Beat the Devil (1953)


Every inch a mockery, how tongue-in-cheek
Even the posteris a mockery, how tongue-in-cheek!

Genre: Comedy Adventure Crime Romance Drama (USA, UK, Italy)

Starring: Humphrey Bogart (The Big SleepCasablanca), Jennifer Jones (Madame BovaryThe Man in the Gray Flannel Suit)

Directed By: John Huston (Key LargoThe Maltese Falcon)

Overview: A band of rogues waiting to acquire land rich in uranium meet a couple headed the same way, leading to a somewhat cat-and-mouse affair.


Function: adjective
Date: 1933
: characterized by insincerity, irony, or whimsical exaggeration.

Oddly enough, the definition above does not include 'boredom-inducing', which is surprising, given the overall mood of Beat The Devil. Yes, John Huston did a wonderful job of creating a work acclaimed as greatly inferior to his Films Noir, yet tongue-in-cheek doesn't mean 'inferior', it just means 'parody of an existing genre', in this case the Quest Film Noir, most notably, Huston's own The Maltese Falcon.

The only thing standing between you and a watery grave is your wits, and that's not my idea of adequate protection.  - Billy Dannreutherie

Written in part by Truman Capote, Beat the Devil is the story of a man smarter than the surly counterparts who hired him to facilitate the purchase (read: theft) of uranium-rich land in Kenya. As they wait for their ship to be ready, they meet an English couple who may or may not be rich gentry, and who may or may not be worthy of pursuit / befriending / skulduggery, and perhaps the only thing that we can be truly sure of about Mrs. Gwendolen Chelm is that she is always lying. With such a mix of fops and curs we can expect interesting developments, yet right from the opening scene, Beat The Devil fails to deliver any of the sort of suspense one would enjoy in this genre of film, since it opens with the four unsavoury characters in handcuffs being lead to jail, and rather than wondering if they'll be caught, we wonder instead how they got there.

As a drama Beat the Devil's characters are just over the top enough that we can't take them seriously, but not so much so that we're laughing. As a comedy, the characters are merely passably quirky, and the laugh out loud scenes number in the single digits - by that I mean 1.

The reason this is in 1001 Movies, I don't think I'll ever know. One thing I do know, Bogart hated it, and lost a lot of money financing it.

Even Peter Lorre's looking old and sad... what a shame

Performance: 7 Cinematography: 6 Script: 5 Plot: 6 Mood: 4

Overall Rating: 56% (The Bastard Won In The End!)

As I watched, I wondered why the script seemed so weak and unpolished, and I've come to learn that it was written day-by-day as the film was being shot. I'd say even Truman Capote needs a second draft...

At least John Huston was confident enough to laugh at himself.  Sadly he laughed at me a little too.

For those of you keeping Noir score - yes there's a slapping scene.

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This film is great! One of the best things Huston ever did! You don't know from funny!!!


How's that for a clever argument?


I can't make a clever argument, I'm too busy sputtering and waving my fist at my computer screen in fury!

You know guys, it's not like I watch movies with the hopes of hating them.

Actually, I like a critical eye.  I find it helpful to read reviews by folks who don't like a film as much as I do.  It helps me see things I missed without in any way taking away from my enjoyment of the film. 

We watched this movie back in March. I'm not sure why we always get such a big kick out of it, but we do. I'm glad to see it reviewed somewhere, even though you don't like it as much as we do.

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