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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) 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 <stephan@cc.wwu.edu>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

Europe, the Mediterranean, Africa ... This Was Their Road to Adventure and a Fabulous Fortune ... A Dangerous Band of Desperate Men Goaded on By Two Beautiful Women ... All of Them Out to Beat the Devil at His Own Game! 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

The failure of the original copyright holder to renew the film's copyright resulted in it falling into public domain, meaning that virtually anyone could duplicate and sell a VHS/DVD copy of the film. Therefore, many of the versions of this film available on the market are either severely (and usually badly) edited and/or of extremely poor quality, having been duped from second- or third-generation (or more) copies of the film. 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

Petersen: A good laugh does more for the stomach muscles than five minutes' sitting-up exercises.
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 Overseas and Under Your Skin (2009) See more »

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User Reviews

 
"All pomp and no circumstance"
2 December 2010 | by Steffi_PSee all my reviews

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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