BEAT THE DEVIL. United Artists, 1954. Humphrey Bogart, Jennifer Jones, Gina Lollobrigida, Robert Morley, Peter Lorre, Edward Underdown, Ivor Barnard. Screenplay by Truman Capote and John Huston, based on the novel by James Helvick. Director: John Huston.

   A legendary mess. Scripted by Truman Capote, directed by John Huston, with a great cast that includes Humphrey Bogart, Jennifer Jones, Peter Lorre, Gina Lollobrigida and Robert Morley, and it’s still a dreadful muck-up time has not redeemed; something about a bunch of con men stuck in Italy trying to buy land in Africa, I think, but the plot doesn’t matter because it never really goes anywhere.

   There are some witty lines, but Huston always seems to be looking the other way when someone says them. Likewise the acting: some good turns by Morley, Lorre and Ivor Barnard as “the Galloping Major” but the characters are never defined well enough for us to be sure what the acting’s all about.


   Worst of all is Humphrey Bogart. It’s hard for a life-long Bogie-man like me to say it, but he’s dreadful here. Already cancer-stricken at 54, in ill-fitting wigs and gaudy clothes, he looks like an aging queen tarted up for one last night out with the boys.

   Bogie expressed some doubts about the project at the time, and it shows in his performance; at the heart of Devil we need the relaxed, self-assured leading man of Casablanca and The Big Sleep, but what we get is a nervous icon walking through the movie like an old man trying to cross a busy street.

   By the way, I’m always fond of reading the source books that notable movies were made from, so I looked up James Helvick’s novel Beat the Devil on the internet. The cheapest copy I found was $200, and if anyone wants to send me a copy, feel free.