pop to interfere with the quality. And again, the Benny episode is markedly worse than the feature film, as a steady buzzing drone can be heard for the duration of the run.

Audio Transfer Grade: C-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 9 cues and remote access
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. audio CD
Extras Review: The principal extra is a second disc, an audio CD, with music from the period. Some of it has associations with Bogart—the first track is As Time Goes By, though not the cut from the Casablanca soundtrack by Dooley Wilson—but most of them are just songs from the era. (A few even call to mind other non-Bogie movies, like the title song from Laura.) The first several songs are introduced with tiny little snippets of Bogart dialogue from other movies, and though it's a pretty arbitrary assortment, there's no excuse necessary to listen to the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. Here's what you'll find:

Turner Layton, As Times Goes By
Jimmy Dorsey and His Orchestra, Body and Soul
Charlie Parker with Miles Davis, A Night in Tunisia
Ella Fitzgerald, Is There Somebody Else?
Buddy Rich and His Orchestra, I Cover the Waterfront
Bing Crosby, In the Land of Beginning Again
Dizzy Gillespie, Things to Come
Lena Horne, Ill Wind
Django Reinhardt, Solitude
The King Cole Trio, I'm Lost
Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra, Embraceable You
Billie Holiday, I Don't Stand a Ghost of a Chance With You
Count Basie and His Orchestra, Fiesta in Blue
Dinah Washington, Pacific Coast Blues
Jo Stafford, Manhattan Serenade
Artie Shaw and His Orchestra, Begin the Beguine
Dinah Shore, I've Got You Under My Skin
The Harry James Orchestra, I Cried For You
The Blue Dahlia, Laura
Louis Armstrong, Stardust

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

The visual presentation is very poor, and the set doesn't make a persuasive case for this era, the early 1950s, belonging to Bogart. But it's two discs fairly loaded with pop cultural artifacts of the time, and while aesthetically and technically they may not be first tier, they still make for pretty interesting viewing and listening.


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