Beat the Devil (1953) Humphrey Bogart Gina Lollobrigida
Beat the Devil is a 1953 adventure comedy film. The film was directed by John Huston, and starred Humphrey Bogart, Jennifer Jones and Gina Lollobrigida, and featured Robert Morley, Peter Lorre and Bernard Lee. Huston and Truman Capote wrote the screenplay, loosely based upon the 1951 novel of the same name by British journalist Claud Cockburn, writing under the pseudonym James Helvick. Huston made the film as a sort of loose parody of the 1941 film The Maltese Falcon, which Huston directed and in which Bogart and Lorre appeared. Capote said, “John [Huston] and I decided to kid the story, to treat it as a parody. Instead of another Maltese Falcon, we turned it into a … [spoof] on this type of film.”
The script, written on a day-to-day basis as the film was shot, concerns the adventures of a motley crew of swindlers and ne’er-do-wells trying to claim land rich in uranium deposits in Kenya as they wait in a small Italian port to travel aboard a tramp steamer en route to Mombasa. During the filming of Beat the Devil, Humphrey Bogart lost several of his teeth in a car accident. Peter Sellers, then not known internationally, but with a talent for imitating voices, was hired to dub some of Bogart’s lines while Bogart was adjusting to the loss of his teeth and unable to speak clearly. Much of the film was shot at Ravello, above Italy’s Amalfi Coast. The central piazza in front of the cathedral and various cafes around it are shown. Some scenes were also shot in nearby Atrani, including – briefly – the pool area of the Hotel Convento Luna.
Humphrey Bogart as Billy Dannreuther
Jennifer Jones as Mrs. Gwendolen Chelm
Gina Lollobrigida as Maria Dannreuther
Robert Morley as Peterson
Peter Lorre as Julius O’Hara
Edward Underdown as Harry Chelm
Ivor Barnard as Major Jack Ross
Marco Tulli as Ravello
Bernard Lee as Inspector Jack Clayton
Mario Perrone as Purser on SS Nyanga
Giulio Donnini as Administrator
Saro Urzì as Captain of SS Nyanga
Juan de Landa as Hispano-Suiza Driver
Aldo Silvani as Charles, restaurant owner
Alex Pochet as Hotel Manager (uncredited)
Mimo Poli as Barman (uncredited)
Billy Dannreuther is a formerly-wealthy American who has fallen on hard times. He is reluctantly working with four crooks: Peterson, Julius O’Hara, Major Jack Ross and Ravello, who are trying to acquire uranium-rich land in British East Africa. Billy suspects that Major Ross murdered a British Colonial officer who threatened to expose their plan. While waiting in Italy for passage to Africa, Billy and his wife Maria meet a British couple, Harry and Gwendolen Chelm, who plan to travel on the same ship. Harry seems a very proper and traditional Englishman, while Gwendolen is flighty and a compulsive fantasist. Billy and Gwendolen have an affair, while Maria flirts with Harry. Peterson becomes suspicious that the Chelms may be attempting to acquire the uranium themselves. Though this is untrue, it seems confirmed by Gwendolen, who lies about her husband and exaggerates his importance.
Billy and Peterson decide to take a plane instead, but their car runs over a cliff when they are pushing it after a breakdown and the pair are wrongly reported to have been killed. In order to replace Peterson’s lost capital, Ravello approaches Harry Chelm and explains their scheme. Just then, to everyone’s surprise, Billy and Peterson return to the hotel unharmed, just as the purser announces that the ship is at last ready to sail. On board, Harry reveals that he knows about Peterson’s scheme and intends to inform the authorities. Peterson orders Major Ross to kill Harry, but Billy thwarts the murder attempt. Disbelieving Harry’s outraged accusations, however, the ship’s drunken captain has Harry locked in the brig.
The ship’s engine malfunctions and the passengers are told to escape by lifeboat. When Billy goes to rescue Harry, he finds that he has freed himself and left the ship, intending to swim ashore. Having abandoned ship, the passengers land on an African beach, where they are arrested by Arab soldiers. They are interrogated by Ahmed, an Arab official who suspects that they may be spies or revolutionaries. Billy creates a distraction by fleeing the room, and befriends Ahmed when he is recaptured by talking to him about Rita Hayworth, whom he pretends to have known. Billy then persuades him to send the party back to Italy by sailing boat.