Tuesday 19 April 2022

Movie Review: Shout At The Devil (1976)

A sprawling Africa-set adventure, Shout At The Devil is an uneven mix of comedy, light-hearted adventure, romance, and deadly serious - and sometimes gory - war action.

The setting is Zanzibar in 1913. Gin-loving American adventurer and illegal tusk trader Flynn Patrick O'Flynn (Lee Marvin) is plotting his next illegal elephant hunt. In need of a British citizen to help navigate the patchwork of colonial territories in the region, he dupes traveling Englishman Sebastian Oldsmith (Roger Moore) into joining him. 

Flynn and Oldsmith quickly run afoul of German commander Fleischer (Rene Kolldehoff), who resents the intrusion into his fiefdom. A series of retaliatory raids ensue, and Fleischer calls upon the warship Bl├╝cher to ram and sink Flynn's dhow. Meanwhile, Oldsmith falls in love with Flynn's daughter Rosa (Barbara Parkins). When news arrives that the Great War has erupted in Europe, the confrontations with Fleischer take a deadly turn.

Shout At The Devil is a stellar half of a film. Once Flynn, Oldsmith, and Fleischer learn a real war has erupted in Europe, director Peter Hunt finally gains focus, secures a grip on the material, and orients the characters towards a purpose. The final hour is gritty, serious, and expertly filmed, and the actors are allowed to act rather than react. Highlights include a profound personal loss, an ambush of a military convoy, a hair-raising aerial reconnaissance flight, and then the plot's centrepiece consisting of a clear-eyed and deftly executed sabotage mission inspired by The African Queen.

The problem is that preceding all this good material is a fiasco of an opening half. The screenplay by Stanley Price and Alastair Reid, adapting the Wilbur Smith book, opts for a languid and prolonged introduction resembling a silly mash-up of The Man Who Would Be King and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Marvin and Moore ham it up only to be upstaged by Kolldehoff, the plot meanders aimlessly from place to place, and the attempts at humour are drawn from the bottom drawer labeled condescending slapstick.

It's difficult to imagine the same audience enjoying the two different halves, but the combined outcome of the split personality is a decent enough adventure, with an expansive scope and beautiful cinematography by Michael Reed. Lee Marvin is over-animated and constantly over-lubricated as a scrappy and resourceful rogue, while a reserved Roger Moore grows into the movie and provides a good counterbalance. 

At 147 minutes Shout At The Devil is a long and radically uneven journey, but at least the best is saved for last.

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