Beat the Devil
May 22, 2011 1:51 PM   Subscribe

"Beat the Devil" went straight from box office flop to cult classic and has been called the first camp movie, although Bogart, who sank his own money into it, said, "Only phonies like it." It's a movie that was made up on the spot; Huston tore up the original screenplay on the first day of filming, flew the young Truman Capote to Ravallo, Italy, to crank out new scenes against a daily deadline and allowed his supporting stars, especially Robert Morley and Peter Lorre, to create dialogue for their own characters. (Capote spoke daily by telephone with his pet raven, and one day when the raven refused to answer he flew to Rome to console it, further delaying the production.) - Roger Ebert's Great Movies
posted by Trurl (21 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
fun film but now seems tedious.
posted by Postroad at 1:52 PM on May 22, 2011

I've been sounding the bells for this film for decades. It heightens my joy when I'm happy and consoles me I'm down. I am a card carrying member of the cult.
posted by victors at 2:01 PM on May 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

In point of fact, I think it was probably more fun to make than to watch.

But, whatever brings innocent pleasure, I say go for it.

(Nitpick - it's Ravello, not Ravallo.)
posted by IndigoJones at 2:27 PM on May 22, 2011

I just watched this on Netflix a few weeks ago. I liked it.
posted by dortmunder at 2:31 PM on May 22, 2011

More fun to make than to watch. Exactly. This is what happens when directors and actors think they are better writers than actual writers.
posted by joannemullen at 2:50 PM on May 22, 2011

Yes, because everyone knows that directors and actors can't write.
posted by blucevalo at 3:17 PM on May 22, 2011

We saw this on Turner Classic Movies recently -- it was enjoyable to watch (hard not to with that director and cast, not to mention the locations) if not the Best Movie Ever.

I read someplace afterwards that Bogie was involved in a bad car wreck before or during filming that knocked out some of his teeth, making it virtually impossible to understand him. John Huston brought in a promising young actor/imitator from the UK to dub the actor's dialog.

That promising young actor? Peter Sellers. Wonder what ever happened to him. ;)
posted by Celsius1414 at 3:55 PM on May 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Ah, yes, it was at IMDB:

Humphrey Bogart was involved in a serious automobile accident during production of this film, which knocked out several of his teeth and hindered his ability to speak. John Huston hired a young British actor noted for his mimicry skills to rerecord some of Bogart's spoken lines during post-production looping. Although it is undetectable when viewing the film today, it is Peter Sellers who provides Bogart's voice during some of the scenes in this movie.

Also this:

William Styron's second novel, "Set This House on Fire", describes a film crew on location - obviously based on director John Huston and gang during the shooting of this film. The town in the novel is Ravello on Italy's Amalfi Drive, where most of the film was shot.


Stephen Sondheim got his start in films working as a clapper boy on this film.
posted by Celsius1414 at 4:01 PM on May 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

well that explains why I loved "Set This House on Fire"
posted by victors at 5:21 PM on May 22, 2011

Saw it earlier this year based on rave reviews such as Ebert's. What a disappointment. He calls it a comedy. This film is a comedy in the same way that tofu is the Norse God of thunder. A boring story line, uninspired dialog and lazy directing make it a trial to sit through. Go see it if you want to but prepare for disappointment (unless you like seeing famous stars trying desperately to inflate this sad pillowcase of a movie).
posted by storybored at 5:44 PM on May 22, 2011

MetaFilter: a comedy in the same way that tofu is the Norse God of thunder
posted by JHarris at 6:03 PM on May 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

The cast and crew stayed at the Hotel Caruso Belvedere while filming in Ravello. When i was there 15 years ago, the guest book was filled with their signatures.

The hotel lived us to its name (Belvedere): situated several thousand feet above the coastline, the views were spectacular. Amusingly, the most impressive view was the one out the window in the bathroom, best appreciated while sitting on the toilet....
posted by jindc at 6:15 PM on May 22, 2011

"Beat the Devil" went straight from box office flop to cult classic and has been called the first camp movie, although Bogart, who sank his own money into it, said, "Only phonies like it."

The first and second halves of that sentence basically mean the same thing.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 11:03 PM on May 22, 2011

This was a staple on late night TV in the late 60's-early 70's, but I never got to view it in it's uninterrupted splendor until about 6 months ago when I got a DVD copy. Yeah, it's pretty funny in parts, and slack in others...typical of a movie that's being written one day ahead of being filmed, I guess. Peter Lorre steals the show in his last really good performance. Robert Morley is the perfect pompous ass, and he's probably not acting. Bogart (and everyone else) moves his face and words emanate from it, so it appears as if he's acting. All in all a fairly entertaining film, not a "classic" by a long shot but considering everything it had working against it, it's a lot better than could be reasonably expected.
posted by motown missile at 2:55 AM on May 23, 2011

In the mid 80s I spent 6 weeks at my job watching Beat the Devil, backwards and forwards, sometimes a frame at a time, cataloging all the visual information — scenes, characters, costumes, sets — so that the flick could be colourized. (Hey, it was a job, and it was called "Breakdown Analyst".)

While it's watchable it's not really that special. Sloppy editing and lazy continuity (in the wide shot a bus is white and in the next shot it is black) made my job hard as well. It's filled with examples of the kind of visual mistakes that a guy like John Huston was experienced enough to say "Screw it, no one will notice."

It's more interesting as film history than as entertainment.
posted by KS at 5:03 AM on May 23, 2011

Isn't this where Peter Lorre snarls "Time is a thief!"?
posted by doctornemo at 7:43 AM on May 23, 2011

I'll say it again:

"Time. Time. What is time?
Swiss manufacture it.
French hoard it.
Italians squander it.
Americans say it is money.
Hindus say it does not exist.
Do you know what I say?
I say time is a crook."

posted by ovvl at 8:01 AM on May 23, 2011

I always get the title Beat the Devil mixed up with Race with the Devil (70's Peter Fonda chase scene with satanists and mutherf*ckn snakes in motor-home). Probably meant to be a double-bill.

Not to be further confused with Ride with the Devil (Odd 1999 Toby McGuire Civil-War drama).
posted by ovvl at 10:33 AM on May 23, 2011

I watched this a couple of weeks ago,and was impressed by how mediocre it is. Parts of it were as predictable as a Three Stooges movie. For instance, it was obvious that the car they were pushing was going to escape them. The shipboard scenes were unbelievably contrived.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:56 AM on May 23, 2011

I saw this a few years ago. It is pretty remarkable in that idiosyncratic artistic decisions seem alive in every frame. If you're watching movies with a Manny Farber-style framework--that is, one that prioritizes signs of weird uncategorizable life over boring competence--you'll think this is an awesome movie.
posted by johnasdf at 2:11 PM on May 23, 2011

Did anyone mention this film is available online at the Internet Archive:
posted by rundhc at 9:42 PM on May 23, 2011

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