Shout at the Devil (1976)
Adapted from the novel by Wilbur Smith, Shout at the Devil is the sort of big budget, sprawling, period set high adventure movie that has fallen out of vogue in recent decades. Its main attraction are its stars, location and robust action scenes. Crafted by former Bond director and long-time editor Peter Hunt, this is a full on, no nonsense character driven drama of the kind that were common place during the seventies. Sometimes the enormity of these sorts of productions meant that something suffered by omission. Be it a weak script, excessive set pieces or too many cameos by an all-star cast. Shout at the Devil broadly manages to avoid such pitfalls. There is however a notable tonal shift in the story about halfway through the film, which does take events in a different direction.
Set in East Africa in 1913 prior to WWI, Flynn O’Flynn (Lee Marvin) is a disreputable American of Irish descent exploiting the “riches” of the African continent. A poacher of ivory and a shameless con man, Flynn and his mute right-hand man Mohammed (Ian Holm) coerce an English Gentleman Sebastian Oldsmith (Roger Moore), into becoming a partner in their ivy poaching trade. This takes them into German colonial territory where they run afoul of Commander Fleischer (Rene Kolldehoff). Barely escaping they return to Flynn’s comfortable lodge located in the African bush. Sebastian meets and falls in love with Flynn’s daughter Rosa (Barbara Parkins) and the two marry and have a baby. The poaching continues but when war breaks out, Fleischer is granted unlimited local power and seeks revenge upon Flynn and Sebastian. He raids Flynn’s lodge but when he finds both Flynn and Sebastian absent, his troops massacre the staff and kill Rosa’s child. Devastated by events Flynn, Sebastian and Rosa undertake guerrilla missions on behalf of British navy. They discover that a German war ship is being hidden in the region and that it is being repaired before returning to sea. Furthermore, they learn that the work is being over seen by Fleischer, providing them with an opportunity for retribution.
The international version of Shout at the Devil has a running time of 150 minutes. This version restores a half hour of footage removed from the American theatrical release. The movie is well paced and has a clear narrative arc. Michael Reed's cinematography is sumptuous and makes the most of African locations. Maurice Jarre's score is suitably rousing and very much of its time. There is also some exceeding good miniature work by Derek Meddings who recreates a very convincing German Battleship. There is also genuine on-screen chemistry between Roger Moore and Lee Marvin. Moore plays straight man to Marvin's scenery-chewing character and the movie has a very jovial light-hearted tone initially. The first raid into German territory depicts the German Commander as a bumbling fool. Yet when Fleischer seeks revenge the plot takes a far more sinister and violent turn. The killing of a child is quite jarring, although far from graphic. The action scenes that follow also ramp up the casual violence. One notable scene has sheet steel being hauled across the savannah on wagons by dozens of native levy troops. In the ensuing gun battle, the wagons crush several people and sliding plate steel decapitates one unfortunate individual.
Shout at the Devil was shot in between The Man with the Golden Gun and The Spy Who Loved Me and boasts a great deal of talent from the Bond franchise. Peter Hunt had edited the early Bond films and directed On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Although Roger Moore and Peter Hunt had never worked on a 007 film together, Moore did star in Hunt's previous adventure film Gold. Other Bond veterans involved in the production were main titles designer Maurice Binder, cinematographer Michael Reed and camera operators Alec Mills and Alan Hume. The movie has a very authentic quality due to the bulk of the production being shot on location. Sadly, this authenticity also extends to the poaching scene. Although no animals were directly harmed during the production, the film does use footage of a genuine elephant hunt and it proves hard to watch for those with modern sensibilities. Also, Caucasian actors playing other ethnicities is anachronistic.
One of the marked differences between modern movies and those from the sixties and seventies, is that contemporary films are often made to a specific rating. Hence every aspect of the film be it themes, dialogue, sex and violence are contrived in advance to be in accord with this. A movie such as Shout at the Devil would be pitched at a broad audience upon its release and would often veer from one idiom to another to accommodate different tastes. Hence you get a comedy fist fight or a humorous scene in which the local natives plead poverty to avoid paying taxes. And if the screenplay required it then you would quickly find yourself dealing with much heavier and dramatic adult themes, which in this case means infanticide, trauma and revenge. I’m not saying it doesn’t work or that it’s a deal breaker, but it is quite a noticeable change to the contained and measured approach of modern PG-13 rated movies.
Shout at the Devil is both an entertaining movie and a snapshot of the British film industry of the times. Elements of the production have dated and have to be judge contextually, if you don’t wish to balk at them. Any film based in twentieth century colonial history is naturally going to be challenging with respect to subjects such a racism and exploitation. Yet on the plus side, the movie does feature two genuine film greats at the height of their careers and their performances do much to carry the story. The films “broad church” approach means that its not stayed or safe and it has capacity to surprise when it decides to become darker. So, if you want an old school adventure movie with an epic scope and explosive climax, along with all the baggage from the era when it was made, then Shout at the Devil has it in spades. Just ensure that you see the international cut of the film in high definition to fully do the production justice.