The Devil's Disciple (1959 film)

The Devil's Disciple is a 1959 British-American film adaptation of the 1897 George Bernard Shaw play The Devil's Disciple. The Anglo-American film was directed by Guy Hamilton, who replaced Alexander Mackendrick,[3] and starred Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas and Laurence Olivier. Mary Grant designed the film's costumes.

The Devil's Disciple
Original window card
Directed byGuy Hamilton
Produced byHarold Hecht
Screenplay byJohn Dighton
Roland Kibbee
Based onThe Devil's Disciple
by George Bernard Shaw
StarringBurt Lancaster
Kirk Douglas
Laurence Olivier
Janette Scott
Narrated byPeter Leeds
Music byRichard Rodney Bennett
CinematographyJack Hildyard
Edited byAlan Osbiston
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
20 August 1959
Running time
83 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
United States
Budget$1.5 million[1]
Box office$1.8 million (est. US/ Canada rentals)[2]

Lancaster and Douglas made several films together over the decades, including I Walk Alone (1948), Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957), Seven Days in May (1964) and Tough Guys (1986), which fixed the notion of the pair as something of a team in the public's imagination. Douglas was always second-billed under Lancaster in these films but, with the exception of I Walk Alone, in which Douglas played a villain, their roles were usually more or less the same size.


Richard "Dick" Dudgeon (Kirk Douglas) is apostate and outcast from his family in colonial Websterbridge, New Hampshire, who returns their hatred with scorn. After the death of his father by mistakenly being hanged by the British as a rebel in nearby Springtown, Dick rescues his body from the gallows, where it had been left as an example to others, and has it buried in the parish graveyard in Websterbridge. He then returns to his childhood home to hear the reading of his father's will, much to his family's dismay.

Local minister Rev. Anthony Anderson (Burt Lancaster), who was almost arrested for trying to talk the British into taking the body down, treats him with courtesy, despite Dick's self-proclaimed apostasy, but Dick's "wickedness" appalls Anderson's wife Judith (Janette Scott). To everyone's surprise, it is revealed that Dick's father secretly changed his will just before he died, leaving the bulk of his estate to Dick. Much to his shock, Dick's mother (Eva Le Gallienne) refuses to stay with him (a change from the stage play, wherein he promptly evicts his mother from her home). Dick proclaims himself a rebel against the British and scorns his family as cowards when they flee his home. In the meantime, the British discover the father's grave.

While Dick is visiting the Andersons' home at the Reverend's invitation to take tea, Rev. Anderson is called out to Mrs. Dudgeon's deathbed. Dick is left alone with Judith, with Anderson's permission and instruction to for Judith to keep him at the house for his safety, and to serve tea while he is gone. Perceiving Judith's distaste for him, Dick attempts to leave, but Judith insists he stay until Anderson returns, lest her husband think she has disobeyed him.

While waiting, British soldiers enter Anderson's home and arrest Dick, mistaking him for Anderson, whom they believe illegally retrieved the body. Dick allows them to take him away without revealing his actual identity. He swears Judith to secrecy lest her husband give the secret away and expose himself to arrest. Judith, in a state of great agitation, finds her husband, who asks if Dick has harmed her. Breaking her promise to Dick, Judith reveals that soldiers came to arrest Anderson but Dick went in his place, stunning Anderson, who tells Judith to have Dudgeon keep quiet as long as possible, to give him "more start", then quickly drives away. Judith believes her husband to be a coward (not knowing he has gone to seek help from Lawyer Hawkins (Basil Sydney), secretly the leader of the local rebels) while Dick, whom she despised, she now sees as a hero.

Judith visits Dick and asks him if he has acted from love for her. He tells her that he has acted according to "the law of my own nature", which forbade him to save himself by condemning another. At a military trial, Dick is convicted and sentenced to be hanged, not for his theft of the body, but for his open acknowledgment that he is a rebel.

In this scene, we become better acquainted with General Burgoyne (Laurence Olivier), a charming gentleman and Shavian realist, who contributes a number of sharp remarks about the conduct of the American Revolution and the British Army, and engages in some gentlemanly verbal repartée with Dick who seems surprisingly unaffected by the high probability of being hanged. Burgoyne does believe he is Anderson, but notes his rather un-clerical behavior. After Dick is condemned, Judith interrupts the proceedings to reveal Dick's true identity, but to no avail, as he will be hanged in any case due to remarks he made during the trial, which the British consider treasonous regardless of his identity.

Meanwhile, Anderson suddenly decides to abandon his ministry and turn rebel. In Springtown, a battle is going on. Anderson finds a house that the British have commandeered that is next to their ammunition dump. Anderson sneaks into the house, fends off several British redcoats, sets his coat on fire on log, and throwing it out the window explodes the British ammunition dump. Surviving relatively unscathed, he then dons the clothes of a Loyalist courier bringing an urgent message from General Howe and reaches the village where Dick is about to be hanged.

Like Sydney Carton in Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities, Dick defies his executioners and prepares to meet his death. However, Anderson confronts Burgoyne, informing him that the rebels have re-taken Springtown, have a British general as a prisoner, and that a captured message reveals that a relief army supposed to be in Albany is really farther away in New York City, being misinformed about his location; Burgoyne is outnumbered.

Anthony Anderson has become a man of action in an instant, just as Dick became a man of conscience in an instant. In Springtown, the British called for a truce, and Anderson bargains on the terms of the truce, including Dick's life; Burgoyne agrees to free him. Anderson tells Dick and Judith that he (Anderson) is no longer a minister but a Captain of militia, and will not stand in their way. Judith seems to be as entranced with Dick as she was previously disgusted with him. When Dick says they can go away together, she runs off; Anderson follows, sweeping Judith onto his horse and they leave Websterbridge. Under the temporary truce, Burgoyne invites Dick to tea.


See also


  1. Kate Buford, Burt Lancaster: An American Life, Da Capo 2000 p 190
  2. "1959: Probable Domestic Take", Variety, 6 January 1960 p 34
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