Devil’s Disciple, The (1959)

Devil’s Disciple, The (1959)

“We don’t arrest them unless we’re going to hang ’em.”

During the American Revolutionary War, a priest (Burt Lancaster) rides with a local parishioner (Neil McCallum) to the imminent hanging of McCallum’s father, wrongly accused of treason by Major Swindon (Harry Andrews) and his superior, General Burgoyne (Laurence Olivier) — but they are too late to save him. McCallum’s prodigal brother (Kirk Douglas) rescues his father’s hung body and returns it to his childhood home, where Lancaster insists on allowing Douglas safe haven despite the protests of his wife (Janette Scott). When Lancaster is called away to oversee the sudden funeral of Douglas’s mother (Eva Le Gallienne), Douglas is mistaken by British soldiers for Lancaster, and taken away to be hanged. How will Lancaster respond when he returns and learns what has transpired — including his wife’s sudden affection for Douglas?

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • American Revolutionary War
  • Burt Lancaster Films
  • Falsely Accused
  • Harry Andrews Films
  • Historical Drama
  • Kirk Douglas Films
  • Laurence Olivier Films
  • Play Adaptation
  • Priests and Ministers
  • Revolutionaries

This adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s 1897 play is one of four Peary-listed titles co-starring Douglas and Lancaster — including Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957), The List of Adrian Messenger (1963), and Seven Days in May (1964).

It’s a curiously told story, with Lancaster’s wife experiencing a rapidly shifting hate-love relationship with Douglas that doesn’t ring realistic, and the final sequences exhibiting more slapsticky physical humor than one would expect in an historical drama about war, treason, and executions. Most noteworthy is Olivier’s supporting performance as a gentlemanly Brit who, along with inept Andrews, represents the distance and disdain that led to England’s eventual defeat in the war. Also of note are the clever, unexpected animated sequences using maps and stop motion:

… and Jack Hildyard’s atmospheric cinematography.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Olivier as General Burgoyne
  • Jack Hildyard’s cinematography

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a one-time look.


One thought on “Devil’s Disciple, The (1959)

  1. Not must-see, but not a bad film, esp. for those with a specific interest in how the events of the film play out against the background of the Revolutionary War.

    It’s a bit difficult to recommend a film of something that the author himself did not like. Reportedly, Shaw was not fond of that play. He apparently did not find it all that compelling. …Well, as a film, it’s not as bad as all that. While it’s not exactly riveting, it does maintain a steady progression and enough of the dialogue is strong and intelligent.

    It’s been noted that – of the three male leads – Olivier comes off best, and I would agree with that. I’m not a huge Olivier fan but I’ll easily applaud him *anytime* he underplays a role. 😉

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