While not a great movie—or even, for that matter, a particularly coherent one, given its odd mixture of light comedy and nasty violence—Shout at the Devil is worth investigating for fans of manly-man adventure flicks. Among other things, the picture includes the only screen pairing of Roger Moore, who shot this movie in the early days of his long run as 007, and the inimitable Lee Marvin. The movie’s convoluted narrative and lengthy running time give both actors opportunities to hit many different notes, and Marvin’s rough-and-tumble charisma complements the alternately grim and suave flavors of Moore’s performance. Shout at the Devil also boasts incredible production values.
Set in German-controlled East Africa circa 1913, the story concerns an amiably disreputable ivory hunter named Colonel Flynn O'Flynn (Marvin). An American expat with a mysterious past, Flynn needs a stooge for his next poaching excursion, so he snookers traveling English aristocrat Sebastian Oldsmith (Moore). The biggest hiccup in Shout at the Devil’s storyline is that Oldsmith doesn't turn himself over to the Germans once he realizes Flynn is a scam artist—but if you can suspend your disbelief on that point, the rest of the movie is quite enjoyable. Without going into laborious detail (there's a lot of story in Shout at the Devil), Oldsmith hangs around with Flynn long enough to get injured, at which point he's nursed back to health by Flynn's beautiful daughter, Rosa (Barbara Parkins). Naturally, Oldsmith and Rosa fall in love. Thereafter, Flynn persuades the Englishman to help rip off the Germans, especially odious regional commander Fleischer (Reinhard Kolldehoff). Once all the narrative pieces fall in place, the movie becomes a covert-mission story about Oldsmith hunting down and sabotaging a strategically important German warship.
Director Peter Hunt edited several 007 movies before making his helming debut with one of the series' best installments, On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969), but he never worked on any of Moore's Bond pictures. Instead, the two teamed up for the first time to make the similarly overstuffed action-drama Gold (1974). While Hunt does a great job creating tension within individual scenes, he's not adept at balancing performance styles, so Marvin and Moore sometimes seem as if they're acting in different movies. (Leading lady Parkins, who generally played decorative and/or villainous roles, does some of her best work here, lending elegance and weight to her scenes.) Nonetheless, the best parts of Shout at the Devil are rousing and/or whimsical, if not both.
The running gag of Flynn inventing reasons why Oldmsith must endanger himself works nicely, and there's a peculiar but fun subplot involving Flynn's mute sidekick, Mohammed (Ian Holm), who mostly communicates with sarcastically raised eyebrows. Some of the action is genuinely thrilling, too, like Oldsmith's incursion (while wearing blackface!) onto the German warship. So while Shout at the Devil is excessive and sloppy, it’s also a lively throwback to the adventure movies of yesteryear, with just a touch of modernized grit. FYI, those with P.C. sensibilities might have a tough time with this picture, since the heroes slaughter elephants for profit, and it’s worth mentioning that Shout at the Devil is widely available both in the original cut (which runs 147 minutes) and a snipped version (which runs 128 minutes). The longer cut is recommended.
Shout at the Devil: GROOVY