Friday, January 29, 2010

Beat the Devil (1953)

On display at the library was a Bogart film I wasn’t familiar with. It stars an aging Bogie, a plump Peter Lorre, and a very young Gina Lollobrigida. It was directed by John Huston and written by Huston and Truman Capote. With that many big names attached to this film, I reasoned, it has to be great. Or suck.

The movie also featured the hot Jennifer Jones, who died in December, and Robert Morley, who looked at death’s door during the movie (fatty managed to live almost another 40 years). The clincher for me was to see a 26 year old Lollobrigida.

“Adventure at its boldest! Bogart at his best!” Bigger lies never before graced a movie jacket cover. Loosely based on the James Helvick novel, Bogie is Billy Dannreuther (sounded like Dan Rather), a man of questionable past married to Lollobrigida. He has a business deal with a group of four criminals lead by Peterson (Robert Morley). Somehow they will swindle uranium rich land in Africa and become millionaires. Bogie has the contact. They are delayed in Italy where they meet a British couple. He is a stuffy aristocratic type, she a dizzy chick with a strange sense of humor. They are taking over a coffee plantation and are on the same steam ship. Lots of antics in town and on board.

Jennifer Jones was charming, delivering the strangest lines in rapid fire. Bogie was, well, Bogie. Older. He would live only four more years. He was in a car accident during filming and lost a couple teeth, so then-unknown actor Peter Sellers was hired to dub parts. Lorre had a fairly small role.

I kept waiting for the business to get going. The trip, the land grab, the millions, but this is a standard caper-gone-bad film. Once I realized the story I THOUGHT was going to unfold, wasn’t, I enjoyed it a bit more. Lots of side deals, obstacles, lies, and mishaps. The tone was light, like a comedy, but it was more tongue-in-cheek than LOL. Still, it kept me interested, and guessing. Were I to pass it while channel surfing, I would likely linger on it for a bit, but I can’t imagine watching it again. AMRU 3.
“I've got to have money. Doctor's orders are that I must have a lot of money, otherwise I become dull, listless and have trouble with my complexion.”

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