Bogie in Beat the Devil: “I’ve got to have money. Doctor’s orders are that I have lots of money, otherwise I become dull, listless, and have troubles with my complexion”. In his sixth role for his friend Huston, the actor, who was also a co-producer via his company Santana Pictures, has fun caricaturing his earlier roles as a detective or idealistic gangster. According to those who worked on the film – which included Robert Capa, whom Magnum sent, in the company of his lover Ingrid Bergman, in April 1953 to take on-set photographs, and who lost all his wages to Huston and Bogie at poker – a climate of exuberant revelry dominated the shoot in and around Ravello. The young screenwriter Truman Capote recounts that, “Sometimes scenes that were about to be shot were written right on the set. The cast was completely bewildered. The last few weeks have been filled with peculiar adventures, all involving John Huston and Humphrey Bogart, who’ve nearly killed me with their dissipations. Half-drunk all day and dead-drunk all night”. Huston recalls that, “One night there was arm wrestling. It did, in fact, turn into a wrestling match, and Truman took Bogie! He pinned Bogie’s shoulders to the floor and held him there. He had pit bulldog in him”. Jennifer Jones remembers that, “I always wanted to know where my character was going, whether she was going to drop dead or jump in the ocean or be knocked over the head”. Huston explains that, “The formula of Beat the Devil is that everyone is slightly absurd”. Julie Gibson, who was the unit publicist on the film, claims that, “Truman had that little crazy hairdo, the bangs, and the blond hair, so Peter Lorre came down with his hair bleached and bangs cut exactly like Truman’s”. Capote presented the little scoundrel played by Lorre with lines such as: “The Swiss manufacture it. The Italians squander it. The French hoard it. The Americans worship it. But time is a crook”. And Capote has the killer in a bowler hat, Ross (Ivor Barnard), exclaim, “Women! Hitler had the right idea – keep them in their place”. Of his adaptation of the novel Beat the Devil, by the British journalist and novelist Claud Cockburn (a.k.a. James Helvick), who had been blacklisted as a communist, Capote claims: “I thought that instead of a straight melodrama, it should be a sort of satire or takeoff on all those movies Bogart and Sidney Greenstreet used to make”.
All quotes are taken from the chapter on the tortuous origins of Beat the Devil contained in the book by Tison Pugh, Truman Capote: A Literary Life at the Movies, 2014.
Cast and Credits
Sog.: dal romanzo omonimo di James Helvick [Claud Cockburn]. Scen.: Truman Capote, John Huston. F.: Oswald Morris. M.: Ralph Kemplen. Scgf.: Wilfred Shingleton. Mus.: Franco Mannino. Int.: Humphrey Bogart (Billy Dannreuther), Jennifer Jones (Gwendolen Chelm), Gina Lollobrigida (Maria Dannreuther), Robert Morley (Peterson), Peter Lorre (Julius O’Hara), Edward Underdown (Harry Chelm), Ivor Barnard (maggiore Jack Ross), Marco Tulli (Ravello), Bernard Lee (ispettore Jack Clayton). Prod.: Santana Pictures, Romulus Films, Rizzoli-Haggiag. DCP. Bn.
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