|Page 1 of 11:||          |
|Index||102 reviews in total|
Humphrey Bogart heads a superior cast in this tale of a gang of
swindlers who seek to covertly purchase African lands rich in
uranium--but this is not the tough film noir you might expect: the
script by director John Huston and Truman Capote upends the tale to
create one of the most wry and wicked comedies going, and a remarkably
fine cast follows suit with a host of eccentric performances.
Although Bogart does not look his best (this film was made toward the end of his life), he offers an understated yet very witty performance as Billy Dannreuther, the man the crooks hire to make the land purchase. His leading ladies, bombshell Gina Lollobrigida and an unexpectedly blonde Jennifer Jones, are equally effective in the roles of Bogart's cheerfully pragmatic wife and the pathological liar with whom Bogart becomes romantically entangled. But the big news in this film is the supporting cast. Robert Morley, Peter Lorre, Ivor Barnard, and Marco Tulli give drop-dead-funny performances as the largely incompetent foursome behind the landsnatch scheme; Edward Underdown (as Jones' long suffering husband) is simply the most completely ludicrous Brit to hit the screen since 1930s screwball comedy; and all the cameo players nail their roles to perfection.
It would be unforgivable to give away too much of the story, but suffice to say that one wrong turn leads to another. The film never overplays its hand, maintaining a low key tone that sets off the wickedly funny script to delightful effect. Some viewers may not get the joke--much of BEAT THE DEVIL requires the ability to appreciate covert humor--but those who do will find the movie bears repeat viewing. Recommended.
Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer
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
It's a satire/spoof! It's not a blatant attack on movies of similar genres (a la Naked Gun), but a subtle one because THEY PLAY IT STRAIGHT. And therein lies the genius of this film. It's a satire that's played straight. Even though the actors, bless their hearts, seem like they're sometimes about to bust a seam speaking the lines, they are intentionally trying to be serious. Every cast member, especially Edward Underdown and Robert Morley (as Chelm and Peterson), understood and delivered their lines to perfection. "The men of this world most in need of a beating up are all so incredibly large..." Or something like that. Hell, Bogart just sat back and let the humor flow all around him. And good old Jennifer Jones. The old Selznick factory product finally gives a performance that's not artificial. What's amazing is that renowned Italian actress Gina Lollobridgia took part in this production. My theory is, she didn't know what the hell was going on. They gave her the script, told her to play it seriously, and didn't clue her in on the joke. There had not been a film made like this before, and there hasn't been one made since.
Perhaps this film has served a lesson to studios over the years. Sometimes, I think some of todays satire/spoofs do venture close to Beat the Devil ground (Zoolander), but none of them ever reach it for fear of the audience not getting it, as I understand most of Beat the Devils audience of 1954 did not get it. Imagine Mike Myers playing Austin Powers straight, and not trying to be funny in all the situations he's in. To me, that would be immensely more funny.
The plot, if you can call it that, concerned a group of six stranded
adventurers in an Italian port whose plan is to buy up some East
African land that supposed1y contains uranium
becomes the name of the game as Bogart and his fellow conspirators
(including Robert Morley, Peter Lorre, Gina Lollobrigida, and a
seemingly endless parade of bizarre characters) outdo each other in
inspired crazy way
Bogart, trying desperately to maintain his composure, delivered such priceless lines as: 'I'm only in on this because the doctor told me I needed plenty of money. Without money I become dull, listless, and have trouble with my complexion." But his lines weren't the only offbeat ones In a room where he's being questioned after being captured, while a firing squad goes about its routine work outside, he is asked straight-faced, "Now tell me, do you really know Rita Hayworth?"
The film is one of those rare items that viewers either seem to love or hate, no middle ground accepted and declared that only the "phonies" thought it was really funny Many reviewers thought the whole thing was a tasteless joke and decried the waste of time, talent, and money
In any case, Bogart gave an immensely satisfying performance in his tongue-in-cheek role and the film itself has now become a regular attraction in Bogart film retrospectives It is also an excellent example of how much Bogart had matured as an actor, since it is not easy to overcome apparently inept material and still give a performance with some meaning and substance
Most of the reviews of 1953's "Beat the Devil" regard it as a Humphrey Bogart picture. Certainly his company produced it, but it is truly a John Huston film. Huston's legendary dry wit suffuses the whole enterprise from start to finish. Essentially, a comedy of errors, Huston's script, co-authored by Truman Capote, also serves up wry social commentary on a range of subjects from social position to the industrial world's exploitation of Africa, a place near and dear to Huston's heart. Jennifer Jones' prophecy that Africa will become an ugly place with "all those holes," has long since become a reality. A brilliant cast, with Bogie playing his typical world-weary existentialist, spiral avarice and misconception into hilarity; a comic exposition of the proverb, "What a tangled web we weave . . ." Often criticized for being unrealistic, Huston's and Capote's comic script has none-to-funny real parallels in the present day debacles of Enron and WorldCom. In "Beat the Devil," greed and deceit are brilliantly juxtaposed to reveal the ultimate folly of even the most devious criminal enterprise. This is a superior black comedy that plays even better today than it did 52 years ago.
Hadn't seen this film in a long time and I'm glad to have caught it again.
It's at the apex of black-and-white barely tongue-in-cheek comedies with a
stellar cast that had a blast making the film.
Jennifer Jones, beautiful as always, seems barely able to stay inside her role, laughter threatening to break out at any moment. Humphrey Bogart has a recurrent quizzical "Am I really doing this?" expression.
Tied in with a gang of bumbling crooks seeking a fortune in uranium in Africa, illicitly of course, Bogart, married to a cute Gina Lollabrigida, falls in love with a faux English gentleman's wife as fast as his spouse goes for the supposed representative of the landed gentry. Of course cuddling and sweet words substitute for sex.
Robert Morley, always funny, is the putative leader of a gang that can't get their act together with Peter Lorre shedding his customary menacing stare for a busman's holiday as a gangster with a sense of humor.
The action ranges from beautiful Italy to a placid sea voyage aboard a rickety tub commanded by a rum-soaked moron whose Italian expletives are not understandable but who cares? The main characters, shipwrecked, wind up on an African shore where they're greeted by what today are embarrassingly stereotyped Arabs (I cringed at one of the European's comic invocation of Islam but then the movie has to be taken on its own terms and time, right?).
The resolution is lame - the characters all look ready to leave the set and get drunk before undertaking a new film. But this is one of the best spoofs of the noir genre and what makes it fly is the ensemble of first-rate actors in roles neatly the opposite of those they were usually seen performing.
Rent it! (Please)
"Beat The Devil" is one of Bogart's more unusual films. Scripted by none
other than Truman Capote and John Huston, it is a very entertaining, offbeat
noir satire (quite a description). Upon first viewing a lot of the humor may
get lost, but view it a second time, and you can not help but laugh out loud
at many of the jokes.
The cast is absolutely top notch. Bogart is perfect as Billy Dannreuther, a man who has a friend that will line him and his associates up with some land in Africa that is rich with uranium. It's always nice to see Bogie prove that he had a great sense of humor, and didn't mind poking fun at himself. Jennifer Jones, who, for some reason, always reminded me of Vivien Leigh (in "Streetcar")in this picture is terrific as Mrs. Chelm. But it is Robert Morley who steals the picture for me. Sometimes menacing, sometimes charming, he is a delight to watch.
Huston and Capote have done a great job of blending the different genres without letting them get all caught up in each other. I do wish that the final scene was written a little better, but the movie is still a lot of fun.
Caution - because the film was allowed to enter the public domain, there are a lot of really lousy prints out on the market, even on DVD. If you want this film for your own collection, do yourself a favor and spend a couple of extra dollars and buy a good print.
7 out of 10
This movie is the funniest thing I have ever seen. Its very talky, and
the plot is thick with double crosses, etc from the four crooks, and of
course Bogart himself. Marco Tulli as one of the low-life criminals has
a face worth a thousand words. Just seeing him with Peter Lorre, Robert
Morley and Ivor Barnard is too much. They all look so incredibly guilty
together. The extremely Proper Englishman played by Edward Underdown is
a pleasure to watch as he reluctantly interacts with Bogart and co.
turning up his nose at their nefarious activities. The plot itself is
well thought out and at the same time absurd so you'll never know what
to expect, but when it happens you may chuckle and rub your hands
together thinking "that's perfect!" Its that kind of movie. This is a
comedy for all us Bogart buffs and fans of film noir who enjoy a break
from drama to laugh at our beloved genre.
People have complained about the picture quality, which I admit is not what it could be considering it was filmed in 1953. However, its not as bad as all that. It's only that the film has deteriorated a bit. The original camera work and audio work shines through the years of neglect this filmed has had to live through. All in all a hugely under-rated film, which I strongly recommend
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Do you like New Yorker cartoons? I ask because I've decided that's a
pretty good way of predicting whether you will enjoy "Beat the Devil."
If the wryly, dryly humorous cartoons in The New Yorker have a tendency
to make you go "That's not funny," or "I don't get it," then chances
are you will not "get" this Humphrey Bogart feature, nor will you think
it's the least bit funny.
New Yorker cartoons make me smile - even laugh - and so does "Beat the Devil," which I think is a deliciously absurd spoof of the international intrigue movie genre. It didn't start out as a spoof, but that's how it turned out under John Huston's direction. Co-starring with Bogart are Jennifer Jones, Gina Lollabrigida, Peter Lorre and Robert Morley. The plot, such as it is, has to do with uranium-rich land in what was then called British East Africa and the efforts of an unsavory quartet of characters to get their hands on it. They've enlisted the help of Bogart, a mercenary type who lives in an Italian coastal village with his wife (Lollabrigida). Their names are Billy and Maria Dannreuther (yes, it sounds like people are saying "Dan Rather"). Bogart and his "associates" are waiting for a ship that will take them to Africa. Also hanging about, waiting for the ship to sail, is a British couple, the Chelms. Harry (Edward Underdown) is a fairly stuffy sort who appears to be a gentleman of means; Gwendolen (Jones) is a flighty character who "uses her imagination more than her memory." There is some major flirting between Billy and Gwendolen, while Maria has an eye on Harry.
Part of the fun is seeing the way the cast plays the droll Truman Capote-John Huston script almost straight. Also fun is watching how the characters react, usually with disbelief, to what the other characters are saying. Bogart plays the kind of character he does so well, the less than ethical, but still basically moral, world-weary rogue. Lollabrigida makes for a sexy wife; even more remarkable is how well she plays her part, considering that her English was extremely limited, forcing her to recite most of her lines by rote. Peter Lorre and Robert Morley make for a hilarious pair of crooks, but the real delight of "Beat the Devil" is blonde-wigged Jennifer Jones, playing a ditz who can't keep her lies straight - and doesn't even try to.
Still, the film's humor is at times elusive, and may be too slight for some (most?) people's tastes. Those who don't find "Beat the Devil" at all amusing are in good company; Bogart himself is quoted as saying, "Only the phonies think it's funny - it's a mess." Then again, Bogart did have his own money tied up in this film, which was less than a hit.
(Small spoiler) If you do watch "Beat the Devil," note the name of the associate producer in the opening credits; it comes up again later.
I've tried, and tried, and tried, and have now given up trying to figure out the appeal "Beat the Devil" has to a certain clique of film fans. There's no denying its surface appeal. Bogie, Huston, Capote, Lorre, Jones, et al, but I'd have to agree with Bogart who called it a "dog." It's not exciting, it's not funny, and it's not appealing to the eye. The shoddy production values (at least for a film with a cast, director, and writer of such high calibre) were apparent to many critics of the time, so the video and DVD releases probably look no worse than the film did in 1953. The fact that the copyright holders (Bogart's company co-produced) let this fall into the public domain may be a clue to what they thought of it.
I'm surprised at the lack of positive reviews written here for this witty
film-noir spoof. The movie is certainly conceived in standard noir fashion,
based on a story about colonial exploitation which is ripe with opportunity
for double-dealing and triple-crossing, and populated with a cast of
stereotypical film-noir characters. But then something strange happens. It's
as if the characters are given self-awareness. Because these would all be
boring and mundane people in real life, they live out their fantasies by
embracing the limited nature of their scripted alter-egos and playing them
to the extreme. This is how superficial, cardboard-thin film-noir characters
might behave if forced to live in the real world without a script to guide
The story is about several travelers who meet in port while waiting for a ship to take them to Africa. Three unlikely criminals - "the committee" - are on their way to pull off a uranium swindle. Their hired agent, Dannreuther, is the reluctant but ever capable leading man, married to a beautiful young Italian who dreams of being English. Harry Chelm is English to the point of absurdity. He is every bit the exaggerated epitome of a British aristocrat, except that he lacks the wealth and title to actually be one. His wife, a charming mythomaniac, manages to convince everyone else otherwise.
Complications arise when this group is confined to a small port and then to an even smaller ship. The three criminals scurry about like a pack of mismatched meerkats. Robert Morley is absolutely hilarious as the criminal mastermind cursed with a face and body completely incapable of hiding even the smallest emotion. Peter Lorre has some wonderful scenes playing an unflappable, philosophical German named O'Hara. Jennifer Jones, Gina Lollobrigida, and Edward Underdown deliver outstanding comedic performances while Bogart effortlessly cycles through every leading character he's ever portrayed.
I don't think it will spoil the film to point out that the uranium deal is nothing but a MacGuffin. The real value of this movie is the understated comic situations and mannerisms which arise when the characters are allowed to break free from the restraints of standard film-noir style. They do so in a totally natural manner using their own self-awareness but still restricted by the limited personalities and abilities of the stereotypes they represent. The results are unique, unpredictable, and completely charming.
|Page 1 of 11:||          |
|External reviews||Plot keywords||Main details|
|Your user reviews||Your vote history|