By now you know that I am a fan of the oddball, the quirky, the offbeat, in films. Today's must-see-cinema choice is Beat the Devil from 1954 (Wikipedia mistakes it at 1953), and it has all of that and more.
The movie stars Humphrey Bogart, Jennifer Jones, Gina Lollobrigida, Robert Morley (playing the role that Sydney Greenstreet would have played had he still been acting), Peter Lorre, and Bernard Lee (who would go on to widespread recognition with his appearances as "M" in the earlier James Bond movies), and was directed by the great John Huston. It was "scripted" by Truman Capote -- if you can call it that: Each day's filming was done more or less by the seat of the pants and a lot of the actors made up their own in-character dialog as they were shooting.
The plot centers on a rag-tag group of small-time swindlers and shady ne'er-do-wells in a small Italian port who hatch some big plans to go to "British East" -- aka Kenya -- allegedly to sell vacuum cleaners(!) but instead to strike it rich some shady uranium mine deal.
Eventually they take passage on a questionable tramp steamer bound for Mombasa, but are forced to abandon ship off the coast of Africa and have to straggle ashore, where they are immediately taken into custody. The scene in the office of the local police/immigration official in North Africa is totally hilarious.
The Italian scenes were filmed along the spectacular Amalfi Coast. Watch for the classic Hispano-Suiza car (photographs) being allowed to run over the cliff and the ensuing dialog. Priceless.
I've referenced this movie before in this blog; longtime readers will know already that this movie supplied as a recurring line my pirated phrase, "a chill on my liver". I still say it all the time, when I am feeling a bit under the weather.
You can rent Beat the Devil from Netflix or, better yet, buy it from Amazon, because I have the feeling you are going to want to watch it more than once. For copyright reasons, it is not available on YouTube.
BTW, Bogart is on record as saying he never liked the movie: "Only phonies like it." Probably because he spent a lot of his own money bankrolling it. But, unless I am a "phony" (and I am not), he is wrong -- it is a terrific movie and an outstanding example of a box-office bomb that became a cult classic.
· Beat the Devil on the IMDB.
· Roger Ebert's Review