REVIEW by Natasha DeVille:
BEAT THE DEVIL is a 1953 film directed by John Huston. The screenplay was written by Huston and Truman Capote, and loosely based upon a novel of the same name by British journalist and critic Claud Cockburn, writing under the pseudonym James Helvick. It was intended by Huston as a light-hearted spoof of THE MALTESE FALCON (1941) – also directed by Huston, and other motion pictures made in the style of what has become known as “film noir”.
The script, which was written on a day-to-day basis as the film was being made, relates the adventures of an eccentric group of swindlers and confidence men trying to lay claim to a parcel of uranium-rich land in Kenya as they wait in a small Italian port to travel aboard a barely sea-worthy tramp steamer en route to Mombasa. The stellar cast includes Humphrey Bogart, Jennifer Jones, Gina Lollobrigida, Robert Morley, Peter Lorre and Bernard Lee.
This odd, enchanting movie does not easily fit into any specific film category; it has been classified as a “thriller,” a “black comedy,” a “crime melodrama “, and a “romance” movie. It is above all else a parody of the Film Noir style that Huston himself had helped create. BEAT THE DEVIL has developed cult status since its original lukewarm reception in the early 50′s.
A crew of devious international crooks — Peterson, O’Hara, Ross and Ravello — are stranded in Italy while their broken-down steamer is being fixed. With them are the Dannreuthers. The six are headed for Africa, presumably to sell vacuum cleaners but actually to buy land supposedly loaded with uranium. They are joined by others who, despite outward appearances, have similar agendas…It’s nearly incomprehensible at times, and yet it has a captivating vibe that makes it compulsively watchable.