When most people think of the works of Truman Capote, they probably think about books like “In Cold Blood” and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and give little thought to his work as a screenwriter. Several years ago, I ran across an article that talked about Capote’s work on the screenplay for the 1953 Humphrey Bogart movie, “Beat the Devil,” which Capote co-wrote with Hollywood legend John Huston. I put this movie on my “bucket list” a short time later and finally got the chance to watch it on Sunday.
“Beat the Devil” was released in theaters on Nov. 24, 1953 and was written and directed by Huston, who also directed 1941’s “The Maltese Falcon,” which starred Bogart as well. In addition to Bogart, “Beat the Devil” also starred Jennifer Jones, Gina Lollobrigida, Pete Lorre, Edward Underdown and Marcu Tulli. The movie’s relatively short, with a run time of just 89 miles, that is, just shy of an hour and a half.
For those of you who haven’t seen “Beat the Devil,” it’s about a group of globe-hopping criminals (including an ex-Nazi and a former British army officer turned assassin) in Italy who attempt to swindle a British couple out of land in Africa that supposedly contains uranium deposits worth a fortune. The tables turn when the group learns that the British couple aren’t quiet the landed gentry they claim to be. They all set sail for Africa and the plot thickens when most of the passengers have to abandon ship only to be taken prisoner by a gang of armed Arabs. I hesitate to say much more because I don't want to spoil it for any of you who might want to watch it for yourselves.
I was interested to learn that “Beat the Devil” was loosely based on a 1951 novel of the same title written by Claud Cockburn, which was the pen name of James Helvick. Interestingly, it’s said that Helvick worked on early versions of the “Beat the Devil” screenplay, but when filming began, Huston and Capote co-wrote the screenplay on a day by day basis. Helvick’s other novels and books included “Aspects of English History,” “Ballantyne’s Folly,” “Bestseller,” “Crossing the Line,” “The Devil’s Decade,” “The Horses,” “In Time of Trouble,” “Jericho Road,” “Union Power” and “A View from the West.”
Personally, I enjoyed “Beat the Devil,” and even though it’s an older movie, I got into it pretty quickly and wanted to see how it turned out. While this movie doesn’t have the polish and flash of modern day movies, it flowed well and contained a lot of mystery and intrigue. It reminded me somewhat of “The Maltese Falcon” and “Casablanca,” but that’s probably because of Bogart. Also, this movie’s pretty clean. As you probably would expect from a movie from the early 1950s, there’s no profanity or anything else out of the way in “Beat the Devil.”
In the end, how many of you have watched “Beat the Devil”? What did you think about it? What other Truman Capote works would you recommend checking out? Let us know in the comments section below.