Essentially a revision of a dozen or so Bogie movies, all mashed together, Beat the Devil follows a group of miscreant adventurers on a quest to secure a parcel of land in Africa which is rich in uranium. Naturally, events and foes conspire against them, culminating in their arrest.
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A Madison Avenue advertising executive, Rath lives in a comfortable Connecticut bedroom community and commutes in and out of the city, leaving him little time for his wife Betsy (Jennifer Jones) and his funny, television-addicted kids. Betsy, who in typical '50s suburban style is deeply concerned about keeping up with the Joneses, pushes Rath to find a better job, and he agrees even as he realizes that more work and stress is not what he wants. In fact, he's heading toward what we now call a mid-life crisis, although they didn't have a word for it back then.
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Shot in 1953 in Italy, Vittorio De Sica crafted a film writ small about two unlikely lovers: a married American woman (Jennifer Jones) with a child and an Italian local (Montgomery Clift, badly miscast). What we see in this film, which takes place nearly in real time, is not their love affair, but rather her attempt to depart for her trip home, stuck in the titular station with a crisis of conscience: stick around with the hot flame or return to the family in the U.S. Strangely, the drama doesn't really come from the woman's indecision over whether to leave, rather the pair find themselves arrested when they take refuge in a train car. I guess the Italian police don't take kindly to such behavior -- the cop, after much haranguing, even decrees that they will have to stand trial for their crimes!
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Wyler (who died in 1981) was a master of hybrid movie-making, transforming one masterpiece novel and one serious play after another, into stylized, highly cinematic pictures that made audiences forget they were watching adaptations. His Wuthering Heights may not be true Bronte, but audiences in 1939 cried over Heathcliff and Kathy as if they were Romeo and Juliet; in These Three, he fashioned Lillian Hellman's play The Children's Hour in ways that made a lesbian couple acceptable on screen in 1936; and any one who's seen The Heiress, his version of Washington Square by Henry James, will never forget Olivia de Havilland's haunting portrayal of the lonely, angry, ugly-duckling daughter of a rich and powerful physician. Then there's always Ben-Hur.
Continue reading: Carrie (1952) Review
'Smalls Change (Meditations Upon Ageing)' arrives in April.
The two awards have made for a great 72nd birthday present for the country music icon.