I think the great thing about Beat the Devil for modern audiences is that we see Bogart, we see the seaside setting, and we think Casablanca. I, for one, didn’t realize it was a comedy until the characters had been set up straight… wherein we are treated to a series of surreal episodes verging almost on slapstick (albeit slapstick that depends more on the characters than on physical humor). Once you realize it’s funny, it’s too late: you’re on a slide down into the utter depths of screwball comedy. It’s awesome.
While it will never be my favorite Bogart flick it slots comfortably behind Casablanca, To Have and Have Not, The Big Sleep and The Maltese Falcon as the next best after those big four. And yet, I didn’t even know it was a Bogart until I saw his name on the opening credits.
That this film fell through the cracks can probably only be explained by the sense that humor isn’t serious… despite the evidence that many of the greatest pieces of cinematic (and other types) of art. Unfortunately, too many thought leaders are earnest, humorless blobs (that goes double if they practice any of the political -isms).
Simply put, this one is wonderful. It follows a group of criminals, contacts, penniless adventurers and unfaithful wives as they attempt to make their way from Italy to Africa on what has to be the worst-run ship in the whole Mediterranean Sea.
Hijinks ensue, and there isn’t a single moment of slow-paced boredom or simple ennui. Even the one attempted murder is fraught with hilarity.
I could give away the entire plot of this one without diminishing the enjoyment, and I suppose Capote’s screenplay is largely to blame. It’s acidic, sardonic, jaded and brilliant.
Find this one, watch it, and revel in the knowledge that Gina Lollobrigida is still with us today.
Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose own crime novel isn’t as funny as this, but it’s a hell of a lot sexier (despite not having Miss Lollobrigida in it). It’s called Timeless, and you can check it out here.