After the initial surprise from finding that the title is not a reference to anything Mötley Crüe-related finally subsides — it's not a documentary or a big-hair, horror flick inspired by the song — music lovers will find a surprisingly gratifying British war film. And somehow, looking back at it, I think I'd much prefer this over another VH1 Behind the Music style exposé. The title itself is an interesting choice since its meaning is never made entirely clear until the final moments. But when it does become clear, viewers will hopefully be left with a satisfying smile on their face, especially after waiting 145 minutes to finally understand its reference.
A bit on the bloated side and heavy on the story — meaning it takes an extraordinarily long time to finally arrive at the plot and main point — 'Shout at the Devil' entertains mostly through its characters. A small but colorful, almost cartoonish cast of individuals, each pursuing their own egotistical goals, they are a memorable eccentric bunch, including the so-called protagonist.
German Commander Herman Fleischer (Reinhard Kolldehoff) is a caricature practically ripped off from some unknown comic strip. A dogged overweight oaf that rides a white donkey, the poor man is given little respect by African locals in his province, his military superiors and hilariously much less by the film's pair of reluctant heroes.
The first of which, and arguably the film's main attraction, is Lee Marvin in a noteworthy performance that easily justifies reasons for recommending 'Shout at the Devil.' He plays gin-guzzling, Irish-American poacher Colonel Flynn O'Flynn, a ridiculously silly-sounding name we're left to wonder if real or made-up because he's hiding from authorities. He's a lovable, defiantly unruly scallywag that understandably gets on everyone's nerves, but so much fun, you don't want to get rid of him altogether.
Working alongside him in an equally worthy performance is Roger Moore as foolishly gullible British aristocrat Sebastian Oldsmith. Taking a break from his A-list turn as MI6 spy legend James Bond, Moore effortlessly plays the easily susceptible gentleman with cool haughtiness and the sort of self-confident, well-mannered chap that makes him an easy target for the drunken charms of O'Flynn. A wonderfully uproarious highlight is seeing Moore dressed in German garb to collective taxes from the African tribes, but to the dismay of O'Flynn's mute servant Mohammed (Ian Holm also in a memorable portrayal), Oldsmith's sympathetic side has him doing the opposite of the intended scam.
Adding a dash of seriousness into the mix is Barbara Parkins as O'Flynn's understandably discontented daughter Rosa. Her presence is interestingly used as both a small wedge between O'Flynn and Oldsmith's friendship, because the younger two eventually fall in love and marry, as well as the bridge that brings them closer.
A blend of silly farce that reminds me of classic Hollywood and family drama that enjoys exposing the domestic struggles of getting along with strangers, the film has no qualms of exploring the darker side. Indeed, switching from comedy to the somber realities of war in the third act with ease, Alastair Reid and Stanley Price's script unexpectedly grows very dark as the narrative suddenly becomes an obsessed pursuit of vengeance. At the start of World War I, Fleischer goes from chasing after O'Flynn to O'Flynn and Oldsmith frantically hunting Fleischer. Once the story has moviegoers hooked with laughter, the character's efforts change to hesitant participants in defeating the German empire.
Like any great war film, the best stories are those based on small, little-known events which contributed something significant in the battlefield. 'Shout at the Devil' is thankfully no different. Very loosely inspired by the sinking of the SMS Königsberg and based on the novel of the same name by Wilbur Smith, much of the focus and attention is placed on the characters. And while the lead up to those events is engaging and amusingly entertaining, it does sadly feel somewhat slow and plodding in a few spots.
Director Peter R. Hunt, best known for his work as editor on several Bond features but also for helming the oddball entry in the series ('On Her Majesty's Secret Service'), does a reasonably good job behind the camera. With excellent, sometimes stunning cinematography by Michael Reed, wide landscape shots show the idyllic beauty of the land while also serving as an ironic backdrop to the horrors soon to come. 'Shout at the Devil' is a largely forgotten British war film and may not be in the top tier towards becoming a classic, but it deserves a wider audience, which hopefully it will find on home video.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Shout Factory brings 'Shout at the Devil' to Blu-ray as two-disc combo pack. The Region Free, BD25 disc sits comfortably opposite a DVD-9 copy, and both are housed inside a standard blue keepcase. At startup, viewers are taken to a static menu screen with the usual options.
The 'Devil' takes a cheap shot at Blu-ray with an excellent 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (2.35:1) that shocks and amazes considering its age. Despite showing one or two moments of average resolution, the majority of the video is highly detailed. Facial complexions are surprisingly revealing, exposing every wrinkle and blemish in the faces of actors, while fine lines in the furniture, clothing and surrounding foliage are sharply defined and distinct. Contrast is spot on throughout, allowing for outstanding clarity and visibility in the distance, and giving viewers a chance to appreciate Michael Reed's wonderful cinematography. Blacks are rich and deep, which provide the high-def transfer with an attractive cinematic appeal. Colors are vibrant and richly-saturated, wonderfully complements the story's comic aspects while also contradicting its darker features. Overall, it's a fantastic picture quality for a little remembered British war film.
The 'Devil' also shouts loudly and impressively with a strong DTS-HD Master Audio mono soundtrack. Dialogue reproduction is precise and crystal-clear in the center, delivering every intonation in the voices and making every conversation perfectly audible. Imaging is wide and welcoming, creating a nice and wonderfully engaging soundstage, with mid-range that's detailed and very well-defined. Every instrument and note in the musical score of Maurice Jarre is clear and distinct while atmospherics in the background broaden the soundfield with amusing effectiveness. Low-bass is generally limited and on weaker end but appropriate with good response for a movie of this vintage. In the end, the lossless mix does the film justice and is a fitting complement to the story.
This is a bare-bones release.
A largely forgotten British war film that honestly deserves a bit more attention and love, 'Shout at the Devil' is an entertaining mix of farce and drama about the ways in which war interrupts idyllic pursuits of happiness. From director Peter R. Hunt, the film stars Lee Marvin and Roger Moore in wonderfully memorable performances as two polar opposites who find a happy middle ground. The Blu-ray arrives with a surprisingly excellent audio and video presentation, but supplements are sadly lacking. In the end, the overall package is likely only going to attract those familiar with the film.