Beat the Devil ★★★★

The people who hate on this film are a buncha blowhards.

Sure, I get it - you love old Hollywood for its rigid formalism, glamorous sheen, and grandiose personas. You love the work of a craftsman and want to see their imprint on every frame. You’re a conservative at heart. You probably bemoan New Hollywood and the casual, off-handedness of 1970’s cinema.
Of course this isn’t the film for you.

But if you believe great movies aren’t always an exercise in aestheticism - that a picture with shoddy production value, fast-and-loose performances, and an altogether ramshackle nature can still be a masterpiece, simply for capturing a particular spirit - Beat The Devil is your kind of Golden-era Hollywood.

Surely one of the earliest precursors to the New Hollywood method, it’s truly a “hangout” film. Huston, Capote, and Oswald Morris literally making it all up as they go, using Claud Cockburn’s novel as a loose framework for an excuse to hang out on the Amalfi Coast with one of the greatest assemblages of character actors ever conceived. Oh, boo hoo Bogart isn’t at his best - guess you’ll have to live with arguably the best Robert Morley appearance, which is saying A LOT. In fact, every character here is teeming with curious eccentricities that make each utterly compelling. My god, you’ve got Ivor Barnard as Major Jack Ross, a pint-size crypto-fascist with a comically sadistic bend, and you’re complaining ‘cos you spotted a boom-mic or something? Get over yourself.

Concerning the amoral crooks that sweep in to profit on African uranium resources, it’s also possibly one of the greatest and certainly one of the earliest films critical of modern colonialism.

Highly entertaining and highly recommended to all non-asshole movie lovers.