Impeccable Ensembles: Beat the Devil (1953) + Between the Lines (1977)

July 5, 2019 | By

It may seem like an improbable pairing, but John Huston’s odd cult movie Beat the Devil (1953) shares one great element with Joan Micklin Silver’s dramady Between the Lines (1977): a talent-heavy ensemble of stars and character actors.



In the case of Micklin’s film (a slightly autobiographical script by Fred Barron), the cast was comprised of newcomers, some of whom would become film stars (Jeff Goldblum, John Heard), TV stars (Marilu Henner, Stephen Collins, Jill Eikenberry) respected character actors (Lindsay Crouse, Joe Morton), and faces who’d recur in countless TV and feature films (Robert Costanzo, Bruno Kirby, Raymond J. Berry, and Lane Smith). The sparse original score was composed by Michael Kamen, and the cinematography by Kenneth Van Sickle made great use of urban Boston locations.

Cohen Media Group’s DVD and Blu-ray feature a gorgeous restoration, and bring one of Silver’s few feature films back into circulation. Now all we need is a Blu-ray of Hester Street (1975), her feature debut. Anyone?


The tag line is as vague as the plot and resolution.


Any film’s success is vitally attached to good casting, and John Huston’s Beat the Devil (1953) is loaded with major stars Humphrey Bogart, Jennifer Jones, and Gina Lollobrigida, and the impeccable grouping of Robert Morley, Peter Lorre, and Ivor Barnard as twitchy goofballs who might be involved with a recent murder.

When originally released, Huston’s film was a dud, failing to click with audiences expecting the kind of romance and adventure sold in the very waist-clutching images of the poster campaign, and it didn’t help that the film was recut by its U.S. distributor to simplify the story (somewhat).

I still don’t know what the whole escapade is all about, but this very strange movie, recently restored by Sony in a shimmering 4K scan and released on Blu via Twilight Time, keep drawing me in, perhaps because of its cast, and the gorgeous Amalfi Coast, a locale in Italy when Roman Polanski shot his oddball, nude-heavy sex comedy What? (1974).

Devil is flawed, but it’s a film that keeps getting funnier after another viewing, and I wish I could offer a reason with empirical poof; I have none, save for a greater degree of giggling that just gets louder.

Coming next: the affectionate documentary That Guy Dick Miller (2014) from Indiecan / Uncork’d, Augusti Villaronga’s Moon Child (1986) in a multi-disc Special Edition from Cult Epic, and Robowar (1988), Severin’s stunning new Blu-ray edition of Bruno Mattei’s outrageous PredatorRobocop rip-off.

Thanks for reading,



Mark R. Hasan, Editor

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