Sunday, March 26, 2006


Beat The Devil.

This is a truly weird movie from 1953, with a story about a bunch of characters trying to get from Italy to Africa to make a fortune buying cheap land full of uranium deposits. But all that is just the engine to get a plot going and send the characters bouncing off one another. There's a long buildup which kind of reminded me of a cleaned up, less cynical version of The Wages of Fear, or maybe The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. A hodgepodge of scheming Europeans draw up plans and form alliances in a decrepit port town, all centered around Bogart playing the character of, well, Bogart. In the second act they get on a ship where things sort of come to a head, but that storyline is pretty much abandoned and they end up in an unnamed Arab country in North Africa. Here is where things turn into a sort of loose, hashish-flavored version of Touch of Evil. The few short scenes with their impatient captor, Ahmed, are weirder than just about anything I've seen from that period of Hollywood except Laura. The movie becomes a clear goof on Bogart's familiar persona, including more or less explicit references to not only Sierra Madre but Casablanca. Peter Lorre even shlumps along for the ride, looking very old and tired. In one scene, he starts giving Bogart some faux-cosmopolitan insight like in The Maltese Falcon, and Bogart says, to Gina Lollobrigida (!), "It smokes, it drinks, it this rate I'll be 60 before you get to the point."

The screenplay is credited to John Huston, who also directed, and Truman Capote (!!), but the sensibility is more like something Billy Wilder would do. Bogart deconstructs his own mythology in glorious black and white in 89 minutes flat, all with a twinkle lighting up his famous world-weary hangdog expression. Surely, they don't make 'em like this anymore. The wonder is that they ever did.

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