The Devil's Disciple (1959) Poster

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"The British Soldier Can Stand up to anything, except the British War Office."
bkoganbing9 December 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas, both players who chose rather successfully to chart their own careers, decided on their third co-starring film to jointly produce it as well. The property chosen was George Bernard Shaw's The Devil's Disciple which takes place in the northern theater of operations in the American Revolution.

Shaw's wit is going full tilt here as he's having a great old time blasting upper and middle class pretensions of British society. The vehicle he uses is General John Burgoyne who lost the Battle of Saratoga to the rebel army which guaranteed French recognition and European aid for the colonists.

Both Lancaster as Parson Anthony Anderson and Kirk Douglas as committed non-believer Dick Dudgeon play larger than life characters here as they usually do and both have their moments. But in fact this film is stolen completely out from under them by Sir Laurence Olivier as General Burgoyne.

As a previous reviewer noted, Shaw wrote the best lines in the play for the Burgoyne character. But it takes the skill of a player like Olivier to bring them off. Burgoyne was very much a product of Georgian Great Britain, a cynical man in a very cynical business. By the way Harry Andrews as Major Swinton does an excellent job essentially as Burgoyne's straight man. Andrews is a pompous sort of character and Olivier tosses the bon mots off him like a handball player.

The story involves Dudgeon being mistaken for Anderson and being sentenced to hang for rebel activity. Anderson arouses the populace and sheds his parson's collar for rebel activity and saves Dudgeon from the noose. Burgoyne quits the town he was occupying and goes off to his destiny at Saratoga.

But in this case as in a lot of Shaw plays, the story isn't as important as the commentary. And when the commentary is delivered by Olivier, it's being brought to you by the best.
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Better than just good !
wallner-22 April 2004
It has been years since I've actually seen the movie and was disappointed that it can't presently be found on DVD. Yet, while fiction, it is a tight, well acted piece of near dark comedy placed in a revolutionary war setting.

Lancaster's portrayal is akin to his as the somewhat self-righteous Wyatt Earp in O.K. Corral. Probably the wittiest scene is played between the prisoner Douglas and Sir Laurence (Gentleman Johnny Burgoyne) as a straight man with a bit of a twinkle in the eye. First with Olivier near whining to Kirk how he'd think better of him if he only knew how much he'd paid for his commission - a common practice in German George's British army.

Convicted and scheduled to hang, Douglas demands a soldier's firing squad only to talked out of it by Gen'l. Burgoyne decrying - with wry historical accuracy, the woeful state of marksmanship of the average Red Coat then serving in the Colonies. "Well then, by all means hang me !"

Delightful, well paced, funny, and even a tad dramatic with Burt, like Disney's Lambert the Bashful Lion, finally roaring to the height of minuteman steel in the final scenes.
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Overlooked , underrated gem
coop-1610 July 2000
Oddly enough, very few good films have been made about The American revolution, and this is one of them.Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster put in very fine performances, with Lancaster acting against type as the priggish, self-righteous minister who transforms himself into a dashing, wickedly, hero, and Kirk Douglas as the sardonic, cynical, Satanic, selfish, and utterly delightful Dick Dudgeon, who transforms himself inot an altruistic, self sacrificing hero. Laurence Oliviers performance is little too langourous and flat, until he delivers the films great punch-line, "history will lie, as usual." Of course, it may be that the films sharp-eyed, toughly ironic view of the revolution has militated against it ever gaining the popularity it deserves
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Today's film makers might learn a thing or two from this one.
Poseidon-33 May 2004
Lancaster and Douglas had a rare and unique Hollywood relationship. Though they could easily have been rivals (and in some ways were), they formed a sort of onscreen "buddy team", working together many times and using their own traits of one-upmanship to lift various projects to a high level of achievement. Their competitiveness, paired with their mutual respect, led to some memorable movies. This is a lesser-known effort of theirs, but is, by no means, an inferior one. Lancaster is a gentle Revolutionary War-era minister, married to the lovely, but puritanical Scott. When the war reaches a fever pitch and local townsfolk begin to hang from the gallows, a roguish prodigal son (Douglas) returns to stir things up. Douglas and Lancaster form an uneasy alliance with each other until Douglas is arrested, mistaken for Lancaster who has buried a "rebel" without permission. The commanding British officer is Olivier, who knows that the war is hopeless, but continues to play it out with a sort of bemused detachment. Though the film contains a fair amount of action, it is really a witty, clever parade of words and thoughts (based on a George Bernard Shaw play) shedding a humorous and ironic light on a page in U.S. history. Lancaster is mellow for much of the film, but effective (and tan! The audience gets to see his muscular back in the film, though Scott is too demure to look upon it herself!) Douglas starts off VERY big, with distractingly dark and satanically groomed eyebrows. Fortunately, he overcomes this gimmick and turns in a solid performance. Olivier is very good, but doesn't really take the reigns of his role to the highest level (and has limited screen time in any case.) Andrews gives a very nice supporting turn as his exasperated right-hand man. Scott does some of her best work as the straight-laced bride who can't help but find herself drawn to the rough-hewn charms of Douglas, though the very idea tortures her. Her best moment comes when Douglas asks her to kiss him and she exclaims, "I can't!" (yet immediately thrusts herself onto him for a lengthy smooch!) As history, the film is dubious at best (and even recognizes this itself!), but, at a tight 83 minutes, it's a delightful diversion featuring a great combination of actors and stars. It doesn't overstay its welcome and has a light touch throughout. (Oh, and check out the stop-motion figures that show up during the voice-over narration! What a hoot!)
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"Gentleman Johnny" Gets the Best Lines
theowinthrop30 April 2004
There is little point denying that the greatest dramatist in England in the 20th Century was George Bernard Shaw. He was a great wit, and he had a view of society that he felt needed expressing in one play after another. But there was something irritating about him that has prevented him from overtaking Shakespeare in drama writing: His desire to give his views on this societal problem or that one led to polemics taking over his writings, so that the plays, even when good, can be uneven. He also displayed a monstrous ego at times that did not deserve to be admired or applauded by the public for most of his ninety three or four years.

In 1897 he had only a handful of plays that had been produced to show his talents: WIDOWERS HOUSE and MRS. WARREN'S PROFESSION were the best of these, and the second had been banned by the Lord Chamberlain's office for treating the subject of prostitution as a business. He decided to do a play with one of London's leading actor managers of the time: Mr. William Terris. But while negotiating with Terris to appear in this play. a madman stabbed Terris to death. Looking around for another actor, Shaw contacted Mr. Richard Mansfield, thus beginning a brief business relationship with that stage star. Mansfield produced THE DEVIL'S DESCIPLE in America, where it was a big success (Mansfield also played Dick Dudgeon).

Shaw was looking at good and evil in the play, with Dudgeon being an anti-religious type who was cynical. But Dudgeon demonstrates a sense of right and wrong and compassion that is missing from the other characters in the play, making the title very ironic - Dick may boast of worshiping the Devil, but he never hurts anyone. In the play, because of his fast life style, the local Puritanical townspeople (especially his mother) disapprove of him, and all but ostracize him. Then his father's will is read, and they realize he is rich (and the other heirs, especially his mother are poor). Since they are hypocrites, the lucky break for Dick makes them even more vicious toward him (his mother cursing him before she dies). So far so good for Shaw.

As I said, the play begins well, and continues fine - introducing high comedy when General Burgoyne appears. Burgoyne was a dramatist too, so Shaw liked him. And here the play (and movie's) problems begin to be felt. Shaw was writing the play in a period that the Whig historians, like George Otto Trevelyan, wrote the history of the American Revolution. Trevelyan's books became best sellers, and were well researched. But he wrote of the Revolution as the backdrop of English Revolutionary spirit as well. To Trevelyan, the English lost the war due to the ineptitude of the Tory regime of Lord North. One example of this was the story of how General Burgoyne's brilliant plan to split the northern colonies in half and conquer both halves one at a time was ruined when the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Lord George Germain, failed to send vital plans to General Sir William Howe to link his men with Burgoyne. Instead, Sir William headed for Philadelphia, which he occupied, and heard nothing about Burgoyne until the latter surrendered in October 1777.

The play builds up to a comic misunderstanding between the British and Dudgeon, whom they arrest thinking he is the Reverend - Dick was alone with the wife of the Reverend at the time, and assumes the latter's personality because he does not want a scandal to break out. Soon the Reverend (who supports the Revolution) faces a court martial, with the whimsical Gentleman Johnny asking questions. Although the result is a foregone conclusion, (the British have already hanged Dick's father as the movie begins), Burgoyne is annoyed to discover after the verdict is about to be given that Dick is not the Reverend.

This is all in the film, and it still works, especially with Olivier's perfect performance as the British general, who is facing defeat but won't lose his cool about it. But Shaw's source, George Otto Treveylan, is no longer supported by students of history - he is regarded as a Whig who ignored the many errors of his own party, to concentrate on the failures of Lord North and his Tories. One mistake is the story of Lord George Germain's failure to send Sir William Howe his plans, because Lord George felt he had to go on his personal vacation to the country, and would not wait to send out those vital plans. It is not true, after all. Lord George did send Sir William the plans, but Howe ignored them, going out to capture Philadelphia instead.

"History will lie as usual" says Burgoyne to Major Swindon. Ironically, Shaw pushed the lie as truth himself. Now everyone who sees the play or film believes that Lord George Germain's vacation plans lost the Revolution. Not really. The forests of upper New York State, the lack of good roads, the immense supply train played vital, the vigor of Benedict Arnold as an American general led to Burgoyne's surrender. But that was not as amusing as Lord George Germain's "failure" to send the vital plans. One recalls the end of John Ford's LIBERTY VALANCE: When given a chance to print the truth of the legend, print the legend!
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Maybe THIS was the original "buddy movie"
bigpurplebear20 November 2001
Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas shared a chemistry -- offscreen as well as on screen -- which was rare even by Hollywood standards. There's a legend about them, as a matter of fact (and I'd hate to think it apocryphal), that -- at the onset of each of the many films in which they co-starred -- they flipped a coin to see who would play which role.

In their film adaptation of George Bernard Shaw's "The Devil's Disciple," the coin-flip would have been at best symbolic -- or perhaps ironic is the term here -- inasmuch as the plotline concerns role reversals and identity switching. Set during the closing days of the American revolution, Dick Dudgeon, the town rakehell (Douglas), having previously admitted to Reverend Anderson, the local minister (Lancaster), "Pastor, there's something about you I respect, and that makes me want you for my enemy," allows himself to be mistakenly arrested as that minister by British troops. It's an act which even he, at the time, is at a loss to explain. While Dudgeon keeps the local British commandant, General Burgoyne (Laurence Olivier in what turns out to be one of his finer screen performances), alternately amused and bemused, Reverend Anderson discovers within himself a call to action as he rallies the rebel troops to rescue Dudgeon and to cut off Burgoyne's reinforcements.

Purists may note that the film adaptation tampers with Shaw's more typically cynical resolution in the original stage presentation (yes, it is much more 'upbeat' and true to the Hollywood dicta of the day) . . . and yet the Shavian quality of the dialogue between Dudgeon and Anderson -- not to mention the barbed repartee between Dudgeon and Burgoyne -- is preserved virtually intact here. It is also brilliantly rendered by all parties.

Although Douglas manages to 'steal' much of this film, Lancaster affords us more than a glimpse of the ability which will, in little more than another year, garner him an Oscar -- for 'Elmer Gantry'-- (and put an end to the yearly ritual of his and Douglas' comedic "It's So Great Not To Be Nominated" performance at the awards ceremonies).

One of Hollywood's more successful adaptations of a stage play, this is also a film which, more than most, stands the test of time.
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Sparking fun
otter20 July 1999
Sparkling adaptation of George Bernard Shaw's witty play set in American's revolutionary war. It has everything; a wonderful script (most of Shaw's play is let be), lively direction, and a top-notch cast. Kirk Douglas gives his lightest and most charming performance as the self-professed Devil's Disciple, there's no trace of the usual heavy-handed ham, he completely steals the film. Burt Lancaster doesn't have as much to work with in the part of a virtuous minister, but he does what he can and I consider a man who looks that great to be above criticism.

The only disappointment is Laurence Olivier as General Burgoyne. Olivier castigated himself in his autobiography for botching one of Shaw's most hilarious roles, his personal griefs were overwhelming him at the time. He's nervous and unfocused, line after wonderful line falls flat. (He returned to form shortly after in "Spartacus" and "The Entertainer")

So, this isn't just a fun film that can be enjoyed by any level of sophistication, it's something every film buff has to see... A movie where Kirk Douglas acts rings around Laurence Olivier!!! Surely the stars must have fallen out of the sky in pure shock!
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Olivier Flat in "Devil's Disciple"?
rick_lapin15 November 2014
This is in answer to otter_c, who wrote: "The only disappointment is Laurence Olivier as General Burgoyne. Olivier castigated himself in his autobiography for botching one of Shaw's most hilarious roles, his personal griefs were overwhelming him at the time. He's nervous and unfocused, line after wonderful line falls flat. (He returned to form shortly after in "Spartacus" and "The Entertainer")"

All due respect to both you and Sir Lawrence, but I think this is an instance where his self-appraisal is a little off-target.

I've always enjoyed this performance as a very excellent portrait of a thinking man and wit under a great deal of pressure, with no idea that Olivier did not care for it -- thing is, Burgoyne IS distracted; he has more important fish to fry than this petty punitive hanging, and even before he gets the news about Howe he is deeply concerned for the continued viability of his command: He tosses off his bon mots as the after-thoughts of the kind of intellect who could actually write plays when he wasn't under siege in an unpopular war in unfriendly country.

And I find that makes them and Burgoyne funnier than, say, Ian Richardson's total self- awareness in the '87 BBC production.

Olivier liked to be In Control when he worked; and in some of the roles in which I do not much care for him I feel it makes him artificial and excessively mannered. So naturally, a performance given when he was overwhelmed with grief is gonna rankle the perfectionist in him; but since he was preoccupied with other, more important (to him) matters it put him willy-nilly square in the same frame of mind as I gauge Gentlemanly Johnny to have been in as disaster loomed, I feel it really helps make the performance live in a way the studied Olivier technique might not have come within yards of.

The two men -- the actor and the general he portrays -- are up against it, but instinct pulls each through even if more distractedly than if under less severe constraints; there is still enough of the essence of each to make a credible showing.

The artist is not always the best critic of his own work; and Olivier's General Burgoyne is excellent work whether the actor knew what he was doing or not.
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You Will Want to Slap Her
dsayne25 November 2013
Having seen The Devil's Disciple on a venue that runs films which have fallen into the public domain, I wonder how anyone could have let copyright lapse on such an intriguing, yet quirky, film as this. With it's triumvirate of strong leading men, and an interesting script, this movie should be much more well known. And with it's rather oddball presentation it's surprising that it does not have cult status.

The live action segments are excellent, and there is no slack in the acting or direction. However, some poor soul made the bizarre decision to interject little Rankin-Bass type puppet animation segments at nearly random moments, thoroughly negating - each time - all the dramatic momentum that has been accumulated up to that point. The animated segments are well done, and moderately amusing in and of themselves, yet completely incongruous to the tone of the surrounding film.

These segments are, however, a minor flaw when compared with the greatest drawback of this movie. I am referring to the character of Judith Anderson, our hero's wife. She is, without a doubt, the most annoyingly fickle and foolish female character that I can recall having ever witnessed in any film; and very nearly the most hysterical as well. Not too far into the story I began to get the feeling that I would very much like to slap her. Halfway through the film I was consciously rooting for each of the male leads to take a turn slapping her. By the end of the film I was convinced that everyone in the film should have slapped her, and probably the crew as well! The only thing that made this character bearable was the calm, good-natured presence of Lancaster, Douglas, and Olivier.

Now, this is not intended to denigrate Miss Janette Scott, who portrayed Mrs. Anderson. On the contrary, she did a remarkable job of making this over-the-top hysterical woman seem real. A lesser actress might have easily come off as overly melodramatic and phony in such an extreme performance. Her skill in the performance is the reason that we want to slap her. Kudos to Janette Scott. It is my opinion that almost everyone who watches this film will, in fact, want to slap her. Be prepared.
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The best movie you've probably never seen
waynec509 February 2006
Warning: Spoilers
This is a terrific film. The cast is great, Sir Laurence Olivier's Gentlemanly Johnny Burgoyne is the perfect balance of dreamer, cynic and realist, Burt Lancaster is exceptional as the minister who finds another calling as a patriot, Kirk Douglas is Dick Dudgeon, "devil's disciple", who is probably more righteous than the hypocrites who condemn him for his lifestyle, Janette Scott is the preacher's upright and uptight wife who discovers a less than spiritual side of herself when Dick unselfishly takes her husband's place as a British prisoner soon to be hanged. Harry Andrews rounds out the headliners as the bloodthirsty and officious Major Swindon, who wants to hang seemingly everyone who crosses his path, while reciting platitudes that would make a super-patriot blush. The film starts with the hanging of Dick's father. His brothers and other relatives are scared out of their wits and take the cowardly way out, seeming to ignore the fact. Ne'er do well Dick, however risks his life and brings his father back to the church for a Christian burial. He and Anthony Anderson, the minister engage in a witty chat over Dad's body that evening. The reverend gives Dad a send-off, but the British arrive in town and see the new grave. Dad leaves almost everything to Dick, with a small bequest to Dick's younger brother, excluding their mother. Mom leaves the house in a huff, cursing her son. Rev Anderson is told by Dick's squeeze that the British have seen the grave and are going to arrest Dick. The Rev goes to tell him and brings him home to the rectory, when he receives word that Mrs Dudgeon is dying and needs him (the minister). Anthony leaves Dick with his wife, and then comes a hilarious scene as the uncomfortable and contemptuous Judith makes him feel as unwanted as possible while still keeping up Christian hospitality. Sure enough, the soldiers come and arrest Dick believing he's the reverend. Dick's farewell to his "wife" ends in a steamy kiss and embrace. Judith races to her husband, and in another riotous scene tells him Dick has been arrested in his place. Rev,"Confound Richard. He's given me a debt I can't repay". But the minister takes off in an effort to get the local patriots to help free Dick, but as the narrator relates, they're too busy trying to kill their enemies to save one of their friends. Anthony winds up in the middle of a battle and turns the tide for the Americans. While this is happening, Dick is put on a completely impartial trial, while gallows are constructed outside. More witty exchanges ensue between Dick, Burgoyne and Swindon before Judith tries to save him by telling the British that he's not her husband. It doesn't work and they schedule the hanging. Anthony rides up just in the nick of time and in a new outfit of buckskin, to present terms to Burgoyne and negotiates Dick's release. Judith must choose between her crush on Dick and her newly revived love for her newly remodeled man of action husband. General Burgoyne tells Major Swindon that soon their army will face unfavorable odds and lose. This movie has everything, fine acting, satire, romance, action, slapstick and philosophy. The only thing is, it's too bad it wasn't made in color to see the uniforms and scenery.
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A wonderful film!
Lady X15 February 2000
Kirk Douglas plays the title character with charm and panache, Lancaster delivers one of his best performances, and Olivier is an absolute delight in his smooth-as-silk portrayal of "Gentlemanly Johnny!" A pleasure to watch -- Bravo!
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Unfortunate waste of talent
bobc-59 February 2002
Laurence Olivier is a British general surrounded by mediocrity and outnumbered by rebel forces who won't give him a fair fight. Burt Lancaster is a pacifist minister trying to protect his innocent parishioners, most of whom haven't yet taken any side in the Revolutionary War. Kirk Douglas is a bright-eyed ne'er-do-well, interested only in himself. Put three great actors like this together and you're bound to get great results, right?

Wrong. I completely fail to see how this movie can get such good reviews here. The first 50 minutes of the movie just barely avoid being downright awful. Olivier and Lancaster do next to nothing, while Douglas hams it up so bad that even the audience should feel embarrassed. Janette Scott, as Lancaster's wife, is forced to play a character with no discernible intelligence or personality whatsoever.

Have some patience, however, and you will eventually be rewarded. Lancaster and Douglas both experience sudden character changes. Lancaster gets a chance to be entertaining while Douglas' performance becomes excellent once he tones it down a bit. Allowed finally to interact with these two, Olivier becomes a valuable asset. The resulting 30 minutes is a high-spirited action adventure film with a light comedic touch and occasional witty dialogue. With the handicap of the terrible start, however, this is still nothing more than a pleasant but unremarkable diversion.
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George Bernard Shaw, Olivier, Lancaster and Douglas
jshaffer-14 July 2004
I believe, in spite of the way the credits read, that this is from a play by George Bernard Shaw. Which means you have to really pay attention, since it is going to be satirical. They certainly didn't skimp on this cast. And the unique (for the time) use of animation sequences lends another facet. The main problem seems to be that this picture is mistaken for an action drama. Gentleman Johnny Burgoyne was a very real character. The other characters are just representative of the attitudes and problems of the era. The fact that they don't speak in addled regional accents is a bonus. I think perhaps this movie would have been much more attractive in color, since I think black and white are really best for film noir. It adds nothing to this movie, in fact, it detracts from it. Think how lovely it would have been with all those redcoats and all those trees. Still, the story can stand alone. It is really a modern story, set in a time of trouble, but it is generally satirical and humorous in tone. If Lancaster had gotten any more self-righteous it would have been nauseating.
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History Often Ignores The Real Heroes
atlasmb4 July 2013
Warning: Spoilers
This is a wonderful film of historic fiction, primarily due to a script that subtly combines action, romance, humor and real questions of values. The story is built around Kirk Douglas, who plays a seemingly amoral fellow and Burt Lancaster, who is a clergyman. Using the American Revolution as a backdrop, it presents both men with questions of character in a time of duress, transforming them into their true natures.

Lawrence Olivier, who plays General Burgoyne, is a revelation. He plays his part as strongly as Douglas and Lancaster with understatement and economy. Harry Andrews plays Major Swindon, the blustering "company man", with gusto. (See him in the movie "The Hill" if you have not.)

The film's music is finely crafted, providing accents for the range of emotions--from the stirrings of romantic love to the urgency of armed conflict.

In its best moments, The Devil's Disciple is not afraid to poke fun at society's conventions--the church, government, authority, traditions. It asserts that individual men of conscience are the real heroes, and they are not forged in the flames of religious piety or societal order.

A note about the ending: I disagree with those who question the choice made by the preacher's wife, Judith. She had always loved her husband, but she wished to see him as a brave man of action and romantic fervor.
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THE DEVIL'S DISCIPLE (Guy Hamilton and, uncredited, Alexander Mackendrick, 1959) ***1/2
Bunuel19762 April 2009
Despite its imposing credentials (featuring the star combo of Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas and Laurence Olivier and being adapted from a George Bernard Shaw play), this film is – criminally, if you ask me – scarcely ever revived. Until now, in fact, I had to make do with a tiny reproduction of the poster from the time of its original release locally (kept by my father in a large worn-out scrapbook); for the record, the copy under review was culled from a TCM screening. Anyway, this is a comedy-adventure of the kind 'they don't make 'em like anymore' but one that, being rich in dialogue (as is to be expected of a Shaw work), comes across as atypically intelligent. The setting is the American Revolution (incidentally, the film was begun by Alexander Mackendrick – an American whose career actually took off in England!) with Lancaster a small-town preacher, Douglas a self-proclaimed "ne'er-do-well" and Olivier the General of the invading British army. Douglas, at his roguish best, and a wittily sardonic Olivier are very funny – while Lancaster's initial (albeit necessary) glumness is redeemed by a characteristic bout of acrobatics at the finale. Interestingly, he and Douglas (by the way, THE DEVIL'S DISCIPLE was a co-production between their respective companies) gradually exchange identities throughout the film – with the latter passing himself off as a man of the cloth yet keeping his fervent anti-British sentiments unchecked and the minister forced by circumstances into rebellion, action and eventually negotiations with the enemy. The supporting cast, then, is headed by lovely Janette Scott (who manages to hold her own in the company of the two American stars, playing a character named Judith Anderson!) and Harry Andrews (in the role of Olivier's eager yet dim-witted aide) but also including the likes of Basil Sydney, Mervyn Johns and Allan Cuthbertson. Notable, too, are a rousing score by Richard Rodney Bennett and the novel bits of exposition (detailing the progress of General Burgoyne's ill-fated campaign) amusingly done by shifting military figurines about on a map of the area; incidentally, in the style of Lancaster's THE CRIMSON PIRATE (1952; also co-written by Roland Kibbee), we are urged to believe the events as fictionalized here rather than the way documented history presents them!
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Revoluntary Comedy
DKosty1234 July 2016
Warning: Spoilers
George Bernard Shaw, as big a name as he was, proves here that no everything he thought of to write was great. I understand his play here was only performed once live. Then these script writers converted it into a screen play.

Talented Director Guy Hamilton did this film and the action sequences show his talented touch. The film is short which in this case is an asset. The performers are very talented which helps too. There are a few comedies about the American Revolution, Abbott & Costello's Time of Their Lives comes to mind. In a way, this film has some in common with it.

Abbott & Costello were not getting along when they did their film. Here Lancaster, Douglas & Olivier are are trying to get along and get quality screen time. The difference is A&C have ghosts and do obvious comedy. This one has a cheeky style of jokes that in some cases go over the average audience heads.

Lancaster is a preacher, Douglas is a sort of rascal, and Olivier is British General Burgoynne (yes, there really was this General). While the facts are few and far between, the characters are very well acted. That is what makes this entertaining. It becomes obvious as the film goes along that Lancaster & Douglas own the production and both of them get their moments in. Olivier pretty much plays the straight man who gets the major speeches and comes off quite well.

The most unusual role is Lancaster (the preacher's) wife. She has to play a woman almost on the edge of fooling around with Douglas when her husband gives her the chance. It is an edgy role and really makes the film more interesting than most films. Janette Scott actually brings this role off quite well.

Because of the length being short, and the male stars all being at the top of their games, this comes off pretty good despite the farce it is at times.
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G. Bernard Shaw has fun with the American Revolution
SimonJack19 April 2016
"The Devil's Disciple" is based on a play by George Bernard Shaw. It recalls of a page in the history of the American Revolution. The play and this film interject considerable humor and satire in otherwise serious matters of the time. All of the cast are good in their roles.

Burt Lancaster is the Rev. Anthony Anderson. Kirk Douglas is a rogue patriot, Richard Dudgeon. Laurence Olivier is the epitome of the arrogant and unbending British general, Burgoyne. Janette Scot plays Anthony's wife, Judith Anderson. She's a conflicted woman after she meets Dudgeon. She loves her husband but also falls for Dudgeon, in his adventurous ways. But two can play at that, as she find outs with Anthony at the end of the film. Harry Andrews flourishes in yet another of his fine British uniform portrayals.

The story takes place in the days of leading up to and the start of the American Revolution. Shaw's sarcasm and cynical treatment of some of the beliefs of the time underlie the story. The film isn't exceptional, but Lancaster's production company pulled together a stellar cast for this humorous look at history and poking fun through the pen of G.B. Shaw.

This is the third film that Lancaster and Douglas made together. Most movie buffs should find the film amusing.
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An exposition of the nature of good and evil
david-sarkies6 July 2014
I was actually quite chuffed to discover that this movie was on Youtube, namely because it is based on a play by George Bernard Shaw, one of my favourite playwrights. While there are a couple of more extreme parts of the play cut out (such as when Richard Dudgeon gives his speech on being a disciple of the devil), the play is pretty much intact (though why they kept the name is beyond me because I would have suspected that they may have wanted to change the name so as not to offend the mass market audience, though the fact that two of Hollywood's big names of the period were the lead actors probably ended up countering that fact).

The story is set during the American Revolutionary War and is about how the black sheep of the village decides to take the place of the village vicar on the gallows, and how the person whom everybody dislikes turns out to be the noblest of all of the people in the village. It is also about inversions in that the vicar, a man of peace, becomes a man of war, and how the man of mischief becomes a man of honour. These themes are directly ported across from the play, and remain as true in the film as they did on stage (as I mentioned, the main digression from the play was when they cut out the 'devil's disciple speech, though there is also a lot of filler).

The other theme in the play is the nature of good and evil, and what exactly is good and evil. To the British rebelling against the empire was considered evil, and an offence punishable by death, however to the colonists, the attacks on their liberty, and unfair taxation, was a wrong that cried out to be rightened. In the end the revolutionary war was pretty much like any other war: a dispute between the ruling classes who ended up using the working classes as the means in which to vent their frustrations. Okay, maybe in this instance the members of the American ruling class fought alongside the workers (and created the myth of the classless society so that the workers would believe that they were fighting for freedom and equality), but what is flagged is that this was not the case with the British, where the reason that the troops in New York were not dispatched was because the minister in charge preferred a holiday than actually prosecuting the war.
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Good movie, flawed history
mojoguzzi-879-6849829 June 2016
Warning: Spoilers
This film is very entertaining but Shaw apparently missed the boat in researching Burgoyne's character (he obviously didn't read Burgoyne's journal or other material from the era which was no doubt too hard to track down back then).

In this film Burgoyne is skittish and worried, rebuffs an officer about risking his men's lives using bayonet charges. In fact, Burgoyne was the leading proponent of the bayonet, even issuing an order that the soldiers were not allowed to fire their weapons without a direct order and that the supremacy of the British bayonet was to be impressed upon them. He'd had experience fighting the Spanish in an earlier war and was not a reluctant warrior.

Also in the movie he's a bit timid because he states the rebels have them outnumbered by six to one. They were in fact outnumbered (probably more like four to one, although accounts from the time vary) but he did not know it because his Indian scouts had deserted after Bennington and he had trouble getting intelligence reports. In fact, he led the last battle as a reconnaissance mission to test the enemy's strength, and had promised his subordinate generals that he'd (finally) give in to their pleas to retreat if the enemy was too strong. That recon mission proved to be his final reckoning in the war.

But watch the movie anyway. It's very entertaining.
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is it just me or did this movie get kinda stupid after a while?
MartinHafer12 February 2006
While I was VERY glad to see a movie involving the Colonial period in America (since so few movies talk about this), I really didn't enjoy this movie all that much--despite the time period and the great actors. And I really WANTED to like it. But, the story just seemed very childish and stupid after a while--the comedy, though originally subtle became more broad (especially the Douglas character). Now with some films, you expect a certain degree of silliness and unbelievability, but with this one it was really tough because the film itself didn't seem sure of its tone--should it be a serious melodrama or a slapstick comedy? Well, for me it just seemed muddled and a bit embarrassing to watch. Too bad, as I expected more from Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas.
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Great vehicle for Douglas and Lancaster
apples-1818 April 2006
You don't need to take this movie as a serious in depth study of human emotions and character even though it is a George Bernard Shaw play. This movie does not need to be historically accurate to be a great movie. The American revolution and social customs of the times are a back drop for a movie that is actually a fast moving stage play set in the real outdoors. The movie is in black and white and that only makes it all the more real. It is a good solid comedy with good old American violence as a backdrop. All the characters are picture perfect for parts they play and while the backdrops are not lavish, they are one hundred percent real. If you are a Burt Lancaster or Kirk Douglas fan or just wonder what all the wonder is about those two, this is an excellent movie to see.
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Olivier makes it for me
balkmeredith4 July 2019
I watch this whenever it's on TV only to see Olivier again and savour every witty, sardonic, delicious line. It's delightful in the writing and his delivery---so acid, sharp and polite at the same time. His lines about hanging Douglas are priceless. Is there anything this unique in another movie? Don't think so.

The rest of the cast is very good, but they don't make me return to the movie. The plot is rather confusing, but entertaining and certainly unusual.

That wife keeps crying and sobbing and it's so annoying, I turn off the sound when she's on screen. A total pain in the neck.
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Gentleman Johnny a soft spoken, sneering Americans at peak of the revolution!!!
elo-equipamentos30 May 2019
Gathering in the picture three legends as Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas and Laurence Olivier should be a smashing hit, but it doesn't happen, the hard times at American Revolution could be had a seriously approaching over such crucial events, somehow the plot is driven to a slight bitter humor, as Kirk Douglas's character spreading acid comments about the law, surround by ironies, Burt finally understood who must change his peaceful manner to get back his country, but how he reshape himself is too contradictory, in other hand the most intriguing role is without doubt from Gentleman Johnny who represent the grandiloquent British Army himself, the smart chatting with Dudgeon is an example, sneering, polite to talk, never raising the voice, quite opposite his subordinate officer Major Swindon, when he faces Anthony Anderson he spoke in same way, everything collapses when he realized that the British Army didn't reach at Albany to help him, when the picture includes some animated cartoons sequences, stay quite clear a humoresque style to tell the history, spoils a little bit, mostly by Kirk's character who enjoy-oneself in such dramatic happenings, another contradiction, it's shot at England!! Do you understand what's meaning by British people??? Think about it!!


First watch: 2019 / How many: 1 / Source: DVD / Rating: 7.25
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Wonderful performances by Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster, & Laurence Olivier
vincentlynch-moonoi14 July 2012
Warning: Spoilers
When I was young, for whatever reason, I always associated Burt Lancaster with Kirk Douglas. I'm not even sure why, although they appeared in several films together...and this may be the best of the lot. And, throw in Laurence Olivier, and that's quite a starring cast. Not to mention a scintillating script by George Bernard Shaw.

Douglas' role here is perhaps the most interesting. He plays a sort of rouge who holds great contempt for the British in the Revolutionary War, but also seems to make just about everybody uncomfortable for a variety of reasons...most of which we never learn. As I watch this film, it almost seems as if Douglas is enjoying this particular role more than most, and for me at least, it is second only to his performance in "Paths Of Glory".

Lancaster here plays the local minister in a town where one citizen is hung by the British for no really good reason. And Douglas' valor inspires Lancaster to become a rebel in both word and action. And what valor was that? When the British comes to arrest Lancaster for burying the hanged man without permission (and he's not home), Douglas takes his place.

Olivier is interesting here as General Burgoyne, the ultimately doomed British general of some note. What's interesting is the sort of almost tongue-in-cheek manner in which he plays the role. He's really quite entertaining.

It's a shame the 1959 film is in black and white, but it's quite clever the way in which they use something akin to claymation to tell parts of the story between scenes. Much to my surprise, this is actually a British flick filmed in England.

Another of our reviewers described this as a gem, and that's a perfect descriptor for this flick. I rarely give an "8", but I will to this exceptional film.
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Comes the revolution....and some silly animated inserts.
mark.waltz9 October 2017
Warning: Spoilers
George Bernard Shaw's play about Revolutionary War Massachusetts is in contrast amusing, serious, thought provoking and on occasion, extremely funny. It is 1777, and the British are trying to keep the rebels at bay, hanging those suspected of being on the side of those fighting for the freedom of the colonies. For local minister Burt Lancaster, it's a hard fight to keep his congregation on the straight and narrow, and when the son (Kirk Douglas) of one of the hanged men shows up, it's also a battle for his marriage as Lancaster's innocent but puritanical wife (Janette Scott) finds herself tempted by sin due to the unconventional but charming Douglas. When Douglas is arrested under the assumption that he's actually Lancaster, it's up to the minister to do what's morally right, even if it means sacrificing his own life. General Laurence Olivier and his assistant (Harry Andrews) have opposite views of dealing with the rebels, and at times, Olivier has a smirk on his face, insinuating that he's amused by the unintended insipidness of his own troops.

When the story breaks for a few strange animated sequences (straight out of the "Davey & Goliath" school of puppetry), it seems to indicate the quirky intentions of the filmmakers to ridicule that period in history. While the theme of war and treason is a serious one, you wouldn't know that by the way this is presented. There's a huge tongue in cheek feeling to each of the characters, with Douglas grinning throughout, certainly not loyal to any cause other than himself, and Lancaster going from determined minister to sudden rebel who takes on the British army inside their own offices, hysterically trying to destroy it with the help of a burning log he wants to throw on some explosives while taking on the soldiers trying to stop him.

In a smaller role, Laurence Olivier shows that his general has hidden feelings about his own government, revealing that his feelings for King George III aren't very patriotic simply by saying that he's basing his decisions on facts, not even his own feelings which he'd rather discuss even with the so-called enemy in private. The rarely seen on screen Eva Le Galliene has a tiny part as Douglas's mother, outed from her home by her own son, and is commanding with what little screen time she has. While obviously cut down from George Bernard Shaw's play, it still retains much of his wit and wisdom, and if far from perfect, still packs a punch in certain segments, even with those silly game board pieces acting out the war as they try to keep the colony of Massachusetts from being taken over by American rebel forces.
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