Friday, July 27, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Beat the Devil (1953) ***

NR, 89 min.
Director: John Huston
Writers: Truman Capote, John Huston, James Helvick (novel)
Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Jennifer Jones, Gina Lollobrigida, Robert Morley, Peter Lorre, Edward Underdown, Ivor Barnard, Marco Tulli, Bernard Lee, Mario Perrone, Saro Urzí

“Beat the Devil” is a nice small picture from one of the original great epic filmmakers, John Huston. It’s a European-based crime picture starring Humphrey Bogart that is often described as a madcap comedy. It doesn’t seem so madcap to my eyes, but I think topical context played a good deal into the comedic elements. It is funny for a modern mindset, but more in a chuckle, chuckle sense than a knee slapping one.

The story involves Bogey in a land swindle. He, his wife, three partners and an enforcer are awaiting passage to Africa in an Italian port city. As they wait for the ship to have some repairs done they meet two English aristocrats who will also be traveling on the same boat. The husband is kind of a stick in the mud. The wife is fascinated by the group of men Bogey is with and likes to make up stories about them. When she befriends Bogey, she makes up an alternative life for the two of them where they’re having an affair and Bogey’s partners are no good. Her story is close enough to the truth for the two of them to have fun with it.

‘Fun’ is pretty much the word for the film. It isn’t a great movie. Its joy is in watching Jennifer Jones and Bogey invent and very nearly live out their fantasy. Like the fantasy they invent, however, it’s all very harmless. No one’s world is going to be rocked too hard in this movie and it won’t move mountains for any audience, but it’s fun to see Bogey and Jones having fun as well as seeing Robert Morley and Peter Lorre sending up their own typically shady types.

Watch the movie in its entirety below.

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