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Beat the Devil (1953) - Blu-ray Review

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Beat the Devil (1953) - Blu-ray Review

Okay, okay, okay, Uranium deals in East Africa might not sound all that exciting, but when your business associates are Humphrey Bogart, Robert Morley, Peter Lorre, Gina Lollobrigida, Jennifer Jones, and your location is Italy’s scenic Amalfi Coast, well you have the attention of quite a lot of film fanatics.  Thankfully, Beat the Devil, in all its rambling glory, does not disappoint.  And neither does its 4K restoration, currently being offered by Twilight Times, as it erases Bogart’s unnecessary narration and adds 4-minutes to its running time. The affairs are back and so too is the freewheeling spirit of this glorious production. 

Beat the Devil is perfect in celebrating its own imperfections - at times, forgetting its own end game - and simply enjoys the chemistry on display as this cast of characters cut loose and charm us all with wit and hilarity.  It's the type of crooked film that Hollywood usually ignores, with only the ongoing Ocean's Eleven series as a distant relative.

"Beat the Devil is, at once, a story about swindlers and, thanks to the chemistry of the stars involved, the con is ALWAYS on."


Directed by the one and only John Huston and made at a time when Hollywood valued its character actors (every written character is, in fact, a "character" here), Beat the Devil is, at once, a story about swindlers and, thanks to the chemistry of the stars involved, the con is ALWAYS on.  Hell, even the principal actors act like they don't know the plot.  Although, according to Jones who plays Bogart’s love interest, the whole lot of these charlatans are “desperate characters” because “not one of them looked at my legs.”  Honest.  

The story, written on the fly of each day of shooting thanks to Truman Capote (who let Morley and Lorre do their own thing), is centered around the scheme these confidence men have in laying claim to some uranium in East Africa.  Washed up on the coast of Italy (what luck?!), these men – looking all sorts of dubious and amusing – are waiting, waiting, waiting for the repairs on their crummy boat to be completed so that they can sail to claim their glittering prize.

Alongside Major Ross (Ivor Bernard) a Hitler sympathizer, and Ravello (Marco Tulli), Billy (Bogart) has hitched his hopes on regaining wealth and status to these career criminals.  Hilariously enough, Capote sums up Billy’s cynical intentions with a line about being an orphan until he was a young man and a rich woman adopted him.  Witty and joyous in its execution, Beat the Devil is a film that must be watched twice before the joke reveals itself to you. 

It turns out, everyone is on the different side of this con – including the women – and, in all that chaos, are written some of the sharpest (and the most meta) lines of dialogue that the 1950s ever heard.  Capote, brought in on the word of David O. Selznick, is simply on fire, writing dialogue to match the playfulness of its cast.  Nothing much happens, well, a boat sinks . . . but it’s the charm of the cast, the methods of Huston (who would go on to direct Moby Dick after this), and the wit of Capote that makes this film absolutely immortal.Beat the Devil (1953) - Blu-ray Review

Huston, framing this ragtag group of scoundrels (who are all different heights and sizes), has so much fun with the visual idea of these well-dressed criminals working together that even the scenes they share endlessly strike our funny bone.  They are, as assembled, a motley crew of crooks that, from fat to skinny to short to tall, are all over the place; they practically jangle as they walk across the screen with the beauty of the Italian coast as their backdrop. 

Twilight Time presents the 4K restoration of Beat the Devil on blu-ray with stunning results.  This comedy is a true cult classic.  In HD, with the additional 4-minutes originally cut from the film, the hijinks are truly remarkable. 

Time is a crook once again.  Beat the Devil is back!

5 beers

Beat the Devil (1953) - Blu-ray Review

MPAA Rating: Unrated.
Runtime:
89 mins
Director
: John Huston
Writer:
Truman Capote
Cast:
Humphrey Bogart, Jennifer Jones, Gina Lollobrigida
Genre
: Action | Adventure | Comedy
Tagline:
Bogart meets his match in the bold adventure that beats them all!
Memorable Movie Quote: "The only thing standing between you and a watery grave is your wits, and that's not my idea of adequate protection."
Theatrical Distributor:
Royal Films International
Official Site:
Release Date:
March 12, 1954
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
January 22, 2019
Synopsis: A wildly eccentric collaboration between director John Huston, writer Truman Capote, and an astonishing cast of stars and character actors, Beat the Devil (1953) offers a sly send-up of caper films. In this one, everything goes amusingly wrong for its gallery of liars, thieves, and fantasists, including Humphrey Bogart, Jennifer Jones, Gina Lollobrigida, Robert Morley, Peter Lorre, and Edward Underdown. Even more amusingly, they hardly care, so enraptured are they with each other’s company and with the gorgeous Italian scenery, magnificently shot by the great Oswald Morris.

Beat the Devil (1953) - Blu-ray Review

Blu-ray

Blu-ray Details:

Limited Edition to 3000 copies

Home Video Distributor: Twilight Time
Available on Blu-ray
- january 22, 2019
Screen Formats: 1.33:1
Subtitles
: English SDH
Audio:
English 1.0 DTS-HD MA
Discs: Blu-ray Disc; single disc
Region Encoding: Locked to Region A

With a crackling NEW HD transfer (in 1.33:1), Beat the Devil arrives on 1080p with crisp results.  The black-and-white photography is ripe with scenic details and depth, highlighting the charm of the coast and the beauty of its cast.  There are lots of sumptuous looks at the sea and the shore.  Interiors are solid, too, with lots of strong details.  The cast and their faces are perfectly captured by the black and white photography; lines and imperfections add great character to the story, too.  The sound is restored in a strong English 1.0 DTS-HD MA track. 

Supplements:

Commentary:

  • Presented by film historians Lem Dobbs, Julie Kirgo, and Nick Redman, the audio commentary is a must-listen for ANY fan of this gem of a comic caper.

Special Features:

Twilight Times adds a featurette with Alexander Cockburn, the son of the author of the book the film is based on, and a theatrical trailer to the release.  Make no mistake about it, though, the 4K restoration is the reason to snag this title while you can.

  • Alexander Cockburn: Beat the Devil
  • Theatrical Trailer

Beat the Devil (1953) - Blu-ray Review

Beat the Devil (1953) - Blu-ray Review

 
 
 
 

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