Beat the Devil
If you have never seen this odd film from director John Huston and Star Humphrey Bogart, you are likely to be thrown for a loop when you do. It is not at all what you would expect. It started out as a serious project but some of the circumstances are odd and after Truman Capote signed on to work the script, it becomes an outright comedy.
Jennifer Jones is really interesting as a woman who is fickle in love and has a tenuous relationship with the truth. The oddball characters start stacking up and although there is murder in the air, the drama of the story never seems to be the focus. Instead we are anticipating the next outrageous turn of events or quip from Bogart.
The first half of the film takes place onshore as the cast of characters awaits repairs to the vessel they are supposed to sail on. We take in local ruins, and the cast mistakenly think that characters have died. When you have Gina Lollobrigda and Jennifer Jones as romantic interests, you are a lucky guy. At least in love, but the scheme seems to be going off the rails at times. Bogart’s partners include Robert Morely and Peter Lorre and Italian actor Marco Tulli. Everyone is double crossing everyone else and you will have a hard time following the plot and scheme, but that is mostly not relevant to enjoying the picture.
The program featured a discussion of the filming by script supervisor Angela Allen, who told several amusing stories about working with the cast. Apparently, one day when they were shooting at sea, the captain misunderstood the directions and had the ship sailing off to North Africa for a couple of hours before anyone realized it. The cast and crew did not get back into port until many hours into the night and they were lucky they did not wake up in Tunisia.
I love an opportunity to see classic films on the big screen. Today the film was “The Maltese Falcon”, celebrating it’s 75th Anniversary. TCM provides a nationwide venue through Fathom events and the theater was relatively full for a Sunday afternoon.I’ve seen this dozens of times but I was lucky enough that the first time was in a revival theater back in the 1970s.
There have been a thousand things said about this film, most of them said by people far more eloquent and learned than me, but maybe not as enthusiastic. I love this movie for the dialogue, the performances and the production design. It makes me want to live in San Francisco in 1941. Today I watched every time Sam Spade rolled a cigarette and then lit it with a match ir lighter that was right on the desk, table or nightstand where he found himself. Each of those beautiful items looked at home on the sets and in the offices of that world. I never smoked but I want to have those items of elegance spread out over my house.
Even though I’ve seen each movie more than a dozen times, today was the first time I realized that Miles Archer was also the DA in “Miracle on 34th Street”. It’s a bit like driving down the same road every day for a year and then looking up suddenly and seeing that there is a bookstore or restaurant there on the road that you never saw before. You feel a little foolish at first but you are glad to be out of your stupor for a moment. Everyone else in the cast is always so memorable, and Jerome Cowan had just the one scene (and his death) so early in the movie that I guess you sort of forget he was there.
Every little moment with Peter Lorre is worth the price of admission. He is so fey and belligerent and feckless but at the same time lethal. When Bogart slaps him around and tells him that he’ll like it when he does so, you can see the fear and anger in his face. Elisha Cook Jr. was a familiar character actor in movies and TV shows all my life and I remember when I first saw this how young he looked in contrast to his more grizzled later years. Ward Bond is in so many John Wayne and Errol Flynn pictures, you might forget he was also in “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Gone with the Wind”. Sydney Greenstreet explaining all the kinds of men he does not trust would make a good set of memes for any social media site.
The best part of the film though is Humphrey Bogart trying to figure out Mary Astor and playing with her lies the whole time.
” We didn’t exactly believe your story, Miss O’Shaughnessy. We believed your 200 dollars.”
Mary Astor was terrific as the bad girl trying to pull the wool over the eyes of everyone in the story and playing coy the whole time. She and Bogart are terrific in the movie and they worked together again in Across the Pacific a couple of years later. The TCM intro and exit were the usual well crafted moments that give you just enough to anticipate and then remind you of what it was you just enjoyed.