UP IN SMOKE offers up the premise of Sach seeking the devil's help to earn money after he's been conned by a gambling ring into betting and losing the $90 the boys have raised for a neighborhood kid with polio. The devil appears in an elegant old-fashioned dress suit, complete with top hat and horns, and, in exchange for Sach's soul, agrees to provide tips on winning horses for a week. To make a long story short, the plan backfires day in and day out, but not before the gambling ring gets tough on Sach and his friends in order to find out the source of the daily tips.
It's never very funny, but there is one redeeming element in the film. Byron Foulger has a grand time playing the mild-mannered, velvet-voiced Beelzebub, or "Mr. Bub," as Sach calls him. He oozes with snaky charm, but is quick to take advantage of Sach at every opportunity and torment him in subtle, clever ways. The maneuver by which Sach ultimately manages to elude his fate is actually set up very well and plays out in a genuinely suspenseful fashion in a racetrack finale mixing cheaply made studio shots with stock racetrack footage. It also reveals quite a bit of daring and initiative on the layabout Sach's part. Beelzebub's final outcome is handled in quite an amusing anddare I say it?even sympathetic manner. Foulger (1899-1970) was a dependable character player and bit part actor who spent most of his career playing harried bank managers, tellers, desk clerks and other kinds of functionaries. This role gave him the chance to spread his comic wings and he wasted no time in running with it, basically stealing the film from Hall, Clements and the rest of the cast.
Quite a number of old-school Hollywood character actors are on hand. Fritz Feld plays an irate Mittel-European psychiatrist trying to examine Sach who gets so flustered at his patient's unflappability that he winds up on the couch himself subjected to Sach's questioning. It's an amusing scene and even features one of Feld's trademark mouth pops. Other dependable old comic/tough guy players in the cast include Benny Rubin, Ralph Sanford, Joe Devlin, James Flavin, and, in the role of Mike, the coffee shop owner taking the place of Louie Dumbrowsky, Dick Elliott. Another familiar face, spotted as a desk sergeant, is John Mitchum, Robert's lesser-known brother. He would play a cop again, some years later, in the role of Inspector DiGiorgio alongside Clint Eastwood's Inspector Callahan in the first three Dirty Harry films.