• Beat The Devil (Twilight Time) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Twilight Time
    Released on: January 15th, 2019.
    Directed by: John Huston
    Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Jennifer Jones, Gina Lollobrigida, Robert Morley, Peter Lorre, Edward Underdown, Bernard Lee
    Year: 1953 Purchase From Amazon

    Beat The Devil – Movie Review:

    By Chris Workman

    Billy Dannreuther (Humphrey Bogart of The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre and The Two Mrs. Carrolls) and his wife Maria (Gina Lollobrigida of Bad Man’s River and Solomon And Sheba) are going through a rough spell. They've lost their wealth, and Billy is in the employ of a gang of crooks—Peterson (Robert Morley of Theater Of Blood and Genghis Khan), O’Hara (Peter Lorre of Tales Of Terror), Ross (Ivor Barnard), and Ravello (Marco Tulli)—seeking to illegally buy uranium-enriched mines in Africa. When apparently wealthy British couple Harry (Edward Underdown) and Gwendolyn (Jennifer Jones) Chelm are introduced to the Dannreuthers during the former's vacation in Italy, Billy and Gwendolyn begin an affair. The Chelms get caught up in the gang’s plans, putting Harry’s life in danger, and it’s up to Billy to sort everything out to everyone’s satisfaction. If Inspector Jack Clayton (Bernard Lee of Frankenstein And The Monster From Hell) doesn’t find them out first, that is.

    Beat the Devil was based on a novel by James Helvick, a pseudonym for British journalist Claud Cockburn. Cockburn is most famous for having said that you should “believe nothing until it’s been officially denied.” Cockburn was paid £3,000 pounds for the rights to the script and co-wrote several early drafts with Huston before best-selling novelist Truman Capote was brought on board to give the dialogue his trademark edge. It's also been reported that script revisions continued on a daily basis during filming, leaving much of the cast in a quandary. In any case, the film was met with mediocre reviews upon its release and failed at the box office, leaving Bogart, who had partially financed it, embittered.

    Due to its public domain status, there has been no shortage of DVD releases for Beat the Devil, making it one of Bogart’s most readily available movies. Sadly, that doesn't change the fact that the film isn't very good. Its attempts at humor, drama, and suspense all fall flat, and it emerges as a half-baked hodge-podge of vaguely realized ideas. John Huston’s direction isn’t any better, failing to take full advantage of the gorgeous Italian locations or the film’s biggest assets: its stars, all of whom manage engaging performances within their underdeveloped roles.

    What may be more surprising is that, in addition to the presences of Huston, Capote, Bogart, and Lollobrigida, the film was produced by Jack Clayton (who also directed The Innocents, 1961, and The Great Gatsby, 1974) and photographed by future Oscar-winner Freddie Francis (who would go on to helm a number of ‘classic’ horror films, including Hammer’s stylish Paranoiac, 1962, and disappointing The Evil of Frankenstein, 1964).

    Put plainly, Beat the Devil is a footnote in the careers of all involved, albeit an easily accessible one. The film, which is in the public domain, was released on Blu-ray by Film Detective in 2015. This release from Twilight Time runs three-minutes longer than the pubic domain version and it omits the narration that is included on that cut of the film.

    Beat The Devil – Blu-ray Review:

    By Ian Jane

    Twilight Time brings Beat The Devil to Blu-ray framed at 1.33.1 widescreen and in AVC encoded 1080p high definition on a 50GB disc in a transfer taken from a 4k restoration sourced from the 35mm original camera negative and a 35mm fine grain master positive and it looks miles above what we’ve seen before in terms of how this film has been treated on home video. The Film Detective release looked decent given the elements that they had to work with but this new transfer is a vast improvement. Contrast looks spot on, there’s no blooming or overly hot whites, while black levels stay deep and solid without crushing anything. Detail and texture in general advance a lot, and there’s a lot more depth to the image as well. The transfer is free of noise reduction and edge enhancement problems, and there are no compression artifacts to speak of.

    The only audio option for the film is an English language DTS-HD Mono track, and it’s crisp, clean and nicely balanced. There are no problems with any hiss or distortion, dialogue stays easy to understand throughout. Optional subtitles are provided in English only.

    The main extra on the disc is an enjoyable audio commentary with Film Historians Lem Dobbs, Julie Kirgo and the late Nick Redman. Like most of the tracks they’ve provided in the past, this is an enjoyable and engaging discussion of the film. They cover its production history, the score, the locations and of course offer plenty of facts and trivia about the cast and the film’s storied director. There’s some interesting analysis of the performances in the film and some lively discussion about the film’s merits.

    Alexander Cockburn Beat the Devil is a twenty-three-minute segment wherein the son of the writer Claud Cockburn talks about his memories of John Huston reading his father’s work as well as other interesting tidbits about his father’s life and work, including how he got wrapped up in the communist witch hunts of the day.

    Rounding out the extras are the film’s original theatrical trailer, menus and chapter selection. And of course, we’d be remiss not to mention the liner notes from Twilight Time’s resident essayist, Julie Kirgo, that offer some welcome background information on the picture as well as her own thoughts on the film.

    Beat The Devil – The Final Word:

    Beat The Devil is definitely one of Huston’s lesser films but there are moments where it shines and the cast alone make it worth checking out, particularly for Bogart fans. Twilight Time’s Blu-ray is a strong one, however, presenting the film in gorgeous shape and with some nice extras that do a fine job of covering the film’s quirky history.

    Click on the images below for full sized Beat The Devil Blu-ray screen caps!