Beat the Devil is a 1953 film directed by John Huston and starring Humphrey Bogart. It was co-authored by Huston and Truman Capote, and loosely based upon a novel of the same name by British critic Claud Cockburn, writing under the pseudonym James Helvick. It was intended by Huston as a tongue-in-cheek spoof of his earlier masterpiece, The Maltese Falcon, and of films of its genre.
The script, which was written on a day-to-day basis as the film was being shot, concerns the adventures of a motley crew of swindlers and ne'er-do-wells trying to lay claim to land rich in uranium deposits in Kenya as they wait in a small Italian port of travel aboard an ill-fated tramp steamer en route to Mombasa. The all-star cast includes Humphrey Bogart, Jennifer Jones, Gina Lollobrigida, Robert Morley (playing the role that Sydney Greenstreet would have played had he still been acting), Peter Lorre and Bernard Lee (who was to gain widespread recognition with his appearances as "M" in the James Bond movies).
This Huston opus does not easily fit into the standard set of film categories; it has variously been classified as a "thriller," a "comedy," a "drama," a "crime" and a "romance" movie. It is above all else a parody of the Film Noir style that Huston himself had pioneered and as such has developed cult status in the ensuing years.
The movie was not well received critically (although it was to become a National Board of Review winner) and was to mark the closure of the "quest movies" period in Huston’s career.
Humphrey Bogart never liked the movie, perhaps because he lost a good deal of his own money bankrolling it, and said of Beat the Devil, "Only phonies like it." Roger Ebert notes that the film has been characterized as the first camp movie. In the biographical film dramas Infamous (2006) and Capote (2005), Truman Capote, portrayed by Toby Jones and Philip Seymour Hoffman, reminisces about life during the filming of Beat the Devil.
Beat the Devil is in the public domain because of the copyright not being renewed, and is hence freely available, as seen below.