Beat the Devil (film)

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For the short film starring James Brown and Gary Oldman, see Beat the Devil.
Beat the Devil
Beat The Devil - 1953 - poster.png
1953 film poster
Directed by John Huston
Produced by John Huston
Screenplay by John Huston
Truman Capote
Based on Beat the Devil (1951) 
by Claud Cockburn (as James Helvick)
Starring Humphrey Bogart
Jennifer Jones
Gina Lollobrigida
Peter Lorre
Robert Morley
Edward Underdown
Ivor Barnard
Marco Tulli
Bernard Lee
Saro Urzì
Music by Franco Mannino
Cinematography Oswald Morris
Edited by Ralph Kemplen
Distributed by British Lion Films (UK)
United Artists (USA)
Release dates November 24, 1953
Running time 89 min.
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Box office £115,926 (UK)[1]

Beat the Devil is a 1953 film directed by John Huston.[2] The screenplay was written by Huston and Truman Capote, loosely based upon a novel of the same name by British journalist Claud Cockburn, writing under the pseudonym James Helvick. It was intended by Huston as a parody of The Maltese Falcon (1941), also directed by Huston, and films of the same genre.

The script, which was written on a day-to-day basis as the film was being shot, concerns the adventures of a motley crew of swindlers and ne'er-do-wells trying to lay claim to land rich in uranium deposits in Kenya as they wait in a small Italian port to travel aboard an ill-fated tramp steamer en route to Mombasa.[3] The cast includes Humphrey Bogart, Jennifer Jones, Gina Lollobrigida, Robert Morley, Peter Lorre, and Bernard Lee.

This movie does not easily fit into the standard set of film categories; it has variously been classified as a "thriller," a "comedy," a "drama," a "crime," a "romance" movie, or even a parody of the Film Noir style[citation needed] that Huston himself helped to develop.

The plot concerns a quartet of international crooks—Peterson, O'Hara, Ross, and Ravello—stranded in Italy while their steamer is being repaired. With them are the Dannreuthers. The six are headed for Africa, ostensibly to sell vacuum cleaners but actually to buy land supposedly loaded with uranium. They are joined by others who apparently have similar designs.



In a review coinciding with the film's release to 68 New York metropolitan area theaters, The New York Times called it a "pointedly roguish and conversational spoof, generally missing the book's bite, bounce and decidedly snug construction."[4]

Humphrey Bogart never liked the movie, perhaps because he lost a good deal of his own money bankrolling it, and said of Beat the Devil, "Only phonies like it."[citation needed] Roger Ebert, who included the film in his "Great Movies" list, notes that the film has been characterized as the first camp movie.[5] In the biographical film dramas Infamous (2006) and Capote (2005), Truman Capote, portrayed respectively by Toby Jones and Philip Seymour Hoffman, reminisces about life during the filming of Beat the Devil.

Public domain status[edit]

Beat the Devil is commonly believed to be among the list of films in the public domain in the United States because of unrenewed copyright. Based on the 1998 Copyright Term Extension Act, the duration of copyrights for works created by individual authors is equal to the life of the author plus 70 years. For works made for hire (i.e., works created by employees or under contract, such as films and newspaper articles), the duration is 95 years. The rights to the music composition of the soundtrack falls under this legislation, making the status unclear at best.


  1. ^ Vincent Porter, 'The Robert Clark Account', Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, Vol 20 No 4, 2000 p501
  2. ^ "Beat the Devil (1953)". MRQE. Retrieved 1 June 2012. 
  3. ^ "Beat the Devil (1953)". Rotten tomatoes. Retrieved 1 June 2012. 
  4. ^ H. H. T. (March 13, 1954). "Beat the Devil City-Wide Debut". The New York Times. Retrieved 2013-12-01. 
  5. ^ Ebert, Roger (November 26, 2000). "Beat the Devil". Retrieved 2013-08-20. 

External links[edit]