One Fatal Hour aka Two Against the World
Bogart stars as Sherry Scott, the programmer for the UBC radio network. Scott works hard to provide uplifting and educational entertainment for the listeners, including opera programs. However, his only ally in these efforts is his faithful secretary Alma Ross, played by Warners' go-to contract player Beverly Roberts, who is secretly in love with him. Everyone else, including the network's manager, prefers sensationalistic entertainment to appeal to the baser instincts of the masses and to rake in the advertizing revenue. While Scott pushes his opera idea, the station's marketing manager pitches baby contests, and the office boy, a would-be scat singer and hep cat, pesters Scott to let him "scat" on the air.
Scott loses his bid for better programming when the network manager, played by Robert Middlemass, decides to air a serial based on a notorious real-life murder case in order to lure listeners. The case involved a Mrs. Glory Pembroke who murdered her husband twenty years prior and was sent to prison. Scott hires Martin Leavenworth, an unscrupulous, skirt-chasing writer well-acted by Harry Hayden, to pen the serial with the help of a pretty assistant. No one realizes that Mrs. Pembroke is now Mrs. Martha Carstairs, who has a new husband and a young, innocent daughter named Edith. The daughter, who knows nothing of her mother's past, is about to marry the son of a prominent steel magnate. The exposure of Martha's past upsets the wedding plans and results in unbelievably tragic consequences. Veteran character actor Henry O'Neill costars as Jim Carstairs, with Helen MacKellar as his besieged wife.
One Fatal Hour is a key example of Bogart's early film career before he was a major box office star. Actually, it took a decade and a half of B-movies and secondary roles for Bogart to achieve stardom, which did not happen until High Sierra and The Maltese Falcon in 1941. Looking at Bogart's career, including his role in One Fatal Hour, offers insight into the Hollywood star-making process, though in Bogie's case, the path to stardom was a long one.
After several years of playing juvenile roles on Broadway, Bogart was brought to Hollywood by Twentieth Century Fox in 1930. Over the next couple of years, he appeared in several films for a variety of studios. Unfortunately, he didn't make much of an impact with audiences. Bogart returned to the East Coast broke and dejected. He occasionally went back to Hollywood for a movie or two, including a few gritty roles in crime stories, such as Warner Bros.' Three on a Match (1932) with Bette Davis, but no studio seemed interested in developing him into a star. And, despite the prevailing myth, movie stars are made-not born. In 1935, he landed the plum role of Duke Mantee in Robert E. Sherwood's The Petrified Forest on Broadway. When Warners wanted to make the film version, star Leslie Howard insisted that Bogart reprise his role as Duke Mantee. Bogart was offered a long-term contract at Warners. Signing a contract with a major studio generally meant appearing in films selected for the actor by the studio, and Bogart was no exception.
These early years at Warners are generally summarized as a period when Bogart was continually shunted into secondary roles as gangsters, which gave him little opportunity to stretch as an actor. However, that is too dismissive a perspective and one that is ultimately inaccurate. Instead, Bogart's early years actually represent the studio's efforts to find a niche for a unique actor who would never be a conventional leading man.
It is true that Bogart played a spate of gangster or criminal roles throughout the Depression era, with each character's name more colorful than the last. He was cast as Gar Boni in Midnight (1934), Bugs Fenner in Bullets or Ballots (1936), Baby Face Martin in Dead End (1937), John "Czar" Martin in Racket Busters (1938), and Rocks Valentine in The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse (1938), among others. Warners' decision to repeatedly cast him as a criminal seems to be an attempt to develop his star image as a gangster type, along the lines of Cagney and Robinson. The gangster archetype certainly suited Bogart given his battered looks, inability to smile convincingly due to an old facial injury, and his urban accent. As Jack Warner told him, "Nothing can happen to your face that will hurt it one bit." Unfortunately, playing criminals generally meant sharing the screen with another actor who played the heroic detective or district attorney, because after the Production Code became mandatory in 1934, the Code administrators took issue with criminal types as protagonists for fear they romanticized a life of crime.
Thus, the studio also cast him in a variety of roles that were not criminals or gangsters, suggesting that their effort to build a star image for him was an on-going process. So, for One Fatal Hour, Bogie was the bona-fide lead, and though romance was certainly an after-thought in the storyline, his character did get the girl in the end. Sherry Scott is a man of integrity who believes that broadcasting uplifting programming is the responsible position for any radio station to take. Though his superior accuses him of placing himself above the audiences, Scott is clearly the moral center of the film as well as a man of culture and taste. The film's short running time of 56 minutes mandates that every character and every scene serve a purpose. On the surface, the office boy who scats and jive-talks seems to be merely comic relief, but he is actually the cultural opposite of Sherry Scott-a contrast between low brow and high brow-so the audience understands what Scott is up against in his efforts to bring culture to radio. In name as well as character, Sherry Scott is a long way from Duke Mantee or Baby Face Martin. Bogart liked playing incorruptible characters who were the lone voice of integrity, but One Fatal Hour was not important enough or a big enough hit to set his star image in that direction at that time.
Sherry Scott does share some characteristics with the iconic Bogart roles so familiar to audiences. Scott is world weary and cynical, not unlike Sam Spade from The Maltese Falcon or Rick Blaine from Casablanca (1942). His cynicism often comes through in acerbic remarks, as when the serial writer wants to call the sensationalized murder story Sin Don't Pay, and Sherry sarcastically reminds him that the correct grammar would be Sin Doesn't Pay. Scott also exhibits a disdain for authority figures, a characteristic that becomes essential to Bogart's star image. Finally, Sherry calls his loyal secretary, Alma Roberts, "Kid," and it is impossible not to think of Rick Blaine affectionately toasting Ilsa with, "Here's looking at you, Kid," in Casablanca.
Other non-criminal roles that Bogart starred in during this time frame include the romantic lead in Stand-In (1937), which he made with producer Walter Wanger. Directed by Tay Garnett, this insider's look at Hollywood finds Bogart playing the only producer with integrity at the beleaguered Colossal Studios. Again, his smart tongue signals a character who is hardened on the outside but sensitive on the inside. Roles such as those in One Fatal Hour and Stand-In clearly point Bogart toward the star image he would eventually assume. Still other non-criminal roles include China Clipper (1936), in which he played a flying ace, Black Legion (1936), which cast him as a family man caught up in a Klan-type organization, Marked Woman (1937), in which he starred as a crusading D.A., and Dark Victory (1939), which found him in a supporting role as an Irish stable boy. The latter, a melodrama that was tailor made for Bette Davis, indicates that the studio occasionally miscast Bogart in their efforts to find the actor's niche.
Bogart finally achieved stardom in 1941, first with his notable turn as Roy Earle in High Sierra, and then as Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon. Though Roy Earle was a gangster, the character's sense of self-awareness and cynical attitude toward those in authority fit the Bogart persona. Finally, as Sam Spade, the actor found his niche playing the slightly tainted and reluctant hero, a character type who may be hardened by the pain of life but nonetheless exhibits a soft heart. Though Bogart liked to complain about his early years at Warners, in which he felt the studio had squandered him in repeated roles as gangsters and criminals, the truth is that he did play diverse roles and that the studio was working through the process of building a bankable star image for him. One Fatal Hour was a small--and ultimately forgotten--step in that process.
Producer: Bryan Foy
Director: William McGann
Screenplay: Michel Jacoby based on a play by Louis Weitzenkorn
Cinematography: Sid Hickox
Editor: Frank Magee
Art Director: Esdras Hartley
Music Composer: Heinz Roemheld
Cast: Humphrey Bogart (Sherry Scott), Beverly Roberts (Alma Ross), Robert Middlemass (Bertram C. Reynolds), Linda Perry (Edith Carstairs), Carlyle Moore, Jr. (Malcolm Sims), Henry O'Neill (Jim Carstairs), Helen MacKellar (Martha Carstairs/Glory Pembroke), Harry Hayden (Martin Leavenworth), Bobby Gordon (Herman Mills).
by Susan Doll