Beat the Devil Reviews
Legend has it that director John Huston originally had planned to make "Beat the Devil" the way one would normally make a serious thriller - but once he flew into Italy with the cast, he decided to tear up the script and make up the film as he went along, with the aid of a young Capote (who wrote new scenes on a daily basis). It, more or less, became a black comedy. As one watches the film, this factoid doesn't come as a fun little surprise - the movie really does feel spontaneous, with the plot rambling along while the characters busy themselves with decadently bourgeois lines and sideline romantic affairs that feel like more of a distraction than a necessity.
I can't say that I enjoyed it, but I'm not sure I can forget it. The way the dialogue slithers along with slinky comic energy, how the actors are simultaneously campy and masterful - it's all very unusual to find in a movie made in 1953. Strangeness like this didn't come around until Robert Altman parked his car in Hollywood and told off everyone's prior notions of what makes a masterpiece.
"Beat the Devil" begins by introducing itself to a pack of characters that seem straight out of an absurd melodrama. There are Billy (Humphrey Bogart) and Maria Dannreuther (Gina Lollobrigida), a former rich couple reduced to retreating in a cheap hotel, paid for by the constantly cackling Peterson (Robert Morley). But then there's Peterson, a crook with a bulging stomach that cohorts with the sinister Julius O'Hara (Peter Lorre), the sneaky Major Jack Ross (Ivan Barnard), and the imposing Ravello (Marco Tulli). And there are Harry (Edward Underdown) and Gwendolyn Chelm (Jennifer Jones), who fancy themselves to be a part of upper class British society.
This rat pack, eventually becoming acquainted with each other in the ways only movies can acquaint characters, decides to band together to cook up a scheme to gain control of a uranium-packed zone in Africa. It doesn't go successfully (these characters are fools, not clever grifters), but "Beat the Devil" isn't concerned with suspense or anything even pertaining to the thriller genre.
Instead, it plays around with the characters. By 1953, the majority of the players were familiar to audiences; they put Bogart under the tough-guy category, decided Lollobrigida was the more vulgar Sophia Loren, likened Jones to be a girl-next-door goody-two-shoes, and placed Morley and Lorre in the section of their mind kept for cinematic weirdos. "Beat the Devil" feels like one big satire - yet, none of the actors seem to know it. It doesn't seem like Huston knows it either. But the film is all the better for it. It's an accidental success.
The film is not really a comedy or an adventure; it's a roguish display of parodical behavior. Even Bogart, who hated the film, manages to serve a masterfully smooth characterization. Lollobrigida, stereotyped to perfection, plays a caricatured version of her sexy self, while Jones connives her way through a great performance that requires her to go against type and pretend to be a minx who happens to mostly say the wrong things at the wrong times. But it's the constant union of the four main (and eccentric) villains that sticks in the mind, with their physically cartoonish and opposing figures.
With its grainy camerawork (which I'm not sure is a not-enough-budgeted touch or a historical mess-up) and shoestring feel, "Beat the Devil" doesn't feel like a movie movie; it's like rehearsal for a bigger project. But age has been kind to it. Considering its shake-ups and uninhibited oddballisms, it exists in a bizarro version of the Hollywood Golden Age.
A group of refugees on their way to Africa run into a strange couple traveling in the same direction. The couple plan to invest in minerals and get rich. That doesn't sound bad to the refugees. Maybe they will tag along with ambitions to initially help, but what true intentions do they have for the couple's fortunes?
"I have a feeling about you and your friends."
John Huston, director of The African Queen, The Maltese Falcon, The Man Who Would be King, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Captain Blood, Prizzi's Honor, Key Largo, and The Asphalt Jungle, delivers Beat the Devil. The storyline for this picture is just okay and a bit disappointing (and stale). I was hoping for more from this Bogart/Huston picture. The acting is fairly good and the cast includes Humphrey Bogart, Jennifer Jones, Peter Lorre, Bernard Lee, Robert Morley, and Gina Lollobrigida.
"You are the hired hand."
Beat the Devil was playing on Turner Classic Movies (TCM) this Halloween season and I was excited to see this Bogart/Huston collaboration. Unfortunately, this may be one of the worst movies I have seen from either of these gentlemen. I never felt connected with the storyline or particularly connected to the plot. Overall, I'd say this is average and I would skip it.
"I think I hate you."
A non-consequential story involving uranium and land rights in central Africa is quickly forgotten and the plot itself ends up being a plot device.
What is great about this film is the cutting, witty script penned by Truman Capote and John Huston (who also directed.) Often tongue in cheek, you can see the cast are having a blast with it. This is a fun frolic and never takes itself too seriously.
If you're a classic film fan, you're going to come across this film sooner or later. And chances are, being a fan of how movies were made back in the day, you'll understand what these creative folks were going for. And appreciate its subtle slapstick humor.
Bogart was great but the story wasn't it just seemingly went nowhere, and written by Truman Capote you'd expect a bit more.
Basically the story of an English Couple unintentionally spoiling some other mens plans to mine Ukraine from Africa. But the story never really got going & a lot was discussed but didn't happen.