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Monday, February 05, 2007


I just caught "Beat the Devil" (1953) for the first time. I'd always wanted to see it, because I adore just about everything Humphrey Bogart did in the '50s. I say "just about" because I rather doubt I'd enjoy "The African Queen" (1951). The idea of a long boat ride with a middle-aged Katharine Hepburn doesn't do it for me.

I really enjoyed "Beat the Devil," which divides the Bogie cult -- and which Bogie himself famously called a "mess."

"Beat the Devil" has been called a spoof of "Maltese Falcon"-type films. That's wishful thinking. Even to call it a comedy is a stretch, I believe. This is a movie with a lot of comedy, yes, but one that doesn't consider itself a comedy as such. Just compare it to, say, "We're No Angels" (1955), which also had Bogie, and you'll see what I mean, even if you don't agree.

In Italy, Bogie is an American married to an Italian (Gina Lollobrigida, whose figure leaves no doubt why Tony Quinn's Quasimodo was so smitten). He is to take part in an African uranium scheme with four at first scary, but ultimately bumbling, criminal types (led by a hilarious Robert Morley, and including Bogie's old punching bag Peter Lorre). This group attracts the attention of a British couple (Jennifer Jones and an actor named Edgar Underdown, a master of stuffiness who later showed up in "Dr. Terror's House of Horrors" and "Thunderball," both 1965).

Obviously, the star-o-meter is on high.

About halfway through the movie, though, it becomes apparent that the central premise is beside the point. "Beat the Devil" devolves into something like a travelogue with some dear old friends trading witty banter -- and lubed with hootch.

I don't know if I've ever seen Bogie as charming as he is in "Beat the Devil" while wooing Jones. (Nor is his smoker's laugh more pronounced.) And it's heartwarming to see Bogie and Lorre take a final bow together -- in another John Huston film, yet.

I consider myself to be at least on the fringes of the Bogie cult, and if this designation is deserved, then put me on the side that applauds "Beat the Devil." Maybe it IS a bit of a mess, but it's a damned fun mess.


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