Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Devil’s Disciple


Turner Classic Movies lists this is a comedy, but don’t expect pratfalls or fart jokes. It’s based on a play by George Bernard Shaw, and the wit is definitely Shavian. Ironies abound as a minister (Burt Lancaster) and a ne’er-do-well (Kirk Douglas) match moral principles against cynical worldliness during the Revolutionary War. (Do the Brits call it the American Rebellion, as people in the south still refer to the War of Northern Aggression?) Douglas is ready to go to the gallows in Lancaster’s place, for reasons he has trouble explaining, but seem to me to have a lot to do with giving Shaw opportunities for wry lines, ironies, and paradoxes. Adding to the mix—and getting most of the best lines, which he deserves—is Laurence Olivier as General Burgoyne, who in a few weeks was to be defeated at Saratoga because of, according to the play, blunders by fools back home. I don’t know enough history to say if that’s true—and the narrator hints that things are usually more complicated than historians know—but it gives Olivier a lot more chances at irony. As usual, Sir Larry is the stand-out in a damn good cast, including Harry Andrews as a by-the-book Major who never seems to know quite what’s going on.