Friday, October 3, 2014

Beat the Devil

We're in the first Friday of a new month, which means we get a new Friday Night Spotlight. On the first four Fridays of this month (Friday October 31 being Halloween, TCM will be skipping the Friday Night Spotlight for a bunch of horror movies), quiz show host Alex Trebek will be doing the intros for movies set in Africa. This first Friday in Africa sees a night of movies starring Humphrey Bogart, including Beat the Devil at midnight.

Humphrey Bogart plays Bill, an American in some decrepit port city in Italy who at the beginning of the movie is witnessing several people being taken into custody. It turns out that Bill knew these people, so he's going to tell us their story, as we go into that most original film device of the flashback.

Bill was the representative for the four, who were businessmen of a sort: Peterson (Robet Morley), Julius (Peter Lorre), the Major (Ivor Barnard), and Ravello (Marco Tulli). The four of them know about a region in British East Africa that's mineral-rich, specifically in uranium. These guys want to acquire the rights to the minerals, and make a killing off of it. However, they need to buy the title to the land, which they apparently have to do in Africa itself. They've got tickets on the next boat to AFrica, but unfortunately the boat has developed problems so the people are going to be dealyed in port for a couple of days while the boat is being fixed.

At the same time, the group meets a British couple who are also travelling to Africa. Harry Chelm (Edward Underdown) has inherited some land, and is going there with his wife Gwendolen (Jennifer Jones) to manage that land. Bill has a wife of his own, the lovely local girl Maria (Gina Lollobrigida). So the two couples go out together, with the thoroughly original plot twist that Bill and Gwendolen begin to develop some feelings for each other, while Harry and Maria do as well.

After a series of twists and turns, this whole gang of whack jobs winds up on the ship, but their attempts to get to Africa are all for naught as the ship breaks down again. Of course, you knew the scheme wouldn't work, since the four protagonists in it get arrested at the beginning of the movie.

Many of the IMDb reviewers say that to really enjoy this movie, you have to look at it as a very dry comedy poking fun at the phony characters as well as the genre of movie they're in. That may be, but I have to admit that I still found the movie a bit of a slog. I think that's mostly because I found the characters so thoroughly unappealing. Everybody's constantly lying to everybody else, and not in an entertaining Jack Carson is schmoozing you way. No; these characters come across as a bunch of jerks you wouldn't want to spend time with in real life. Robert Morley, in particular, is nearly as annoying as a Peter Ustinov in Topkapi.

But, you should probaly watch Beat the Devil and judge for yourself. A lot of the reviewers really like it.

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