Sam Marlow (The Man With Bogart’s Face)

Created by Andrew J. Fenady

Way back in the nineteen seventies, during the mini-nostalgia boom for all things from the thirties and forties, actor Robert Sacchi parlayed his spooky resemblance to Humphrey Bogart into a nice little career in TV commercials and movie cameos. The big payoff, though, came with the 1980 release of The Man With Bogart’s Face (1980, 20th Century Fox), wherein Sacchi was cast as, well, a man with Bogart’s face.

It’s essentially a one-gag flick, but it’s a good gag, adapted by Andrew J. Fenady from his own 1977 novel of the same name, which likewise comes top-loaded with in-jokes, shout-outs, puns and word play.

Seems there’s this former LA cop, a few Crayolas shy of a full box, who retires, and blows his entire life’s savings on plastic surgery so that he can look like his hero and idol, Humphrey Bogart. Then he gets a P.I. ticket, a ’39 Plymouth, a trench coat and fedora, and sets up shop as SAM MARLOW (as in, Sam from Sam Spade, and Marlow from Phillip Marlowe, of course).

But business isn’t exactly booming for Sam, no matter who he looks like. His only client is his landlady, who hires him to keep an eye out for her midget lover. Until, that is, he’s hired to track down the famed Eyes of Alexander, two priceless, perfectly-matched sapphires. Before you can say The Maltese Falcon, Sam’s up to his fedora in a tsunami of eccentrics, all out for the gems, most of them take-offs on various characters from old detective flicks (Michelle Phillips does Gene Tierney, Victor Buono does Sidney Greenstreet, Herbert Lom does Peter Lorre, etc).

It’s a pretty amusing little film, more a gentle tribute to Bogart and the great detective flicks of the 30’s and 40’s than a hard-nosed parody, yet it has it moments. If you enjoyed Steve Martin in Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, you’ll probably get a kick out of this one too. There’s some snappy patter, and the flick’s ripe with cameos and nods to past. George Raft pops up, in his last film role, and Mike Mazurski (Moose Malloy in Murder, My Sweet) has a bit part playing himself. And famed Hollywood reporters James Bacon and Robert Osborne show up playing, of all things, Hollywood reporters (Osborne later became the much-loved on-air host of Turner Classic Movies). The only thing they missed is that the whole thing should have been shot in black and white.

The notion of a private eye with an unhealthy obsession with Bogart later showed up, and was put to greatg use in John Wagner and Alan Grant ‘s The Bogie Man. And Fenady himself wrote The Secret of Sam Marlow, a 1980 sequel to the first novel, that appeared about the same time the film based on the first one came out.

UNDER OATH

  • “A funny valentine for the industry, or just a shamusly silly novelty item?”
    — Kirkus Reviews on the book
  • “Offbeat mystery about present-day detective who has plastic surgery to resemble his idol and immediately becomes involved in Maltese Falcon-esque case. Not really a comedy, although it has its lighter moments; good fun, especially for buffs…”
    Leonard Maltin’s TV Movies and Video Guide

NOVELS

FILMS

  • THE MAN WITH BOGART’S FACE | Buy this DVD Buy this video
    (aka “Sam Marlow, Private Eye”)
    (1980, 20th Century Fox)
    106 minutes
    Based on the novel by Andrew J. Fenady
    Screenplay by Andrew J. Fenady
    Directed by Robert Day
    Produced by Andrew J. Fenady
    Music by George Duning
    Starring Robert Sacchi as SAM MARLOW
    Also starring Franco Nero, Michelle Phillips, Olivia Hussey, Misty Rowe, Victor Buono, Herbert Lom, Sybil Danning, Richard Bakalyan, Gregg Palmer, George Raft (his last film), Yvonne De Carlo, Mike Mazurki (as himself ), James Bacon, Robert Osborne

RELATED LINKS

Report respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. Thanks to Barry Ergang for putting me straight.

Leave a Reply