John Huston‘s Beat The Devil (’54), a public-domain title, has always looked fuzzy, worn-down, over-exposed and generally mediocre. There’s a version I recently streamed on Amazon that looks hideous. And yet I recently ordered an allegedly restored Bluray version from The Film Detective…hoping, desperate, fingers crossed. It arrived yesterday, and to my surprise this anarchic, ironic, laid-back comedy (which Humphrey Bogart allegedly hated) looked a lot better than any other version I’ve sat through since…well, forever. I first saw this thing on a black-and-white TV when I was 13 or something, and it looked like hell. Now it finally looks okay.
This puppy is better than tolerable and at times actually pleasing. It provides agreeable detail, a nice crispness and a silvery glisten, decent blacks from time to time. It’s been “cleaned up” as far as that goes. Okay, it looks slightly shitty here and there but only in very brief bursts. Warner Home Video’s The Big Sleep Bluray cost a lot more to do and is in much better condition, but TFD’s Beat The Devil gave me a better Bluray “bump” because of what I was expecting, which wasn’t much.
I called The Film Detective offices in Rockport, Massachucetts, to pass along my compliments and wound up speaking to Phil Hopkins, the company’s owner/president. A longtime film collector. Hopkins mainly works with public domain and orphan films and supplies content to Turner Classic Movies, he says, among other companies.
Hopkins created the Beat The Devil Bluray, he says, from a 35mm print that he owns. He invested roughly 100 hours of dirt and scratch cleanup and removed about 500 scratches, partly with the liquid wet-gate process. He says that Beat The Devil‘s bleachy quality is not due to degraded elements but was, he claims, intended by dp Oswald Morris — “It was shot that way.”
DVD Beaver recently called The Film Detective’s Beat the Devil Bluray “imperfect but a breath of fresh air by comparison [to other versions]. Detail significantly tightens, and contrast becomes layered, brighter visuals…there is still some minor damage and artifacts but the bitrate is high. The bottom line is that it is watchable, and Film Detective even goes lossless with the audio — a DTS-HD Master 2.0 channel at 1568 kbps (16-bit) and it does a reasonable job with the source utilized.”
Hopkins informs that Film Detective is launching a TV channel/streaming app in April, and that it’ll be available on Roku and Apple TV.
Peter Lorre: “I give you my word, Billy, I feel to you like an older brother. Oh, it’s not so much a difference of age. It’s probably, yes, the reason is, because I come from a culture which is so much older than yours. In my country, a child of 6 years old is older in his heart than you’ll be at 60.”
Humphrey Bogart: “It smokes, it drinks, it philosophizes…at this rate I’ll be 60 before you get to the point.”