Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Beat the Devil (Huston. 1953)

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


John Huston is one of the most interesting humans to ever direct movies. He was always a renegade in popular filmmaking, and was one of the only directors brave enough to stand up against blacklisting in Hollywood. Bogart is one of the most famous actors in the history of movies. He has said some of cinema's best lines, kissed some of the most beautiful women and hogged (Bogarted) some of the smokiest cigarettes the world has ever seen. Jennifer Jones is a classically beautiful, Academy Award winning, actress. Truman Capote is one of the most famous figures in literature and overall popular culture.

When you combine all of these things into one movie, it is easy to expect something brilliant. Sadly, this is the combination behind the incredibly forgettable, Beat the Devil. Directed by Huston and written by Capote, it is supposed to be a spoof of 1940s spy movies. Though it does have the occasional funny moment, the overall production seems dated and flat.

Humphrey Bogart stars as Billy Dannreuther. He is a rouge on his way to Africa in hopes of buying land that is rich in uranium. He wants to turn around and sell the uranium for the purpose of getting rich. He waits at a port until the ship sets sail. The boat ride is complicated by a variety of wacky mishaps. Nothing of interest really happens. It was the last "quest movie" that Huston made.

I was pleased to read that Bogart himself never really liked the movie. He was quoted as saying that "only phonies like it". He may have been a tad upset over losing his money after bankrolling the entire project, but he had to have known that this film was going nowhere. It plays like a sort of organized mess. The characters are ill-defined and the story is just kinda stupid.

One interesting thing about Beat the Devil is that it was meant to parody the exact type of film that Huston helped to pioneer, the film noir. Its goofiness has helped it garner a bit of a cult following that has kept it from falling into obscurity. If you couldn't already tell, I was not a fan of this movie. Its comedy was lost on me, the romance was too quickly developed and the story was messy and exhausting (though not hard) to follow. I would recommend skipping Beat the Devil - unless you're trying to finish the 1077.

Beat the Devil: D

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