At Maria Vargas' funeral, several people recall who she was and the impact she had on them. Harry Dawes was a not very successful writer/director when he and movie producer Kirk Edwards ... See full summary »
Joseph L. Mankiewicz
A quartet of international crooks (Peterson, O'Hara, Ross and Ravello) are stranded in Italy whilst their steamer is being repaired. With them are the an English couple, the Dannreuthers. The 6 are headed for Africa, presumably to sell vacuum cleaners but all is not as it seems. They are joined by others who apparently have similar designs.Written by
Ed Stephan <email@example.com>
When the boat arrives at shore and the group come out of the sea, Billy walks after Peterson and stops just behind him. In the next shot, shown from the front, Billy appears on the left side of Peterson. See more »
A good laugh does more for the stomach muscles than five minutes' sitting-up exercises.
See more »
The original American release version was truncated and had scenes moved around, making a mess of the story line. The uncut version--released overseas by Romulus--was finally restored in the U.S. by Sony in 2016. See more »
As Hollywood production became ever more individualised, with writers-directors and producer directors working independently of the studios, there were many pictures which attacked Hollywood conventions themselves. In Beat the Devil writer-director John Huston gives us a farcical take upon the recurring heist-gone-wrong subgenre. The style now known as film noir may not have been fully defined and discussed until the 60s, but any keen-minded cinemagoer can recognise a trend. And if a trend can be recognised then it is open to parody.
It looks however as if Beat the Devil may have begun life as a serious thriller. All the business about criminals going after uranium mines in Africa seems fairly original, and is certainly not an archetypal noir plot. And really there is no grand satire here, and no lampooning of specific genre clichés. The story's premise is essentially serious, yet is written with comedy characters and comical mishaps along the way. It's if Huston and his co-writer Truman Capote simply gave up on following it through and instead decided to have a bit of fun with it.
Nevertheless, Huston shoots this one with the same thoughtfulness and precision as he would a drama. As always, he favours set-ups which keep multiple actors in shot together, background and foreground, minimising on cuts between them. With some neat movements he is able to bring the right person to our attention at the right moment, for example the scene in which we first see Humphrey Bogart and Gina Lollobrigida. Bogart paces back and forth in the foreground moving in and out of shot, while Lollobrigida is in mid-shot but sat in the same place, meaning the two of them take turns to be the focal point without lots of editing or obtrusive camera-work. Another neat touch is when the major approaches Bogart at the outdoor table, starting off in the background as if an extra, until it becomes apparent he is worth taking note of. Huston's technique is about elaborate arrangement to keep all characters involved and performances intact without the distractions of film form.
And here there are many characters and performances worth looking at. As befitting for the tone, this is a real outing for oddball supporting players. Peter Lorre is at his very best, all shiftiness and lethargic mannerisms, while Robert Morley gleefully portrays his blustering and conspicuous opposite, and Ivor Barnard hams up his caricature of the puffed-up ex-army fascist. It appears these three fine character actors have been told to simply let go and play their familiar types to the hilt. By contrast, lesser-known Italian Marco Tulli gives a far more restrained performance, but he is in a way the funniest. There's a great moment somewhere in there while the other three are bickering and he is just sat in the middle of the shot, quietly blinking away like some daft meerkat. Even the tiniest roles are filled – often impeccably – by comedy players, many of whom are not well-known in English-language cinema. There's also a great turn by Jennifer Jones, at her most comical and almost unrecognisable as an eccentric Englishwoman, showing superb comic timing as she casually beats her husband at chess. With so much scene-stealing going on, it's possible to forget this is ostensibly a Humphrey Bogart movie.
But while Beat the Devil is full of quirky characters and has numerous funny little moments, it doesn't have much point beside that. The humour is never exactly hilarious because the whole thing really doesn't seem conceived as a comedy. There's not enough of the interaction between crazy characters and sane world which drives wild comedy (such as the Marx Brothers), because in Beat the Devil virtually everyone and everything is crazy. Meanwhile the only completely straight characters (Bogart and Lollobrigida) are simply dull marginalised figures who exist separately from the comedy yet don't have the strength to perk up their end of the movie. Overall it is just a chaotic mess that happens to be worth a chuckle here and there.
6 of 6 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?
| Report this