LAST UPDATE JUNE 29, 2019
Reviews of Classic Film, with artwork and news
Beat the Devil 1953
Beat the Devil - released Dec 17, 1953. Directed by John Huston
What genre is Beat the Devil? Humphrey Bogart looks healthy, robust and dangerous in the promotional art for this movie, throwing his fists and looking twenty years younger. On screen, though, he spends most of his time in an ascot, with heavy, jowly facial lines, voicing wry, sardonic dialogue from the Truman Capote-John Huston script (with uncredited work from Anthony Veiller and Peter Viertel).
Not that there isn't action in Beat the Devil, but most of our activity is made up of our characters bumbling around the Mediterranean talking (and talking) and trying to hatch a constantly mutating plot to get a hold of some African uranium.
I think Beat the Devil is trying to be an adventure film, but this is where the problem arises in designation: the cast of characters are almost entirely incompetent in advancing their mercenary activities toward their goal of riches. The script (and director Huston) isn't willing to move the simple plot forward without generous pitstops, and this gives the actors above and below the title a chance to carve out funny portraits of crooks and self-deluded adventurers on the make, with the exception of Edward Underdown as Harry Chelm, the "son of a boarding house in England," who spends most of the tale looking bewildered at everyone else's behavior and ethics, which adds to the irony and humor of the ending (you'll have to see the film to understand).
At times Beat the Devil is clearly more of a farce than anything else, but even that doesn't nail this movie down. There is an improvisational element to a lot of this tale, especially Jennifer Jones' performance where it looks like she is making dialogue up on the spot (to good effect) and this rhythm of actors being set loose appears also in other performances, though not in our star Humphrey Bogart. He sometimes appears to be standing rock still and simply watching the other actors, a little mystified, as if what is happening around him isn't what he expected.
But the sense the actors are enjoying the fun by creating odd characters isn't interminable because the action genre pushes back into the story at the end of a section with a cue, sometimes a strangely slow blast of orchestra wind instruments hitting a B note together, like a bell at a boxing match refocusing the athletes to the reason we're all here, at which point the observant audience member might reasonably ask: is this just flat-out parody 0f an action film also titled Beat the Devil?
It might be more logical to say Beat the Devil is best described as a cinematic prank, yet we know that all the money put into it, reportedly a million dollar budget in 1953 money, a chunk of it Bogart's personal funds through his production company Santana, money which he fully intended to get back from the grosses, disastrously didn't happen when the movie flopped on release, which makes Beat the Devil a rather pricey practical joke. The script work seems to have sincerely intended (with Viertel's and Veiller's original work) to produce a genuine Hollywood adventure film based on the novel Beat the Devil written by Huston's friend Claud Cockburn. But before filming in Italy started, Viertel and Veiller gave up on the story and Huston brought in Truman Capote. Somewhere in this Beat the Devil slid sideways out of the adventure genre, becoming a product of the gorgeous location shooting and the prodigious amount of alcohol consumed by star Bogart and director Huston (reminiscent of their production method on The African Queen), and ending up with something that defies category.
In the course of Beat the Devil a lot of funny editorial is made about the quirky social mores of the English, less is said about the Italians who are shown regularly exploding like emotive volcanos in the background or heard off-screen screaming as something new has gone horribly wrong. The gang's little Irish ex-Army "muscle" (Ivor Barnard as Jack Ross) is employed by master crook Robert Morley (as Peterson) as the gangs enforcer. The character actors in this film often get brief showcases for their talents (though Peter Lorre is strangely not provided with an extended scene), but Barnard excels with his few minutes. Once prompted, Barnard (as Jack) launches into a hurried bar room lecture lamenting the demise of Hitler and Mussolini, then claiming that he possesses "secret information" about how everything really works in the world and throughout history, that its all managed by hidden societies, orders and brotherhoods and "men who guard this trust from the deepest insides of the whatchamacallit... mystic rulers, all one club, chained together by one purpose, one idea, mankind's champions!"
Gina Lollobrigida is an Italian seductress who knows that "in my soul I am English. I take tea and crumpets daily." Beat the Devil is her first English language film. There is also funny work provided by a host of other Italian actors: Marco Tulli, Mario Perrone, Giulio Donnini, Saro Urzi, Juan de Landa, Manuel Serrano and Aldo Silvani.
There are at least two versions of Beat the Devil, one that has been beating around the discount bins of Walmart since VHS tape days, and spread across the internet and now the streaming services, easily identified because it starts with voice-over narration from Bogart and with scenes cut and mixed-up by United Artists in the original panicked release. These versions have been from rather poor, choppy prints, but Twilight Time has released a 4K restoration made from the original 35mm film negs and a 35mm fine grain master positive print that is the original "director's" version, sans the narration and including the missing scenes, and with everything back in order.
Print clarity is good enough that the fine textures of all of the faces of the principals can be inspected (for example, sun burn on Jennifer Jones' cheeks) and we can see puffy swelling on some faces from time to time, presumably from skin rosacea or the reported large intake of alcohol during production. The cinematography by Oswald Morris includes a lot of beautiful location photography, carefully lit when it comes to the actors or perfectly balanced scenes using Mediterranean sunlight, mostly captured along the coast below Naples.
There's nothing like Beat the Devil and this release on Blu-ray disc is easily the best print version I've seen.
Amazon would be delighted to sell you a copy Beat The Devil - Twilight Time  Blu-ray
Criterion's September releases:
Chaplin's The Circus
See the list of extras for The Circus and other info on the 4K HD release at the Criterion Site. Releases Sept 24, 2019.
Rock Hudson and Jane Wyman in the 1954 production from director Douglas Sirk - this looks like an update of the Criterion DVD package from years ago to HD Bluray. Includes on disk (like the DVD 2 disk set) the 1935 version of the story by Director John M. Stahl with Robert Taylor and Irene Dunne. More info at the Criterion page, releases Aug 20, 2019.
The 1983 film with Burt Lancaster and Peter Riegert finally gets an HD release. The "extras" are a bit sparse, but beggers cannot be choosers - Criterion Page. Releases Sept 24, 2019.
Baby Face - Released November 17, 1933 - Directed by Alfred E. Green
There are two versions of this 1933 pre-code tale. It is only since 2004 that a longer, grittier version containing scenes cut out during the original release were found which clearly spelled out the horrendous situation Stanwyck's character (Lily) works in at her father's speakeasy-saloon: he is prostituting her and has been doing so since she was 14 years old.
Thesesa Harris is on screen as Chico, a quasi-sister, maid and moll for Lily, and whenever a man tries to break them up as a couple, Lily threateningly and calmly tells them there's no way Chico and she will part. Theresa Harris also provides a lyrical lament in various spots of the film, singing or humming Saint Louis Blues (a 1914 tune most popular as sung by Bessie Smith).
Inspired by a German cobbler (played by Alphonse Ethier) who has been telling Lily about the philosophy of Nietzsche, she exits the steel town where she has always lived, determined to go to the city and use whatever is necessary to exploit her way to financial security (the lines from Darryl Zanuck's script are "...a woman, young, beautiful like you, can get anything she wants in the world. Because you have power over men. But you must use men, not let them use you. You must be a master, not a slave. Look here — Nietzsche says, "All life, no matter how we idealize it, is nothing more nor less than exploitation." That's what I'm telling you. Exploit yourself. Go to some big city where you will find opportunities! Use men! Be strong! Defiant! Use men to get the things you want.")
Once Lily hits town, she uses man after man while amassing a fortune, and this is the usual way Baby Face is described gleefully in the film history books. But it is the earlier scenes in which Stanwyck spars with her degenerate father that sets the angry tone. This is also where we see Lily is already on her way to fearlessly controlling men, for example breaking a beer bottle over the head of a groping local politician, and calmly walking away as if she had already had plenty of practice using this form of self-defence.
Lily can't be dismissed as just a floozy on the make, though, as later scenes in Baby Face show her competent in her work at a Paris bank, and capable of maintaining employment without manipulating anyone. And the fact she has piled up over half-million in cash, jewelry and securities by the end of the movie made me wonder if just her brains plus equal employment opportunities might have resulted in the same stack of wealth without all the slipping off screen with foolish men.
A typical pre-code bad-girl movie shows the audience there is a price to be paid after all of the pre-code fun, but this film turns that around: Lily has already been paying the price before she ever begins her climb up the ladder of social power, using leering males as the rungs.
Longtime Stanwyck co-star George Brent is on hand (they made five films together) as the only guy that might be able to slow her down. A very young John Wayne is also briefly on screen as one of this tales army of expendable males.
Armored Command - Released July 9, 1969. Directed by Byron Haskin
I felt sorry for Howard Keel while watching Armored Command. For the most part, it seems like he's in a completely different Armored Command (a better one) than the other half which features Tina Louse, Burt Reynolds and Earl Holliman (in the not so good half).
This film's split-story style keeps the two separate pieces apart, only crossing paths in a few places, with Keels' no-nonsense Colonel Devlin using step-by-step detective skills to build a case to predict an imminent German Panzer attack 1 and this makes Armored Command move along like a pretty-good war film. The other Armored Command bogs down in melodrama about an army platoon with a female spy in their midst, with more than a bit of soap opera thrown in. 2
Director Haskin treats Tina Louise well with a lot of carefully-lighted and directed scenes to show off her beauty and acting, but the script (from Ron Alcorn) is loaded with predictable dialogue (some of it unintentionally laughable). Earl Holliman (as good-natured Sgt. Mike) has the thankless task of being cuckolded by Burt Reynolds (as Skee) who is a creepy rapist (but Alcorn's script gives him compensating values, such as being a good cook and skillful with a 50-calibre machine gun). In the end Burt gets shotgunned by his rape victim.
The script tries to deal intelligently with the human element of the platoon and its tragic story of betrayal, but when Colonel Devlin's prophesied German assault finally arrives 3 it is very welcome.
Armored Command can't make up it's mind whether Tina Louise's spy is to be pitied or loathed, whether Mike is too naive or too thick-headed, and whether Burt is a despicable rapist or a regular soldier who lost his way due to the rigors of war. Director Haskin and cinematographer Ernest Haller provide good visuals for the screen but there is too much confusion everywhere else.
Good stunt work and battle scenes, but there's repetition in footage (the same tank formation and muddy soldiers pass before our eyes doing the exact same movements) and the sound effects eventually sound like a stuck vinyl LP.
If you like Patton tanks there's plenty here to look at. This same anti-historical use of the M-48 shows up in the 1970 film titled, ironically, Patton.
Filming in Germany for Armored Command gives the film's scenery and combat sections authenticity (and Director Haskin is very good at lining up a camera). It looks cold out on the wintery landscape colored with a moody black and white chiaroscuro. I certainly enjoyed looking at Armored Command more than listening to it or trying to follow the story.
Howard Keel's clever Colonel Devlin saves the American flank from the German attack but he can't save this movie. Holliman, Louise and Reynolds are badly served by the script and editing.
1. [Actually, repainted Patton tanks]↩
2. [Tina is the spy, and the character isn't German, but Alcasian, from that strip of land that France and German fight over periodically century after century]↩
3. [Devlin's superiors listen to his carefully constructed and logical reasons for why the Germans are coming through his sector, but in the end they always respond "it's impossible!" and "Stop telling us!"]↩
Hello, Frisco, Hello 1943
A new Twilight Time disk with Alice Faye and John Payne.
Special Features: Isolated Music Track / Hello Again: The Remaking of Alice Faye / Two Hello, Frisco, Hello Radio Programs / Original Theatrical Trailer
Classic Movie studio photographers
Article at the Criterion web site on the portrait art of photographers like Ruth Harriet Louise, Ernest Bachrach, Clarence Sinclair Bull, George Hurrell, Cecil Beaton and Laszlo Willinger.
This illustrated article is devoted to how portrait photography in Hollywood developed and how the various stars reacted to the process, with an emphasis on Garbo and Joan Crawford, with particular attention given to Crawford's plastic surgery movie of 1941 A Woman's Face, an odd meditation on ugliness and beauty.
Popeye Cartoon Shorts
Warner Bros Archives disk Volume 1 featuring 14 shorts from 1943-1944
Warner Bros Archives disk Volume 2 - 15 shorts from 1946-1947
Blonde Crazy - 1931
Blonde Crazy - Released November 14, 1931 - Directed by Roy Del Ruth
James Cagney is a smarmy bellhop constantly looking to run a minor con on someone, and he tries to do so on the new hotel employee played by Joan Blondell (she's a maid). She's streetwise and can't be taken, and soon the cagey con-artist is upping his game to try and win her approval, and the two become an enterprising con-artist team that travels higher into upper class society while specializing in stealing from other crooks (they target other crooks because the maid isn't going to tolerate stealing from the hoi polloi).
The title Blonde Crazy seems to be a play on two things: the phrase "gone crazy" and the obvious reference to pre-code era star Joan Blondell.
Marie Windsor - 1919 - 2000
Best. Movie. Year. Ever.How 1999 Blew Up the Big Screen - Fight Club. The Matrix. Office Space. Election. The Blair Witch Project. The Sixth Sense. Being John Malkovich. Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. American Beauty. The Virgin Suicides. Boys Don’t Cry. The Best Man. Three Kings. Magnolia. - 416 pages - AMAZON 2019
Havana Widows - 1931
Havana Widows - Released Nov 18, 1933 - Directed by Ray Enright
"How many times do I have to tell you, find out who a guy is before you sock'em."
This Glenda Farrell/Joan Blondell buddy film is a Goldiggers variation with the pair ending up in Havana, Cuba, trying to obtain wealthy husbands, or to at least put a few wealthy husbands into compromising situations so they'll have to pay off to keep everything out of the news.
The two are in a desperate bid to escape from their relentless showgirl schedules in depression era New York where they face low pay, coercion toward something that sounds more or less like prostitution, and suspension or paychecks docked at the theater where they work for being uncooperative or for "scratching your backsides onstage" during their routines.
When the tale shifts to Havana the comedy of Havana Widows picks up and morphs into a screwball adventure versus the tough times of the first act, though a patina of sardonic patter is throughout the movie (courtesy of writer Earl Baldwin) and this reduces the film at times to nothing more than a roving number of scenes where Blondell and Farrell fire off one-liners, one after another.
If early 1930's sarcasm is appealing, so thus will be this film. However, the predictable story amid all the snappy dialogue keeps the movie from gelling into a quality pre-code comedy. American girls searching for love - or riches - in a foreign locale was being mined pretty heavily by 1933, a sub-genre of another sub-genre, cruise-ship romances. The ship here is stock footage and that's what Havana Widows seems like in general, a tale culled out of other stories and films. The originality here consists entirely of Blondell and Farrell giving their words their own unique turn, and they of course do that expertly.
GiantGiant: Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, James Dean - A larger-than-life narrative of the making of the classic film - 336 pages - St. Martin's Press 2018 - AMAZON
In this compelling and impeccably researched narrative history of the making of the film, Don Graham chronicles the stories of the stars and Director Stevens, whose trauma in World War II intensified his ambition to make films that would tell the story of America
Heaven Can Wait - 1943
Heaven Can Wait - Released August 13, 1943. Directed by Ernst Lubitsch
This might be the "slickest" of Lubitsch's movies. He was a director that excelled in production excellence on his films, so by Heaven Can Wait, his 70th credit, his ability to make a "Lubitsch picture" glisten was complete.
Somehow the movie itself is rather dry, though, however likeable Don Ameche (as 'doomed soul' Henry Van Cleve) is supposed to be. At his demise, Van Cleve goes to the gates of Hell and meets "His Excellency" Laird Cregar, and this is probably the high point of the movie, as Van Cleve begins trying to negotiate his way to damnation. Convinced his philandering (against his wife played by Gene Tierney) is enough to warrant the judgment, which he then details for the doubting devil, the real story is unfolded in flashback.
The theology here is rather subpar, and whether this really is a story of a man's career in adultery or just a guy neglecting his wife isn't (conveniently) clear. Is the poor fellow just being too hard on himself? asks Lubitsch's movie, and you can guess the answer (what are the odds a popular 1943 star like Don Ameche could be sentenced to Hollywood Hell?)
Laird Cregar is the most interesting thing in Heaven Can Wait and personally I'd have preferred he tossed the erring Van Cleve into the flames, but Hollywood must have its way.
Gene Tierney doesn't have much to do here accept react to things happening to her, and to dress well, and as I earlier mentioned, this is a Lubitsch production, so nothing seems left out in presenting the physical of the stage and cast to its best advantage. However, the story isn't up to the task of matching that effort.
- Priceless - 2006
- John Wayne
- Hondo 1953
- Miss Pinkerton - 1932
- The Last Man on Earth - 1964
- The Hideous Sun Demon - 1958
- The Naked Prey - 1965
- My Man Godfrey - 1936
- Beauty and the Beast - 1946 (French)
- The Emperor's Candlesticks - 1937
- Mount Pony Culpeper Virginia Movie Theater
- Classic Film Wishes for 2019
- Lady for a Day - 1933
- Mildred Pierce - 1945
- Flare Up - 1969
- Young Frankenstein - 1974
- Little Miss Marker - 1934 - Shirley Temple