Beat the Devil

beat the devilBefore watching the movie:

Another movie from the collection loaned to me by my grandparents.

Apparently there are some crooks trying to get out of an Italian port to get to Africa. I think I can see the humor potential here, but it wouldn’t have caught my attention if the booklet hadn’t noted that the director intended the movie to spoof The Maltese Falcon.

I’m interested in seeing Humphrey Bogart and Peter Lorre spoofing their types.

After watching the movie:

Four international crooks hatch a scheme to swindle their way into ownership of some Uranium-rich land in central Africa, with the help of Billy Dannreuthers, who has a friend in that area greasing the wheels for them. However, they must first leave Italy, and the ship they’ve booked passage on isn’t going anywhere yet, due to mechanical problems and a drunken captain. During the delay, Billy gets mixed up with the Chelms, a British couple with the airs of landed gentry who may or may not have some interest in the area themselves. While Billy is falling in love with Mrs. Chelm, Billy’s wife falls in love with Mr. Chelm. Despite his associates’ misgivings, they all voyage to Africa together, nobody quite trusting anybody else.

I wish this movie had been as exciting (and colorful) as the poster shows. The beginning both felt like I’d started five expository scenes behind and failed to interest me. It only began to command my attention almost half an hour in. It’s at times farcically funny, and at times it’s not quite serious enough to be taken seriously. It’s such a mishmash it’s hard to get into its rhythm.

As Billy, Humphrey Bogart seems to be playing about as straight as ever. He’s not as hard-nosed, but the tone is light. Peter Lorre plays somewhat against type. He’s kept his accent, but he’s a relatively cuddly businessman sort, if on the wrong side of the law. I think the main joke from him is just defying expectations that way, though his explanation that O’Hara is a perfectly normal German name is one of the better laughs. I found the funniest character to be Robert Morley’s kingpin Peterson, despite the fact that he’s also the most ruthless.

I wanted to like this movie. At times I did. Most of the time I was just bored and slightly confused. The plot’s too different for me to consider it a spoof of The Maltese Falcon, but at times it comes close to spoofing Noir in general. Usually the humor is too subtle to mark it as spoof, if it’s present at all. I’m sure my opinion would improve slightly on a second watch, and not just because there’s an almost cult following around this movie who consider it one of the funniest movies ever made. I don’t think I’d find it that good unless one of those fans sat next to me providing a laugh track and explaining jokes I’m missing.


Watch this movie: for sequences like the runaway car and the conference with the boat captain.

Don’t watch this movie: if you haven’t the attention span for slow monochrome films.

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