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Completely Unexpected
gftbiloxi30 May 2005
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
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Brilliant Dry Humor
jim_altman12 July 2005
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.
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A Spoof That Works After a Half Century
lawprof7 February 2002
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)
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Amazing how clueless some people are
clydefrogg2 April 2002
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.

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.
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"Devil's" Advocacy
genekim17 May 2004
Warning: 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.
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Bogart himself called it a "mess."
Nazi_Fighter_David23 April 2005
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… Double-crossing quickly 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…
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Very good off beat comedy, beware of bad prints.
alfiefamily27 August 2004
"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
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Outlandish satire/comedy filmed on location in Italy and Africa with all star cast
ma-cortes4 August 2010
Low-key and droll comedy by Truman Capote and John Huston dealing with a quartet of international swindlers named Peterson (Robert Morley), O'Hara (Peter Lorre), Ross and Ravello is stranded in Italy while their ship is being repaired. With them are the marriages Billy (Humphrey Bogart) and Maria (Gina Lollobrigida) Dannreuthers, further Gwendolen (Jennifer Jones ) and Harry Chelm (Edward Underdown). Meanwhile, Gwendolen is keen on Billy and the newspapers have just published this piece of news : 'Colonial officer murdered in Soho' . The eight are headed for Africa, presumably to sell sew-machines but actually to buy land apparently full of uranium . As the plot's McGuffin concerns uranium deposits in a far country from central Africa .They are joined by others who supposedly have identical motives . But their steamer is sinked and they are shipwrecked and imprisoned by Arabs who put them on a firing squad .

Delightful though irregular parody in which Humphrey Bogart steals the show using his wits , breaking all the rules and kicking virtually every cliché in the pants , as he relentlessly deceives , cheats ,laughs and lies . Amiable but sometimes lumbering satire goes on and on about the same premise . Seemingly endless list of character players includes a good support cast as Robert Morley as unlikely crook , Underwood as inept husband and of course the great Peter Lorre who adds surprising sparkles. John Huston's direction keeps things moving with laughs, he directed this sometimes hilarious, but mostly silly and baffling spoof of intrigue movies with ridiculous situations in the wake of ¨The Maltese Falcon¨and ¨Key Largo¨. The jokes come with machine-gun rapidly , though don't always work, there are so many of them that this comedy ends up with enoughs laughs for quite entertaining. It's a stupid movie but also funny and remains like a laugh-filled amusement. Filmed on location in Salerno , Campany ,Italy , Shepperton Studios, Shepperton, Surrey, England, UK (studio); and in Amalfi Coast, Amalfi . The movie hasn't the thematic unity of 'African's Queen', ' Asphalt jungle' , or ' The treasure of Sierra Madre' the John Huston's best . The picture has become public domain in which circulate several lousy copies . Many people , audiences and critics , in its 1953 exhibition eluded this offbeat film but subsequently became a cult favorite that it remains nowadays.
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Amusing, sure, if not a `classic.' But enjoyable enough for what it is
bmacv24 January 2004
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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the sub-par quality of this film detracts nothing from a great story
davepyne9 January 2006
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
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"All pomp and no circumstance"
Steffi_P2 December 2010
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.
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The Last Huston - Bogart Collaboration
theowinthrop25 October 2005
Warning: Spoilers
This film has become a favorite with cultists. It's a matter of tastes, for I have yet to really like it. But every now and then I do give BEAT THE DEVIL another chance to see if it is better or worse than I have believed. It always remains somewhere stuck at the point of neutrality that I began at.

For a film that starred Bogie, Lollabrigida, Jennifer Jones, Robert Morley, and Peter Lorre, and was directed by John Huston, and had a screenplay by Truman Capote based on a novel by James Helvick (Claude Cockburn), it should have been better than it was. But it is like the bits are better than the whole. Morley and his entourage walking around the deck of the freighter to Africa in the morning, soaking in the sea air, while he disses Mrs. Chelm (Jones) is very amusing - but it is less than one minute of the film. The reassuring First Officer saying not to worry to the passengers, than they hear an explosion, and he returns to inform them that the boat is sinking is amusing too. But the tempo of the amusing segments are split by long periods of characters running around doing rudimentary actions. Pauline Kael was right when she said that the odd thing about this film is that if you see it from the start to end, every one of the scenes look like they belong in the center of the film. Bogart's production company took the loss at the box office. He blamed Huston, and never worked with him again.

Bogart was wrong to say it was a "mess" that only phonies would claim to like. He had a contempt for certain types of intellectuals. But it was certainly in need of some pruning and strengthening in the script. Capote obviously enjoyed spoofing some of the situations. Witness the business of the limousine driver (after the accident) being denied a demand for compensation for the loss of the limousine, and making an impassioned speech sounding from a left wing play. But he probably was not quite ready to do a complete script. He might have made the transition scenes briefer than they became. What remains does hold your attention, but it does not make for a consistently satisfying movie experience.
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Film-noir twisted into a unique and witty comedy
bobc-520 November 2001
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 them.

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.
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Shoddy production
bwaynef4 December 2003
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.
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A Real Jumble Of A Film
jem13229 January 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Ebert likes it. It's in 1001 Movies To See Before You Die.

Yet I rather detested it.

'Beat The Devil' has a complicated jumble of a plot that really never gets off the ground or involves the viewer. Bogart does some nice work in a mess of a film but you can tell his heart is not really in it. Peter Lorre and Robert Morley are quite good in support. Jennifer Jones has an interesting role as Gwendolen Chenn, and wears a blonde wig (and looks remarkably like Vivien Leigh in 'A Streetcar Named Desire', it has to be said).

There are a few choice pieces of dialogue, with Jones getting some good lines, yet this is an uneven mess. I don't even want to go into that much detail about it (and I'm a pretty keen and wordy reviewer) because I just can't be bothered. I love classics, Jones and Bogart, yet I hate this film.
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an extraordinary satire
neithernor20007 October 2005
To not appreciate Beat The Devil is to not appreciate the English language. It's impossible to go one minute through the film without sterling quotable dialog (thank you Truman Capote). One of my favorite moments is when ex-Nazi "Ohara" (Peter Lorre) tirades Bogart and Lollabrigida. Bogie says "It smokes, it drinks, it philosophizes..."

The Italian representative of the malevolent quartet headed by Robert Morley was the role model for Roberto ("I love Bobby Frost") Begnini in Jim Jarmusch's Down by Law.

If you could elevate the dialog to a serious suspense film, you'd have a Hitchcock production. Unfortunately if the satire was remade today, it would be titled something like Who's Scammin' Who.
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An abundance of intelligence, nonsense and black comedy rolled out into a misguided metaphor.
mark.waltz14 August 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Having much of the same talent as 1951's masterpiece "The African Queen", this film comes off as a total contradiction in its entirety, giving a dark view of humanity at its most amoral and laughing at it at the same time. A group of strangers are crowded together on a steamer and something shady is afoot. At first, you really can't figure out what's going on, because every time that the writers drop an important plot point, a distraction occurs which moves it into a different direction. The film is alternately wise and confusing, one moment with leading man Humphrey Bogart standing out with me where he is informed that Hitler and Mussolini like leaders will soon destroy the world. Bogart simply states that he would like another year or two to continue to be miserable. That statement applies to how many people seem to feel today, a cynical society in an ever increasing dangerous world where unhappiness seems to be a better option than total oblivion.

Replacing Sydney Greenstreet as the villainous fat man, Robert Morley is a total contrast to his fearful missionary in "The African Queen". He's so instantly smarmy, you're surprised anybody even wants to be around him. Add in Peter Lorre (sadly a very undefined character) and two leading ladies (Jennifer Jones, highly resembling Vivien Leigh in "A Streetcar Named Desire" and the luscious Gina Lollobrigida, obviously somebody's "kept woman" here), and you have a dream cast. The remainder of the cast are cynical men who seem intent on creating more unhappiness, and while there are some surprising plot twists and sudden turns (people are believed to be dead, incorrectly it turns out) and everybody is in danger at all times. A ship's steward politely tells Bogart that the ship is sinking as if announcing dinner. It is obvious that John Huston had his tongue so far into his cheek he could taste last week's dinner, yet the inside joke wasn't let out on an unsuspecting public who, according to reviews, just didn't get it. I did, but it may not have been the filmmaker's ideas that I got, just my own visions of what the film said, at least to me.

Along with another independently made Bogart film ("The Barefoot Contessa"), this is a film that doesn't necessarily work but with its star performances and a few dropped intelligent witticisms, can inspire some great thought. Otherwise, however, it is a pretentious bore.
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Odd...I call it odd
blanche-29 February 2009
The above is a line from "Black Widow" that I've always liked. I guess it was called to mind because "Beat the Devil" is a black comedy. Well, it's an odd comedy anyway.

The 1953 film had absolutely everything going for it, including Humphrey Bogart, Jennifer Jones, Gina Lollabrigida, Peter Lorre, Robert Morley, directed by John Huston with a screenplay by Truman Capote. What more could you ask for? I don't know, but something.

The story concerns crooks stuck in Italy while they wait for a steamer to be repaired that is to take them to Africa. There, they will buy land that has uranium on it, though no one knows that. They're allegedly selling vacuum cleaners. Also traveling on this steamer are a British woman (Jones) and her husband. He supposedly is landed gentry in England, but is he? The crooks wonder what he's up to, and the wife keeps changing her story.

There is a lot of humor to be had in this film - the situation is funny, the denouement is wonderful, there is some witty dialogue and there are clever situations that go on during the film that are amusing. The problem is that nobody cares.

The film, which looks like it cost about a dollar to make, is too disjointed, and there are long sections where nothing interesting happens.

One of the posters, who really liked the film, commented that people don't like it because the actors aren't going for laughs. Well, I'm not one of those people. Acting 101 says you don't go for laughs - you play the situation and the characters for real and the laughs happen. That doesn't mean, however, that you pace it like it's Long Days Journey. Bogart had wonderful timing no matter what, and it's evident here, particularly in the car scene on the way to the restaurant, where the character's glibness is apparent. The problem isn't in any person, it's in the direction. I don't believe Huston had a sense of comedy. He could be brilliant, but this was not his thing.

Still, "Beat the Devil" is worth seeing, but it's hard to keep your attention on it.
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Maybe I missed something ... but ...
simon.vaughan13 March 2000
I watched Beat the Devil last night from a DVD I purchased recently, and frankly I wasn't impressed.

The reason I bought it I suppose was the cast list ... an excellent roll up it is too. But really I did not enjoy the film ... it just didn't seem to get up off the ground at all. Before I knew it, there was what I imagined to be a climax towards the end, then it finished. (Maybe I should watch it a few more times?)

The stars put together for the film seemed to play out their Hollywood stereotypical roles well ... Peter Lorre as the nervous little "illegal alien" type, Robert Morley as the pompous Englishman, etc. I really don't see how Bogart could have been a "sex symbol" in this one? Gina was just gorgeous as always.

I did enjoy the humour of the film though. It was subtle but it was there. Some quite funny moments.

The DVD I have is of a very poor quality. The picture is very scratchy and the sound is bad. (Gina was extremely difficult to understand in some parts.)
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Beat the Devil is for Huston/Bogart completists only
tavm5 April 2007
I had long read about this final John Huston/Humphrey Bogart collaboration being described as a comic mess that would eventually have a cult following as I found out when I checked out Cult Movies 2 from a library years ago. With a script by Huston and Truman Capote, a cast that included Gina Lollobrigida, Jennifer Jones, Robert Morley, Peter Lorre, and as a Scottland Yard officer, Bernard Lee years before he was cast as M in the James Bond series, I expected at least some witty lines and some amusing sequences. There were some of the former, my favorite being Lorre's about his character's last name: "There's plenty of Germans from Brazil with the name O'Hara." But many sequences fall flat and as the movie goes on, I found most of it boring. I fell asleep during the first hour when I tried watching it last night so I watched the whole thing a few hours ago and even when alert the whole thing makes no sense. So unless you're a completist of Huston or Bogart, I can't recommend this movie. You're better off watching their superior previous work.
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A Lot Of Intrigue That Leads Up To Nothing Much
sddavis6318 January 2009
This is, in many ways, a very strange movie. It features a great cast, headed by Humphrey Bogart and including such figures as Peter Lorre and Gina Lollobrigida among others and directed by the great John Huston. So, right off the top, it has a lot going for it, and, in fairness, for the most part the acting was decent enough, especially from Bogart. Having said that, the story itself was quite lacking in anything meaningful. Bogart plays Billy Dannreuther, some type of shady character (although his background was never really explained) who teams up with a gang of international criminals in a scheme that had something to do with uranium mining and/or coffee plantations in Africa (although I was never really clear on the details of the scheme, either.) The team (or the "committee" as they were sometimes referred to) meet up with a somewhat mysterious British couple - the Chelms - and everything becomes quite confusing, both for the characters in the movie and the viewer watching the movie.

I was rather unimpressed with the female leads in the movie (Lollobrigida as Mrs. Dannreuther and Jennifer Jones as Mrs. Chelm.) Each seemed to fall for each other's husbands far too quickly and easily. There was some attempt at humour throughout. Some was effective, some not. The drunk ship's captain line was funny the first time; after that it became tiresome. The attempt at humour at the close of the movie was mildly amusing in an ironic sort of way. Nothing here really overwhelmed me. On the strength of Bogart's performance and the high powered cast, I'd give it a 4/10. In all honesty Bogie's wartime movies were far better from what I've seen.
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One of my favorite movies!
bwomack19 October 2004
OK... some people are exaggeratedly unimpressed with this film, and who can fault them for not discerning the sophisticated ripples of humor and innuendo floating back and forth throughout.

Another reviewer mentioned that "if you like New Yorker cartoons, you'll like this movie." I concur. It's not slapstick, and for those who mentioned Arnold Schwarzenegger products in comparison, well, you've got my sympathies.

Aspects of the story ARE absurd; Hey, it's a comedy! Expecting another Maltese Falcon could be a problem for some viewers, so stick to that genre if you're jonesing to see another noir flick. The subtle comedic turns are really great. Bogart is very funny, as he is in almost all of his films. He does seem tired, but I found that endearing and genuine.

In point of fact, this is a wonderful, surprising film that gets some unexpected performances out of, especially, Jennifer Jones. My DVD version of this is made from a dreadful original print, and if anyone has a lead on where to get the full 100-minute version on DVD, let us know, OK?

It's truly a shame that Beat the Devil slipped into the public domain, and we can only hope there's a clean original out there somewhere for a full-length, remastered DVD.

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A pretty bad movie
homer_simpson9122 November 2001
Sorry, but I didn't get it. In fact, I barely even realized it was a comedy. I did enjoy the acting, particularly Peter Lorre, Gina Lollobrigida, Jennifer Jones and, of course, Humphrey Bogart. However, I did not find the movie itself to be very funny or entertaining. When it did finally end, I thought there was a lot left to be desired.

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This is a great movie. Full of tone. Romantic and sensuous.
ablewuzi19 December 2005
One of the nice things about this fine movie is that there is nothing else like it. It pulls you into a world once real and now almost entirely forgotten. I particularly like the interlude where Bogart and Jones stroll along a vast, empty Italian balcony overlooking the sea so far below. Another nice touch is when they come up to the ship they took to the lifeboats from, not sunk at all, just like in Lord Jim. It is too subtle for today's tastes, and that just makes it all the more delicious. Very fine. If you like Chuck Norris or Steven Segal stay away from this one---you won't like it. But if you like Gene Wolf, well, it feels very much like that.
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An imaginary conversation ..........
tommythek27 October 2001
An imaginary conversation between John Huston and Humphrey Bogart..........

Huston and Bogart are enjoying a warm summer cruise, replete with cigars and brandies, just off Catalina on Bogart's boat -- Santana. Huston speaks.

Huston: "I've got a great idea for a new movie, Bogie."

Bogart: "Let's hear it, John."

Huston: "I'm going to remake all of our movies together -- 'Casablanca,' 'Across the Pacific,' 'Key Largo,' 'Treasure of the Sierra Madre,' 'The African Queen' -- into one movie! What do you think?"

Bogart: "Sounds interesting. Go on."

Huston: "Then I'm going to add elements from some of your other movies -- 'The Maltese Falcon,' 'To Have and Have Not,' 'The Big Sleep,' 'Passage to Marseilles,' 'Dark Passage,' 'The Night of the Iguana,' 'Prizzi's Honor'....."

Bogart: "'The Night of the Iguana?!' 'Prizzi's Honor?!' What movies of mine are those?"

Huston: "Oops! Sorry. I forgot. I haven't made those movies yet."

Bogart: "That's OK, John. Here, have another brandy. Go on."

Huston: "Well, you see, Bogie, the idea is to take all of the best elements from all these movies and combine them into one all-time blockbuster Humphrey Bogart movie."

Bogart: "You're beginning to get my attention. Keep going."

Huston: "Casting. For your wife, I've got in mind this beautiful, young Italian actress -- Gina Lollosomethingorother. She even speaks English! And the public won't mind that she's more than 30 years younger than you. They never do. And for your OTHER love interest, how does Jennifer Jones sound to you?"

Bogart: "Hey! I get TWO beautiful love interests in ONE movie. WOW! Now you're REALLY talking my language, John-Boy. Refill?"

Huston: "Thanks, Bogie. I know I can get Lorre for it and Morley's available, too. They're two of the main supporting characters."

Bogart: "This is just sounding better and better all the time. How soon can I read the script?"

Huston: "Just as soon as we write it."

Bogart: "Who's 'we'?"

Huston: "I've hooked up with this unknown young writer to write it. Name's Capote."

Bogart: "Kaput?"

Huston: "No, no. It's pronounced 'ca-PO-te.' I guess he's Italian. He's from New Orleans or someplace like that. First name's Truman."

Bogart: "They named him after the president?! How old is he -- six?"

Huston: "No, no, no, Bogie. Truman isn't the only Truman named Truman. I mean, president. I mean, person. Oh, Bogie, you're getting me all mixed up."

Bogart: "OK, OK -- relax, John. If this 'Kaput' guy is good enough for you, he's good enough for me." By the way, what are we calling this stupendonova, anyway?"

Huston: "Dead Heat with the Devil."

Bogart: "I think I'd much prefer to beat the devil."

Huston: "Good idea! We'll change it to 'Beat the Devil.'"

Bogart: "Well, John, the sun's going down. We'd better head for home. One more cigar and brandy for the trip back?"

Huston: "Sure, Bogie. Let's celebrate. We're going to make the best Bogart movie that has EVER been made."

Bogart: "You said it, John. This baby absolutely cannot miss."

Oh ..... yes ..... it most certainly can!
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