From Heart of Darkness to All Out War: ‘Shout at the Devil’

[7 October 2013]

By J.C. Macek III

A lot of the distracting fun in Shout at the Devil comes from the film’s star, the tough-as-granite Lee Marvin, who is at his goofiest since Paint your Wagon. Marvin plays Irish American roughneck Flynn Patrick O’Flynn, who cons Roger Moore’s Sebastian “Bassy” Oldsmith into accompanying him on an ivory poaching run that goes South in a New York minute. What starts as a jaunt up the river in German-controlled East Africa for ivory soon runs the duo afoul of the nasty and cowardly German Commander Herman Fleischer (Reinhard “Rene” Kolldehoff), who dogs their escapades at almost every turn and ultimately creates a serious vendetta.

As much as Fleischer is a valid foil for O’Flynn and Oldsmith, so are O’Flynn and Oldsmith for each other. Marvin and Moore maintained such a classic chemistry in this pulpy action / adventure that they follow each other’s lead step-by-step, whether undertaking a silly misadventure, engaging in a drunken fistfight (which must be seen to be believed) or fighting side-by-side in a deadly-serious gunfight, they’re always in lock-step and two sides of the same coin, even and especially when at odds with each other.

Shout at the Devil can be every bit as farcical as any of Roger Moore’s James Bond films, and Lee Marvin’s characterization of O’Flynn is every bit as absurdly fun as anything he did in Cat Ballou or Paint Your Wagon, but at the flip of an invisible switch both Shout at the Devil and its stars take a turn for the incredibly dark.

In Shout at the Devil, Paint Your Wagon‘s Lee Marvin easily and disturbingly morphs into The Big Red One‘s Lee Marvin, while Cannoball Run Roger Moore is replaced by the coldly (if righteously) violent Roger Moore from The Man with the Golden Gun. Moore’s Oldsmith is generally an unwitting participant in violence and exploitation of any kind, except when his love interest Rosa O’Flynn (daughter of the elder O’Flynn, played by Barbara Perkins) is threatened, however when pushed in the right direction his benevolence is gone and there is nothing he won’t do for revenge.

Indeed, there’s an underlying darkness to the entire affair, even when the direction of Peter R. Hunt and the score of Maurice Jarre place certain scenes firmly in the “wild caper” category. Although pre-World War I (and thus, decades before the rise of the Nazi and World War II), there is a cold, colonialism to the German military shown here. This is, of course, set against the backdrop of the occupation of East Africa and the exploitation of the natives for manual labor, mercenaries and servants.

Accordingly, when firefights break out among the opposing European (or European descended) bosses, almost invariably, it’s a native African who is caught in the crossfire even, and especially, when it’s another conscripted native African pulling the trigger at the behest of a German, American or English command. As the “yarn” unspools, we witness scenes of exploitation, casual murder, cannon fodder and even infanticide before the film (uncomfortably) takes on a little more of its playful tone. By the time the film gets back there, the enlightened audience probably no longer feels like they’re watching a comedy.

For all the ugliness we see in this film, there’s also a great deal of beauty to look at. Shot on location in Malta and South Africa, the Cinematography of Michael Reed drinks in every bit of the countryside and uses sunlight to add a golden hue to both the most terrifying and the most lighthearted scenes. A perilous ambush and gunfight may still cause the viewer to reach for the pause button to take in the postcard-worthy forest, green hills and blue sky and to see the amazing technical skill that went into this large cast and prop setup. A humorously slapstick fistfight still manages to impress the viewer as the sun sets behind Moore’s head, creating an accidental and ironic halo.

Moore and Marvin's fistfight

Moore and Marvin’s fistfight

While not quite an “epic”, the special effects tend to match the cinematography for impact and the 1080p Blu-Ray transfer captures both beautifully, showing off all the attributes and revealing very few true flaws (the film was released in 1976, so the special effects may not stand up to the best CGI offerings, but for the time they worked quite well). For all the impressive visuals and sounds on the feature itself, the bonus features here are minimal to the point of near bare-bones. There is no trailer, promotional materials or commentary here, only a short still gallery.

The film itself still stands up as a hell of a lot of fun with some very good acting from the leads as well as Perkins and Ian Holm (as Mohammed the silent but violent assistant to O’Flynn). Shout at the Devil is also a great adventure with lots of explosions and intrigue and hints of war. However, the way colonialism and other sensitive issues are handled in this film shows that there is a big difference between even the attitudes of 1976 and the present. Further underlying the changes in attitudes is the fact that this violent, often bloody and even disturbing film made it to United States theatres with a PG rating.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/175336-shout-at-the-devil/