Hello, everyone. Joe Morella and Frank Segers, your classic movie guys, suggesting today that the unnerving headlines about the Costa Concordia disaster bring to mind a favorite film of Frank’s.
And, no, it’s not any of the Titanic titles.
Before we reveal the identity of this movie, it should be said that Joe regards it more or less as an amusing trifle, once seen and that’s it. Frank has enjoyed watching the film again, and again, and cannot get enough.
That pretty much defines the split reaction to Beat the Devil since it first came out in 1954. Say what you will about this sometimes forgotten gem, its plot points parallel to some degree the current cruise-line horror off the coast of Tuscany that has transfixed the world.
There’s an Italian passenger liner involved in the movie, operated by a loud, unreliable Italian captain (he is frequently drunk.) There is a mid-voyage mishap that forces passengers to abandon ship. Some of those aboard, including one principal player, are not accounted for. The movie’s principals must cope with being shipwrecked.
It needs to be said in a hurry that depiction of the specifics of the at-sea accident in Beat the Devil is not comparable to the life-threatening situation faced by the some 4,200 passengers aboard the Costa Concordia after it ran aground near a small island off the coast of Tuscany.
Whereas the movie’s mayhem is a semi-farcical plot device, the grim reality of the cruise ship disaster is anything but — as underscored by the deaths of at least 17 persons.
Beat The Devil stars Humphrey Bogart (who also co-produced the picture, meaning he put his own money into it). The cast also includes Gina Lollobrigida in full flower as Bogie’s wife.
Jennifer Jones (who looks great in the picture) is also on hand, married to a proper Englishman but falling for Bogie anyway. The terrific supporting cast includes Robert Morley, Peter Lorre , Edward Underdown, Ivor Barnard and Bernard Lee. The movie was directed by the John Huston, who, of course, cut his professional teeth along with Bogie and Lorre in the 1941 classic, The Maltese Falcon. (Huston also wrote the script in conjunction with a young Truman Capote.)
Beat the Devil was shot on location in Ravello, a steeply banked mountaintop village behind Sorrento on Italy’s Amalfi Coast south of where the half submerged Costa Concordia now lists.
The plot has to do with the search for supposed uranium deposit in East Africa by a motley international group of shady characters stuck in a small village until a dilapidated Italian cargo ship — hardly in the class of the gigantic, $450-million Costa Concordia — is able to transport them to Africa.
As captain of the SS Nyanga, Italian actor Saro Urzi delivers a marvelously blustery performance complete with high-decibel rants at both crew and passengers. Much of the actor’s dialogue could have been adapted directly from the post-accident verbal exchanges between an outraged Italian Coast Guard officer and the seemingly clueless Costa Concordia captain, Francesco Schettino.
After the SS Nyanga’s mid-voyage accident, the motley group minus Jennifer Jones’ stuffy British husband find themselves washed ashore in an unspecified African country, and are brought before a local Arab chieftain. In one scene, the chieftain poses this question to the film’s world-weary narrator-protagonist, Bogie: “Now tell me, do you really know Rita Hayworth?”
Beat the Devil was not well received when it first came out nearly 60 years before the general public had ever heard of the cruise liner Costa Concordia. Ironically, director Huston felt the movie was “ahead of its time.”
Despite its early reception, the picture has developed an enthusiastic audience. Beat the Devil has done well over the years, concluded Huston. “I only wish Bogie could have been around to see this happen. “It was the last picture I made with Bogie.”
(Bogart died three years after Beat the Devil was released, of cancer. He was 58.)