The Devil's Disciple


1h 22m 1959
The Devil's Disciple

Brief Synopsis

A preacher and a rebel leader change places during the Revolution.

Film Details

Genre
Comedy
Action
Historical
Adaptation
Release Date
Aug 1959
Premiere Information
New York opening: 20 Aug 1959
Production Company
Brynaprod, S. A.; Hecht-Hill-Lancaster Films, Ltd.
Distribution Company
United Artists Corp.
Country
Great Britain and United States
Location
Elstree, England, Great Britain; Hertfordshire, England, Great Britain; Hertfordshire, Great Britain
Screenplay Information
Based on the play The Devil's Disciple by George Bernard Shaw by arrangement with the estate of Gabriel Pascal (New York, 4 Oct 1897).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 22m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White

Synopsis

In 1777 Springtown, New Hampshire, British armed forces under the command of Gen. John "Gentlemanly Johnny" Burgoyne prepare to hang American Colonist Timothy Dudgeon for treason. Timothy's youngest son Christie hastens to Websterbridge village where he pleads with his family's pastor, Rev. Anthony Anderson, to help save his father. Directing his young and pretty wife Judith to attend to Mrs. Dudgeon, Anthony accompanies Christie back to Springtown, only to find that Timothy has already been hanged. Anthony asks that Timothy's body be turned over to him for a proper burial, but is brusquely informed by a British officer that the body must remain hanging as a deterrent to other potential traitors. When Anthony continues to protest, he is nearly arrested until lawyer Hawkins intervenes on his behalf. Later back in Websterbridge, while praying in the chapel, Anthony hears laughter outside and, upon investigating, finds Timothy's body in a wagon accompanied by Richard, the eldest Dudgeon son who has long been estranged from the family. Richard thanks the pastor for his efforts on behalf of his father, yet ridicules Anthony's religion and pacifism. Claiming that he happily embraces his image as the "devil's disciple," Richard mocks Anthony's sanguine attitude as impractical in a time of war, then rides away.

After the burial the following day, the reading of Timothy's will is interrupted by Richard's appearance. To Mrs. Dudgeon's fury, Richard receives all of Timothy's estate except for fifty pounds left to Christie. Cursing her eldest son, Mrs. Dudgeon immediately moves out of the house, leaving Richard alone with young maid Essie. Sensitive to propriety, Judith invites the girl to live with the Andersons, but she refuses and Richard laughs at Judith's shocked reaction. The following evening, a group of British soldiers ride into Websterbridge to declare martial law and announce the impending arrival of the army, which is in sore need of supplies. When Timothy's grave is spotted, the soldiers recall the body as having been stolen from Springtown and vow revenge. Overhearing their remarks, Essie hastens to tell Anthony that Richard is in danger of arrest and certain execution. Meanwhile, some miles from the village, Burgoyne chastens his second-in-command, Maj. Swindon, for not curtailing the continual harassment by the Colonists, which has seriously impeded the army's advance. As the British forces straggle into Websterbridge, Richard ridicules their greedy requisitioning, but Hawkins insists if he is not willing to fight to protect the material he should remain silent.

Anthony then takes Richard to his home to inform him that he must flee or risk certain arrest by the British. The men are interrupted by Christie, who reveals that Mrs. Dudgeon is gravely ill and requesting Anthony's presence. Despite Judith's protests about being left alone with Richard, Anthony instructs her to treat their guest kindly and reminds her that Richard is safe only under their roof. Richard soon drives Judith to tears by making fun of her marriage and of Anthony's righteous demeanor, prompting her to ask him if he has ever done anything good for another person. At that moment, a party of British soldiers arrive and, mistaking Richard for Anthony, arrest him for participating in the rebellion by burying Timothy. Judith attempts to correct their error, but to her surprise, Richard cuts her off and after advising her in a whisper to tell Anthony not to attempt to save him, departs wearing the minister's coat. Judith hurries to the Dudgeons to tell her husband of Richard's strange behavior and demands Anthony save him.

Angered by Richard's flippant conduct, Anthony asks Judith to pretend that Richard is her husband in order to give him time to act. Anthony then finds Hawkins and asks him to serve as an intermediary to free Richard. Preparing to attack the British with a rebel militia, Hawkins dismisses Anthony, who is amazed to see that the lawyer has taken up arms. The next morning, Judith visits Richard in jail, revealing her stunned belief that Anthony has run away. When Judith insists that she will reveal Richard's identity to the British in order to save him, he explains that when they discover he is a Dudgeon they will hang him anyway. Later that day, an informal military court convenes to hear "Pastor Anderson's" case. Burgoyne is amused by Richard's quick-witted responses to Swindon's clumsy questioning, but when Richard purposefully insults King George, his guilt is ensured. Horrified, Judith blurts out that Richard is not her husband, which prompts Bourgoyne wryly to suggest that Swindon learn Richard's identity and locate Anthony quickly.

To Judith's dismay, Swindon announces that Richard's treasonous statements have assured his hanging regardless of his identity. Meanwhile, Anthony has followed Hawkins and the militia to Springtown, where he watches their attack falter under the brutal assault of numerous cannons. Deeply impressed by the Colonists' bravery, Anthony notices the British munitions stored against the church and attempts to set fire to it. Colonist chaplain Parshotter warns Anthony that he is engaging in treason, but Anthony proceeds until attacked by a British sergeant. Startled, Anthony unexpectedly responds in kind, then enthusiastically fights off several soldiers before successfully throwing a burning log into the munitions pile. Galvanized by the destruction of the armaments, the militia renews their attack. In the smoky remains of the church, Anthony intercepts a messenger carrying a crucial dispatch to Burgoyne from Gen. William Howe, dons the messenger's leather clothes and takes his horse.

Back in Websterbridge, Richard is scheduled to hang at noon, when Anthony abruptly rides up bearing a safe conduct pass from British Gen. Philips in Springtown. Identifying himself to the bemused Burgoyne, Anthony demands Richard be set free and informs Burgoyne that Philips' troops were vastly outnumbered by the Colonists and forced to ask for a truce. When Anthony repeats his demand to free Richard and adds that the British must withdraw and leave their cannon behind, Burgoyne politely refuses, advising the minister that his weakened forces will soon be reinforced by Gen. Howe's army. Anthony then shows Burgoyne the dispatch which reveals Howe has remained in New York, never having received orders to support Burgoyne. Realizing that he must indeed withdraw, Burgoyne sets Richard free and tells the flustered Swindon that the British soldier can withstand anything except the errors of the British War Office. As Anthony reunites with a confused Judith, Burgoyne invites Richard to tea.

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The Devil's Disciple - Movie Posters

Videos

Movie Clip

Hosted Intro

Film Details

Genre
Comedy
Action
Historical
Adaptation
Release Date
Aug 1959
Premiere Information
New York opening: 20 Aug 1959
Production Company
Brynaprod, S. A.; Hecht-Hill-Lancaster Films, Ltd.
Distribution Company
United Artists Corp.
Country
Great Britain and United States
Location
Elstree, England, Great Britain; Hertfordshire, England, Great Britain; Hertfordshire, Great Britain
Screenplay Information
Based on the play The Devil's Disciple by George Bernard Shaw by arrangement with the estate of Gabriel Pascal (New York, 4 Oct 1897).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 22m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White

Articles

The Devil's Disciple


George Bernard Shaw made no secret of the fact that he was unhappy with his Revolutionary War-based play, The Devil's Disciple. In his preface to the text, he actually wrote, "The Devil's Disciple does not contain even a single passably novel incident." Shaw, who apparently was in no mood to do re-writes, even refused to stage the play in Britain. It eventually made its public debut in America.

With such ringing non-endorsements from its author, it's surprising that Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster decided to produce and co-star in a film version of The Devil's Disciple (1959). Even with Laurence Olivier in a glorified supporting role, the resulting picture isn't completely successful. For once however, something was gained by tinkering with the work of a brilliant writer. Many critics noted that the depiction of battle sequences that Shaw only described in his play helped open the story up, but audiences at the time couldn't be lured to theatres to see it. It probably didn't help matters that the picture was marketed via the legendarily awful tag line: "Burt, Kirk and Larry are coming - by George!"

The story takes place in New Hampshire, in 1777. British troops move in from Canada under the leadership of Gen. John Burgoyne (Olivier.) The locals, of course, plan to resist, but Burgoyne changes their minds when he publicly hangs a local bigwig named Timothy Dudgeon. But he doesn't count on the return of the man's son, Richard Dudgeon (Douglas), who vows to take revenge. Anthony Anderson (Lancaster), the pastor of a nearby village, understands Dudgeon's position, but is unwilling to join up with him because he's afraid that his wife (Janette Scott) is falling in love with the young rebel. Before it's over, a case of mistaken identity will bring the battle to a violent head.

Shaw, who was Irish, never tired of poking fun at the British, and The Devil's Disciple is loaded with sarcastic swipes at their perceived social and military inadequacies. How ironic, then, that Olivier, the Brit, is so much fun to watch and gets all the best lines. As the critic for The London Daily Standard wrote at the time, "It is a film to see just because Laurence Olivier gives the performance of his life. And because, in his superb self-confidence, he dared to take the third lead, knowing that he would steal the film from Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas, the two male leads. And he does. Those two able actors look like stupid oafs."

That's over-stating it considerably, but Olivier seems to be having such a wonderful time you'd never know that he was miserable while making the movie. The project he originally planned to work on was his own film adaptation of Macbeth. Unfortunately, he couldn't get the funding he needed, so it was with ulterior motives that he agreed to appear in The Devil's Disciple.

For openers, the picture was filming in England, so he wouldn't have to fly overseas, and he was certainly happy to accept a $200,000 salary. But he also hoped that Lancaster might be able to get Hollywood interested in a big Shakespearean production. Olivier's plan was to cast his then-wife, Vivien Leigh, as Lady Macbeth, and to offer the role of Macduff to Lancaster. These plans never materialized, however, due to personal problems.

While Olivier was busy filming with Lancaster and Douglas, Leigh, who had been growing increasingly histrionic, suffered a violent mental collapse. Leigh had had a long history of psychological problems, and Olivier knew that this episode put an end to any hopes that she might fully recover.

It's no wonder, then, that he seemed to lose focus while working on the The Devil's Disciple. Leigh's condition, of course, was his main concern. But he was also frustrated that, no matter how he tried, he couldn't land the money for an English production of a film by a British playwright, while Burt Lancaster could with no trouble. During shooting, whether it was an intentional dig at their star status or not, Olivier consistently reversed Lancaster's and Douglas' names, calling them "Kirk" and "Burt" respectively. Lancaster, at least, grew increasingly irritated by this as filming continued.

Olivier later stated that he had never had "such a miserable time on a job," but seen today most admirers of the actor's work will find his performance in The Devil's Disciple simply "irresistible," to quote critic Pauline Kael.

Director: Guy Hamilton
Producer: Harold Hecht
Screenplay: Roland Kibbee and John Dighton (based on the play by George Bernard Shaw)
Cinematography: Jack Hildyard
Editor: Alan Osbiston
Art Design: Terence Verity and Edward Carrere
Costume Design: Mary Grant
Principal Cast: Burt Lancaster (Anthony Anderson), Kirk Douglas (Richard Dudgeon), Laurence Olivier (Gen. Burgoyne), Janette Scott (Judith Anderson), Eva LeGallienne (Mrs. Dudgeon), Mervyn Johns (Rev. Maindeck Parshotter), David Horne (William), Jenny Jones (Essie), Erik Chitty (Titus.)
BW-84m.

by Paul Tatara

The Devil's Disciple

The Devil's Disciple

George Bernard Shaw made no secret of the fact that he was unhappy with his Revolutionary War-based play, The Devil's Disciple. In his preface to the text, he actually wrote, "The Devil's Disciple does not contain even a single passably novel incident." Shaw, who apparently was in no mood to do re-writes, even refused to stage the play in Britain. It eventually made its public debut in America. With such ringing non-endorsements from its author, it's surprising that Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster decided to produce and co-star in a film version of The Devil's Disciple (1959). Even with Laurence Olivier in a glorified supporting role, the resulting picture isn't completely successful. For once however, something was gained by tinkering with the work of a brilliant writer. Many critics noted that the depiction of battle sequences that Shaw only described in his play helped open the story up, but audiences at the time couldn't be lured to theatres to see it. It probably didn't help matters that the picture was marketed via the legendarily awful tag line: "Burt, Kirk and Larry are coming - by George!" The story takes place in New Hampshire, in 1777. British troops move in from Canada under the leadership of Gen. John Burgoyne (Olivier.) The locals, of course, plan to resist, but Burgoyne changes their minds when he publicly hangs a local bigwig named Timothy Dudgeon. But he doesn't count on the return of the man's son, Richard Dudgeon (Douglas), who vows to take revenge. Anthony Anderson (Lancaster), the pastor of a nearby village, understands Dudgeon's position, but is unwilling to join up with him because he's afraid that his wife (Janette Scott) is falling in love with the young rebel. Before it's over, a case of mistaken identity will bring the battle to a violent head. Shaw, who was Irish, never tired of poking fun at the British, and The Devil's Disciple is loaded with sarcastic swipes at their perceived social and military inadequacies. How ironic, then, that Olivier, the Brit, is so much fun to watch and gets all the best lines. As the critic for The London Daily Standard wrote at the time, "It is a film to see just because Laurence Olivier gives the performance of his life. And because, in his superb self-confidence, he dared to take the third lead, knowing that he would steal the film from Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas, the two male leads. And he does. Those two able actors look like stupid oafs." That's over-stating it considerably, but Olivier seems to be having such a wonderful time you'd never know that he was miserable while making the movie. The project he originally planned to work on was his own film adaptation of Macbeth. Unfortunately, he couldn't get the funding he needed, so it was with ulterior motives that he agreed to appear in The Devil's Disciple. For openers, the picture was filming in England, so he wouldn't have to fly overseas, and he was certainly happy to accept a $200,000 salary. But he also hoped that Lancaster might be able to get Hollywood interested in a big Shakespearean production. Olivier's plan was to cast his then-wife, Vivien Leigh, as Lady Macbeth, and to offer the role of Macduff to Lancaster. These plans never materialized, however, due to personal problems. While Olivier was busy filming with Lancaster and Douglas, Leigh, who had been growing increasingly histrionic, suffered a violent mental collapse. Leigh had had a long history of psychological problems, and Olivier knew that this episode put an end to any hopes that she might fully recover. It's no wonder, then, that he seemed to lose focus while working on the The Devil's Disciple. Leigh's condition, of course, was his main concern. But he was also frustrated that, no matter how he tried, he couldn't land the money for an English production of a film by a British playwright, while Burt Lancaster could with no trouble. During shooting, whether it was an intentional dig at their star status or not, Olivier consistently reversed Lancaster's and Douglas' names, calling them "Kirk" and "Burt" respectively. Lancaster, at least, grew increasingly irritated by this as filming continued. Olivier later stated that he had never had "such a miserable time on a job," but seen today most admirers of the actor's work will find his performance in The Devil's Disciple simply "irresistible," to quote critic Pauline Kael. Director: Guy Hamilton Producer: Harold Hecht Screenplay: Roland Kibbee and John Dighton (based on the play by George Bernard Shaw) Cinematography: Jack Hildyard Editor: Alan Osbiston Art Design: Terence Verity and Edward Carrere Costume Design: Mary Grant Principal Cast: Burt Lancaster (Anthony Anderson), Kirk Douglas (Richard Dudgeon), Laurence Olivier (Gen. Burgoyne), Janette Scott (Judith Anderson), Eva LeGallienne (Mrs. Dudgeon), Mervyn Johns (Rev. Maindeck Parshotter), David Horne (William), Jenny Jones (Essie), Erik Chitty (Titus.) BW-84m. by Paul Tatara

Quotes

But what about history, sir?
- Major Swindon
History, sir, will tell lies, as usual!
- General John Burgoyne
The rest of this story is pure fiction. Rest assured, you can believe every word of it.
- Dick Dudgeon
I can only do my best sir, and rely on the devotion of our countrymen.
- Major Swindon
May I ask, Major, are you writing a melodrama?
- General John Burgoyne
No, sir.
- Major Swindon
(sarcastically) What a pity! WHAT a pity!
- General John Burgoyne

Trivia

Notes

       George Bernard Shaw's opening credit reads, "Based on a play by Bernard Shaw." After the opening credits a written prologue states: "General John Burgoynes Punitive Expedition Against the Rebels in New England." The prologue is followed by a voice-over narration spoken over animated figures of toy British soldiers and Indians fighting with American Colonists positioned on top of a map of New Hampshire. The narration sets the time as 1777 and indicates that the British viewed the conflict as quelling a rebellion whereas the Colonists saw the war as a defense of liberty. The film also utilized the toy soldiers in the opening credits and during segues between Springtown and Websterbridge, dissolving from the toy figures into battle sequences. At the film's conclusion, a voice-over narration reveals that Gen. Burgoyne surrendered three weeks later, "the details being a matter of history."
       As noted in an August 1938 Los Angeles Examiner article, noted Hungarian producer-director Gabriel Pascal bought the screen rights to numerous plays by George Bernard Shaw, including "The Devil's Disciple," which Pascal announced he would produce with M-G-M in 1939. A 1950 Hollywood Reporter news item indicates that actor-producer Emlyn Williams had arranged to produce The Devil's Disciple through Gloria Films. According to a July 1952 Los Angeles Times news item, Pascal, who had already produced and directed two Shaw adaptations, Major Barbara, United Artists, 1941 and Caesar and Cleopatra, UA, 1945 (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50), again announced plans to produce The Devil's Disciple in 1952, with Marlon Brando as "Richard Dudgeon" and Rex Harrison as "Gen. Burgoyne." Pascal died in 1954.
       A Hollywood Reporter news item indicates that actor-producer Burt Lancaster's company with producer Harold Hecht, Hecht-Lancaster, purchased the rights to The Devil's Disciple in August 1955 from Pascal's estate. According to a January 1956 Los Angeles Times news item, Anthony Asquith was in discussions to direct. The film was originally slated to be shot in color in Hollywood, and 1956 Hollywood Reporter items stated the film would star Lancaster, Laurence Olivier and Montgomery Clift. In addition, an October 1956 Rambling Reporter item mentioned Hecht-Lancaster's interest in casting Gene Tierney. A January 1957 Hollywood Reporter item noted that the film had been postponed in order to give the script an additional polish by writer John Dighton. A later item noted that the heavy production schedule at Hecht and Lancaster's newly formed company, Hecht-Hill-Lancaster, would postpone the production even longer. An undated news item added Carroll Baker to the cast and indicated that scheduling difficulties due to the production delay would likely cause her and Clift to withdraw from the project.
       By the time of production in July 1958, The Devil's Disciple was a co-production between Hecht-Hill-Lancaster and co-star Kirk Douglas' Bryna Productions. According to an article on the film's production in Beverly Hills Citizen and a biography on Lancaster, early in the film's production, director Alexander Mackendrick was replaced by Guy Hamilton. The Beverly Hills Citizen piece, paraphrasing from an article in London's Daily Express, indicated that the change was due to Mackendrick's difference of opinion with the screenplay turning the play into a "swashbuckling adventure spiced with sex." The producers and Lancaster insisted that concern over the pace of Mackendrick's direction prompted his firing. Mackendrick had clashed earlier with Lancaster on the 1957 production of The Sweet Smell of Success (for more information on teh dispute, see record below). The Devil's Disciple was shot on location in England, according to Lancaster's biography at the Rothschild estate and at Trig Park in Hertfordshire, as well as Elstree Studios.
       The play and film were loosely based on historical events. John Burgoyne (1723-1792) was a former member of parliament who, with a rank of major-general, fought early in the American Revolutionary War. After limited participation in the Battle of Bunker Hill, a frustrated Burgoyne returned to London only to return the following year with a large British force to Canada. Upon receiving his own command, Burgoyne successfully invaded New York, which was preceded by numerous battles in Vermont and New Hampshire. Upon taking New York, Burgoyne's depleted forces faced strong Colonial resistance, and anticipated reinforcements by Gen. William Howe did not materialize when Howe went on to attack Philadelphia. Burgoyne was forced to surrender his army in Saratoga, a major event of the war that brought about the first foreign assistance for the Americans by the French. The film correctly notes that Burgoyne's forces were supported by many foreign mercenaries, including Germans and Native Americans.
       Although several reviews refer to Burgoyne by his nickname of "Gentleman Johnny," at several points in the film he is referred to as "Gentlemanly Johnny." Reviews were mixed on The Devil's Disciple, many noting that it was not one of Shaw's better plays. Reviews criticized the differences between the play and film, the latter of which which built up "Anthony Anderson" to be the central figure over Dudgeon and softened the romance between Dudgeon and "Judith." Many also criticized the use of the animated toy figures as intrusive and ineffectual. Variety, Hollywood Reporter and New York Times praised Olivier's performance but were less enthusiastic about co-stars Lancaster and Douglas.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1959

Produced by arrangement with the estate of Gabriel Pascale. Alexander Mackendrick was replaced as director after one week's shooting.

Released in United States 1959