Beat The Devil

1017. BEAT THE DEVIL (1953-England-Italy). With HUMPHREY BOGART, JENNIFER JONES, GIN, LOLLOBR1GIDA, ROBERT MQRLEY, PETER LORRE. Screen play by TRUMAN CAPOTE and |OHN HUSTON. Directed by |OHN HUSTON. Audacious, fast-moving and completely offbeat, this crime comedy was light years ahead of its time. Largely unappreciated on its original release, it eventually developed a loyal following, and probably became the first authentic “cult” classic in film history. The plot, such as it is, focuses on a motley bunch of odd ball con-artists and thieves, continually trying to outwit each other, both in an Italian port and on a boat to Africa where they hope to grab some valuable uranium deposits. The bizarre characters include a cynical American (Humphrey Bogart), who once worked for an Indian rajah, and who bought a restaurant just because he liked the food; his buxom Italian wife (Gina Lollobrigida), who wishes she were English; a flamboyant, chronic liar (Jennifer Jones, the unexpected comical highlight of the movie), whose very proper English husband is the biggest phony of all; a portly gentleman (Robert Morley, of course), whose manners conceal his murderous impulses; a German Chilean (Pelf Lorre) improbably named O’Hara; and a raving, “knife-happy little junky” called The Galloping Major.” Their comedy of-errors voyage includes a hilarious explosion and a shipwreck. Washed onto the African coast, the group is cap lured by Arabs and mistaken for revolutionaries, but they are freed when they promise the Arab leader an introduction to Rita Hayworth! The surprise ending is as outrageous as everything else in this perpetually astonishing movie. It’s said that Capote and Huston constantly rewrote the dialogue on location, and that no one really knew what it was all about. The actors seem to be having a great time with the witty, tongue-in-cheek material, except perhaps for Bogart, who later said, “Only the phonies think it’s funny. Its a mess.” (This is understandable: Bogie had sun $400,000 into the production.} Nevertheless, the film stands as a brilliant exercise in improvisational moviemaking, a forerunner of modern “black” comedy, and a unique landmark in the career of maverick director Huston, who for over four decades has shown his mastery of crime films (The Maltese Falcon), unconventional comedy-drama (The African Queen), and clever combinations of the two (PrizziÕs Honor). For orthodox tastes, it may indeed be a mess, but we agree with critic Pauline Kael: “ItÕs probably the funniest mess- the screwball classicÑof all time. 92 minutes. Comedy