OTTAWA’S CINEMA FOR INTERNATIONAL AND INDEPENDENT MOVIES

Beat The Devil

Must-See Cinema! The birth of camp!

What came out when John Huston, Humphrey Bogart, Gina Lollobrigida, Jennifer Jones, Peter Lorre, and Truman Capote collaborated? You wouldn’t expect a farcical, nearly improvised study in eccentricity, but here we have it. Beat The Devil simply confused audiences when it opened in 1953, but humanity has since – with, for better or for worse, the senses of unseriousness and irony we’ve cultivated – come to appreciate it. This story of would-be uranium pirates stranded in an Italian port on their way to Kenya began, like Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, as an adaptation of a high-minded, stone-faced novel. Also like Dr. Strangelove, it took a dose of absurdity somewhere in pre-production, turning from drama into comedy.

Antique poster for the 1953 release of John Huston's Beat The DevilBogart, not just one of the film’s stars but one of its major investors, thought he’d signed up for a Graham Greene-ish thriller but wound up in what many consider the first ‘camp’ film. He must surely have come to understand the scope of his misapprehension by the time Truman Capote turned up on set, writing a whole new script on the fly, throwing together new and more ridiculous scenes each day. This and other unconventional production strategies have all become part of the body of Beat The Devil lore. In his ‘Great Movies’ essay on the picture, Roger Ebert dug up a telling quote from Huston, who supposedly told Jones, ‘Jennifer, they’ll remember you longer for Beat The Devil than for Song Of Bernadette.’ Adds Ebert: ‘True, but could Huston have guessed that they would remember him more for Beat The Devil than for Moby Dick?’

– Colin Marshall, Open Culture

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