The theft of time
Peter Lorre on the concept of time.
Despite what the critics said back in 1953, Beat the Devil is a terrific film. And why shouldn’t it be? You’ve got Humphrey Bogart and the lovely Gina Lollobrigida. You’ve got John Huston directing a story about international crooks stranded in Italy from a script partly written by Truman Capote. Not a bad start.
Sure, the film has its problems. The script was supposedly written day by day as the film was being made, and that shows through in some places. But that’s forgivable, because there are moments in the film that shine like real gems. It’s Peter Lorre as Julius O’Hara who gets the best line in the film:
“Time. What is time? The Swiss manufacture it. The French hoard it. The Italians squander it. The Americans say it is money. The Hindus say it doesn’t exist. Do you know what I say? I say time is a crook.”
In this case, however, Peter Lorre is wrong. Because the film has enjoyed more popularity and greater respect as time has passed. (The film is in the public domain as the result of an unrenewed copyright, so check it out for yourself.) For this film, time hasn’t been a crook at all, but has actually been pretty generous.
Of course, both can be true when it comes to collectibles. On the one hand, time steals life from beloved objects, fading colors and breaking down materials. But on the other hand, time gives us the distance we need to appreciate objects for their design or craftsmanship and see them in a new context.
Still, there’s nothing generous about time when the Monday morning alarm clock rings.
Did you know? Some of Humphrey Bogart’s lines in the film had to be looped during post-production because of Bogart’s injuries from a car accident. A young British actor was hired for the job on the strength of his skills at mimicry. His name? Peter Sellers.