Time is a crook
E. A Solinas | MD USA | 07/13/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"You'd think that "Beat the Devil" would be far better known than it is, since it was one of the last movies that Humphrey Bogart did before his untimely death. Maybe that's because Bacall wasn't in it, or maybe it was just too quirky for the masses -- a funny, wry noir-satire, with a gang of rather inept criminals.
Billy Dannreuther (Bogart) is part of a motley group planning to go to Africa, where a friend can help them illegally claim uranium. But trouble arrives: stuffy Harry Chelm (Edward Underdown) and his very imaginative wife Gwen (Jennifer Jones) arrive, and soon they're flirting with Billy and his sensual wife Maria (Gina Lollabrigida).
Even worse, Gwen's "exaggeration" habit is making the gang distrust Billy, thinking that he's withholding information from them. He isn't, of course. But all the personal plots and distrust come to a boil when everyone boards the ship, and Harry reveals that he knows everything about their uranium plot. Now Billy has to save himself and his friends, without Harry being bumped off...
"Beat the Devil" is an all-around satire -- it mocks grabby criminals, pathological liars, stodgy Brits, romance movies, crime capers, and even second-rate boats ("Of course, the captain is drunk!"). In fact, there's very little about this movie that doesn't poke fun at itself, or at the movies of the time.
And since it was adapted by John Huston and Truman Capote, you know that it's being witty as it makes fun. It languidly builds up in a sunny, ruined city where people plot and flirt, and then starts to boil when they get on board the boat. But even engine failures manage to be entertaining when Harry wrecks the oil pump while trying to fix it.
The cast is skilled in that under-the-radar way: Bogart plays a slightly more offbeat version of his noir characters, and Jennifer Jones is hilarious as the ditzy, chattery English girl. Peter Lorre and Robert Morley are also quite good as Bogie's pals, and Underdown plays the insensitive, straight-arrow dunce perfectly. You'll constantly want to smack him.
As for editions, pretty much none of them are "good" per se. They havne't been cleaned up or restored. But the best one I've seen is Diamond Entertainment's, which has a steady picture and soundtrack, and no splices, crackling, or so on. It's slightly fuzzy as for details, but not so that it isn't watchable or enjoyable.
Though not as respected as it deserves, "Beat the Devil" is a little gem of a Bogart movie, with a witty, satirical script and lots of wild twists. Definitely a keeper."