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Friday, July 23


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(1953, John Huston) “They’re desperate characters. Not one of them looked at my legs.” Suave Humphrey Bogart (“Fat Gut's my best friend, and I will not betray him cheaply”) and tea-and-crumpet-loving wife Gina Lollobrigida (“Emotionally, I am English”), en route to a “uranium deal” in East Africa – with “business associates” including Robert Morley and Peter Lorre – meet up with congenital liar Jennifer Jones  – and then after there’s this shipwreck…

Dubbed “the birthplace of camp” by critic Dave Kehr, Beat the Devil was supposedly scripted by Capote as they went along: associate producer Jack Clayton told the cast that Huston preferred for them to receive their lines at the last minute, and Huston reportedly bought time for Capote to write by requiring complicated camera setups. Beyond the improvisatory writing, evenings during the shoot were filled with legendary parties that drew stars like Orson Welles and Ingrid Bergman to the Italian locations. (One raucous evening included a drunk Huston falling off a 40-foot cliff. He emerged unscathed.)

The anarchic spirit of the set was reflected in Devil’s original cut: it so baffled preview audiences at the time that it was instantly cut (by four minutes, including some censorship excisions) and re-edited, with an added Bogart narration turning the whole thing into a flashback – which made it all the more baffling. Seen for decades only in that mangled version – and in dismal bootleg copies yet – this new restoration went back to the original 35mm camera negative and other sources to re-create the unseen longer version.  

Following the film, comparisons between the original cut and the re-edited version will be shown in a special feature created especially for Film Forum by Bruce Goldstein and William Hohauser.   

Restored by Sony Pictures Entertainment in collaboration with The Film Foundation, with the support of RT Features and the Franco-American Cultural Fund. Audio restoration by Deluxe Media Audio Services. Image restoration by L’Immagine Ritrovata laboratory


– Dave Kehr

The Guardian

“Careens from scene to scene with barely contained, wholly invigorating chaos. The disorder is made even more delectable by a game cast, each performer, without exception and regardless of celebrity status, embracing and in synch with the movie’s shambolic energy.”
– Melissa Anderson, The Village Voice

“[HUSTON] AT HIS BEST. A movie that always knows exactly what the joke is. And it’s often a funny joke that lands with a sting… Capote wrote witty dialogue for all of the film’s characters […] but he outdoes himself writing for [Bogart’s] Billy, which makes me wonder if he saw something of himself in Bogart’s cynical raconteur personality.”
– Matt Zoller Seitz,

“An absurdist spoof of The Maltese Falcon… Has the daffy charm of a movie that feels as if it was made up as it was being shot.”
– Stephen Holden, The New York Times

“THE NEW 4K RESTORATION IS A REVELATION. Feels like it’s being made up as they go along — in the best possible way. The plot is convoluted, occasionally conveyed in a flurry of names and information that neither the speaker nor listener seems to pay much attention to. But the plot’s not what Beat the Devil is about anyway — it’s about the mood, and the characters. It operates under the assumption that everyone in it is drunk, lusty, a little crooked, and a little crazy, and once you tune in to their wavelength, it’s fun to just hang out with them for an hour and a half.”
– Jason Bailey, Flavorwire

“[Capote] makes cravenness simply sparkle, dropping wicked pearl after pearl.”
– March Asch, Brooklyn Magazine

“A camp version of some lovely, foolish memory of the golden age.”
– David Thomson

“It may be the funniest mess of all time.”
– Pauline Kael

“Shows how much Hollywood has lost by devaluing its character actors. In an age when a $20 million star must be on the screen every second, this picture could not be made. Huston has stars, too, but his movie is so funny because he throws them into the pot with a seedy gang of charlatans… If Beat the Devil puzzled audiences on its first release, it has charmed them since… The movie has above all effortless charm.”
– Roger Ebert

Beat the Devil was tremendous fun. The cast were completely bewildered - sometimes even Huston didn’t seem to know what was going on. Naturally the scenes had to be written out of sequence, and there were peculiar moments when I was carrying around in my head the only real outline of the so-called plot. It’s a marvelous joke. Whenever there’s a revival, I go to see it and have a fine time.”
– Truman Capote

“The formula is that everyone is slightly absurd.”
– John Huston

Film Forum