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Monday, November 09, 2009

Filming Over There --- Part Two --- Tokyo Joe

My (very) old copy of Bogey: The Films Of Humphrey Bogart has dust jacket holes and star ratings pasted on the inside cover for titles I’d seen. Greenbriar estate liquidators will be fortu
nate to realize fifty cents from it, but for what time is left, I’ll treasure this 1965 hardback that sat up many a night checking off whatever of Bogart’s seventy-five features turned up on TV. The Bogie bug attached to me around age thirteen. By then, NC stations were swapping old Warner packages for sleeker color models. Larger markets still played Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon, but I made do with post-48 Columbias and an occasional Deadline --- USA. Consequently, these late Bogarts became ones I’d remember best. At a time when precious little was published about old film stars, HB turned up on newsstand covers and as subject of pocket bios you could get for sixty or so cents. The Bogart cult they spoke of was one I’d uphold alone, for friends my age had little awareness of who he was. Channel 13 one morning ran Dark Passage while I was home sick from eighth grade. Said thrill was surpassed only by announcement at its conclusion that The Petrified Forest would follow tomorrow. A relapse I staged through the day’s remainder did not convince my mother to keep me home for another, thus delaying by five long years my first encounter with Forest (never take for granted how lucky we now are to have ready DVD access!).

Richard Gehman in a 1965 paperback survey said it would be hard to imagine a worse film than "Tokyo Joe." High as I regarded Gehman’s Bogart-view (he’d known the actor and many comments were said to come from HB), it was for me a matter of taking Tokyo Joe or nothing at all. Imagining a worse Bogart film was at least tempered by having seen so few of them. For that reason, it seemed pretty good. Revisiting on DVD was opportunity to measure Tokyo Joe against really good Bogarts accumulated since. It is bad by standards of a general audience and likely those of HB fans as well, but there’s such a thing as enjoying Bogart beyond his finer achievements and relishing duds where all his actor’s resource is called up to salvage produce gone to rot. There were several of these after he left Warners. More than one was produced by Bogart himself. Tokyo Joe might be the purest distillation of this star’s persona with nothing in support of it. Wholly derivative of better work elsewhere, Tokyo Joe empties good will accounts vested with Casablanca and WB vehicles that consolidated Bogart’s status among post-war leading men. He’d been around awhile, had lately run a streak of hits later to become classics, but like fellow malcontent Jim Cagney, was eager to assume career control. The enterprise he called Santana was financed just north of Bogart’s own generous compensation and monies to eke out an A picture befitting a major name. Knock On Any Door was done for less than a million, rather looked it, but profited ($2.1 million in domestic rentals). Tokyo Joe followed, played safe in virtually remaking Casablanca, but plunged to (for Bogart) a so far record postwar low of $1.6 million domestic.

I like Casablanca, but am jaded enough to enjoy even more a Casablanca done badly. Tokyo Joe amounts to artless plopping down of the Bogart formula minus Warners polish. The recurring device of linking HB and leading lady to song standards continue with Tokyo Joe’s repeated use of These Foolish Things, following up on Too Marvelous For Words from Dark Passage and As Time Goes By via Casablanca. Music cannot animate stiff as board co-stars, however. Florence Marley as love interest amounts to an expressionless mask, the least reactive of any Bogart partner I can think of, while stolid Alexander Knox assumes the Paul Henried role. Silent luminary Sessue Hayakawa might easily have stolen the picture had there been more of him. Better dialogue would also have helped. I’ve read of Bogart moving Heaven and Earth to locate Hayakawa, as he had been years away from Hollywood, which shows HB was at least proactive at casting. Tokyo Joe’s second unit represented the first American company to shoot location footage in Japan since the surrender. Some of Bogey’s onscreen cynicism must have rubbed off on Santana’s boss, for he elected not to join its location crew, thereby cheating fans of opportunity to see Humphrey Bogart walking streets in Tokyo. A double was manipulated to conceal the fact he was (all too obviously) a counterfeit. The star meanwhile stood before process screens back home. Audiences forgave such deceit in the thirties, but Tokyo Joe was released to a late 1949 public just home from Berlin Express, A Foreign Affair, and The Search, all with Euro settings and filmed there with benefit of casts on location. Bogart ducking the trip (were Santana economies to blame?) and relying on a trenchcoat dummy was insult to viewers newly sophisticated with regards authentic backgrounds. A lot of them had served after all, and expected no less of movie stars presuming to dispense lowdown on conditions in occupied territories.

Bogart wanted better things for Santana. The whole set-up had been predicated on Mark Hellinger as lead producer and architect for a new class of Bogey merchandise, but the former died and the latter settled for creative talent less able, but compliant with regards a star’s prerogative. Chief among obstacles was Bogart’s age, weighing now like a piano on his back and best reason for henceforth transitioning toward character parts. Action and quick shot stuff was past credible for one whose diet and fitness habits made him seem lots more fragile than age fifty would otherwise suggest. Bogey’s Tokyo Joe knuckle brawls, judo tumbles, and performs the seeming impossible against odds he vanquished far more believably in Across The Pacific, All Through The Night, and others done in comparative youth. The star’s incapacity really confronts us here as a phalanx of stuntmen (back from Japan?) sub for Bogart in all but the closest-up action. There’s little effort at camouflaging them, as pin-sharp DVD cruelly reveals whole weeks of he-manning Bogart sat out. Judging by the actor’s somewhat ravaged appearance, it’s good he did. One solid punch would have busted this guy like a carton of eggs. You’d expect Bogart to have self-preserved better in real-life clinches, but an incident at New York’s El Morocco Club (he was in Gotham for Tokyo Joe’s open) suggested HB was still believing his own publicity. Nightclub altercating there landed the actor in court. Seems there’d been a misunderstanding over a stuffed panda bear. Not helping was fact that Bogey’s opponent was a woman ... all this set upon twilight on a two-fisted persona he couldn't maintain much longer. The campaign for Tokyo Joe was notable for basing sales purely upon Bogart’s iconic status (foreign poster art is here as well as US tag lining). It’s by far my favorite aspect of an otherwise woebegone vehicle. At least Warners tried offering something beyond Bogart in vehicles they released, as advertising for previous Treasure Of The Sierra Madre and Key Largo proposed story and co-players along with HB to justify attending. Tokyo Joe is very much Bogart on his own with nothing to sell but himself.


Blogger Jay Watson said...

Nicely done article on a Bogart film that I've not seen in a long time, but now would like to revisit!

9:00 AM  
Blogger Caftan Woman said...

All roads lead to Bogie. Our dad would wake us girls up, despite maternal protests, even on a school night when Bogie was on the late show. I've been just as vigilant with my own kids. We are living the dream with dvd's.

9:19 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Having most of the Bogarts on DVD really does fulfill dreams I'd have had growing up when these pics were so hard to come by. And seeing them no longer requires staying up until One in the AM.

11:03 AM  
Anonymous Jim Lane said...

It's a recurring theme in your posts, John, and one that resonates with me beyond the power of words to express: the hoops we movie buffs had to jump through, the hurdles overcome in our quest to experience films and performers we'd heard of but never seen. (I still remember crying at the age of 9 when my mother wouldn't let me stay up to see a Playhouse 90 with Billie Burke; I'd never seen her do anything but Glinda.) We certainly never imagined a day when one could stroll into Blockbuster and pluck Citizen Kane off the shelf -- much less a time when we would place it in our Amazon shopping cart as if by magic.

But something's lost when something's gained. There was a genuine romance to sifting through TV Guide for Late Late Show nuggets and subscribing to revival and art house newsletters waiting for that engagement of San Francisco or The Gang's All Here that would lure us into the big city. I can't say I'd have those days back, but I can't say I don't miss them.

6:07 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Much of the romance of pursuing films then was being at an age when such things made huge impressions. I tend to be almost blasé now over DVD releases that would have excited me beyond measure had they come along forty years ago.

6:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


In Hedda Hopper's column in the November 11, 1948 New York Times she reported:
"If Humphrey Bogart can buy part of Marta Toren's Universal-International contract she will get the femme lead opposite Bogie in TOKYO ROSE. The part is that of a white Russian."

Could this be a report on an early version of TOKYO JOE under a working title, with possibly a Russian setting instead of Japanese? The movie's filming dates of January 4 through February 16, 1949 would seem to fit.

3:48 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Hi Rich --- Interesting that Bogart's first title was to be "Tokyo Rose", as some of what's in the finished film plays off the Tokyo Rose story. Doesn't look as though he wanted to spring for the expense of a major name leading lady either, as I can't imagine "part of" Marta Toren's U-I contract costing too much.

4:29 AM  
Blogger Vanwall said...

M. Finegan - In the finished film, Florence Marly ended up as the "White Russian", as most of the refugee families that fled from the Russian Revolution were called, and many of them were swept up in the Pacific Theater during WWII as civilian POWs, - many of them thrived in Nationalist China between the wars. The White Russian angle wouldn't have worked in Soviet Russia, she'd've been in a gulag - it was a post-war Occupied Japan film from the get go.

11:33 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

I don't know from Tokyo Joe, but the late, lesser Bogart I really like is Deadline USA-- a crisp, well-made non-classic that really feels like it knows the newspaper business (unlike so many newspaper movies made out of other movies). Funny that it's about the dying days of a daily... and here they are, still dying.

9:41 PM  

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