6.6/10
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120 user 44 critic

Beat the Devil (1953)

On their way to Africa are a group of rogues who hope to get rich there, and a seemingly innocent British couple. They meet and things happen...

Director:

John Huston

Writers:

Claud Cockburn (based on the novel "Beat the Devil" by) (as James Helvick), Truman Capote (screenplay) | 1 more credit »
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Cast

Complete credited cast:
Humphrey Bogart ... Billy Dannreuther
Jennifer Jones ... Mrs. Gwendolen Chelm
Gina Lollobrigida ... Maria Dannreuther
Robert Morley ... Peterson
Peter Lorre ... Julius O'Hara
Edward Underdown Edward Underdown ... Harry Chelm
Ivor Barnard ... Maj. Jack Ross
Marco Tulli Marco Tulli ... Ravello
Bernard Lee ... Insp. Jack Clayton
Mario Perrone Mario Perrone ... Purser on SS Nyanga
Giulio Donnini Giulio Donnini ... Administrator
Saro Urzì ... Captain of SS Nyanga (as Saro Urzi)
Juan de Landa ... Hispano-Suiza Driver (as Juan De Landa)
Aldo Silvani Aldo Silvani ... Charles - Restaurant Manager
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Storyline

A quartet of international crooks -- Peterson, O'Hara, Ross and Ravello -- is stranded in Italy while their steamer is being repaired. With them are the Dannreuthers. The six are headed for Africa, presumably to sell vacuum cleaners but actually to buy land supposedly loaded with uranium. They are joined by others who apparently have similar designs. Written by Ed Stephan <stephan@cc.wwu.edu>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

Adventure at its boldest! Bogart at his best! See more »


Certificate:

Approved | See all certifications »
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Details

Country:

UK | Italy | USA

Language:

English | Italian

Release Date:

17 December 1953 (Italy) See more »

Also Known As:

Schach dem Teufel See more »

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Box Office

Budget:

$1,000,000 (estimated)
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Mono (Western Electric Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Jack Clayton, the Scotland Yard inspector played by Bernard Lee, is named after the film's associate producer, Jack Clayton, who later became a well-known director. See more »

Goofs

When Ahmed, the Arab Inquisitor first appears on screen, he is wearing a woman's mock turtleneck blouse with a mesh applique, outlined with satin ribbon and a bow. See more »

Quotes

Gwendolyn Chelm: You know, I've changed my mind about you being an evil doctor. You're off to keep a rendezvous someplace in Africa sacred to the tribesmen. You're going to found a new empire, and make yourself master of the riches of the world. But you need a beautiful blonde queen to impress the natives as, ah, the incarnation of the Queen of Sheba. That's why you're making a pass at me.
Billy Dannreuther: Am I?
See more »

Alternate Versions

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 »

Connections

Featured in I Love You to Death (2012) See more »

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User Reviews

 
Amusing, sure, if not a `classic.' But enjoyable enough for what it is
24 January 2004 | by bmacvSee all my reviews

Pleasant enough piffle – a mildly diverting comedy-adventure hybrid – Beat The Devil has a belated reputation as the last word in dry drollery, an arch in-joke to whose hidden hilarity only the select and sophisticated few are privy. Humphrey Bogart didn't think so, saying `Only the phonies think it's funny. It's a mess.' But one of the movie's formidable champions, Pauline Kael, picked up on his line and trumped it: `Yes, but it may be the funniest mess of all time.' Bogart may be the shrewder critic here; after all, he sank his own dough into the venture, which went down like the ill-starred freighter upon which the cast put to sea. Only latterly has it has it acquired dubious `classic' stature.

Beat The Devil (directed by John Huston, who co-wrote the script with the up-and-coming Truman Capote) improvises a loose, comic riff on the international adventure genre. Thankfully, it's not unhinged or absurd enough to be a dreaded `spoof,' and emphatically not one (as it's become a commonplace to assume) of the noir cycle. In narrative, point of view and look (there's no coherent visual style), Beat The Devil bears not the slightest resemblance to film noir, which, by this point, was slyly starting to parody itself anyway.

The plot's McGuffin concerns uranium deposits in central Africa, which draw a disreputable and multinational crew of opportunists who hope to strike it rich by sticking it to their various motherlands. The joke lies in that these bumblers keep getting taken in by one another's cover stories, pretensions and lies – and falling for one another's spouses. It's not a bad joke, but it needs a bit more rigor to flesh it out from a skit to a feature film.

Of course it's funny, if haphazardly. A blonde Jennifer Jones, juggling an English accent as if with a mouth full of prunes, comes straight out of screwball comedy (who knew?), and Gina Lollobrigida (when not waylaid by her own attempts at English) occasionally matches her. Peter Lorre, looking much like the short and rotund Capote of the future, again displays his instinctive flair for subversive comedy (his past in sinister parts limited what might have been a long and enjoyable career). And Robert Morley, crisp as a toasted if unusually thick crumpet, serves up every line like a butler bearing a decanter of vintage port. Bogart, on the other hand, can't persuasively hide his age and infirmity, and his role as debonair lover and man of action demands superhuman suspension of disbelief (maybe he was just thinking of all the money he was going to lose).

Yet having fun doesn't have to mean that plot is irrelevant, some boring old rule made to be broken. Part of the movie's folklore is that Capote stayed up all night writing the next day's pages; maybe so, but didn't he or Huston know where they were going? Once the characters wade up on the North African shore to be apprehended by `Arabs' (surely, Bedouins?), there's no more pretense of a cohesive script or a halfway satisfying storyline. Finding a plausible way out of all the intrigue, however tongue-in-cheek it might have been, wouldn't have killed the laughs, now, would it?


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