Irish-born George Bernard Shaw never did like the British and used every opportunity to satirize them. In THE DEVIL'S DISCIPLE the best lines are given to Olivier as General Burgoyne, leader of the Blighty Brigade in America in 1777. Olivier and his men march into a tiny northeastern
hamlet on their way down from Canada. The local colonists are not thrilled about being occupied, and rebel. To quell the disturbance, Olivier hangs a local luminary, which puts a stop to any activity on the part of the frightened townspeople. Lancaster is the local reverend who returns home to
discover his wife, Scott, sitting at the side of Le Gallienne, widow of the slain man. Douglas, son of the dead citizen, arrives. A troublemaker from his buckled shoes to the cleft in his chin, Douglas twits the citizens for rolling over and playing dead. Lancaster worries about Douglas, as Scott
is apparently attracted to the young rebel. In another time and in another place, Lancaster and Douglas might have become friends, as Lancaster does admire the younger, livelier man. But jealousy begins to rear its head. In the meantime, Olivier wishes he would get his orders to leave so he could
return to London in time for the social season. His aides prevail on him to hang another townsperson, as the villagers are beginning to make rebellious noises once more. The general acquiesces and soldiers are sent to Lancaster's home. Douglas is having tea with Scott and the military men don't
know that he is not the pastor. Douglas allows himself to be tried and convicted and sentenced to death and he gallantly never spills the beans. And where, you may well ask, is Lancaster all this time? He is out with the rebels, leading the revolutionary forces on raids. Lancaster intercepts a
message sent to Olivier and uses it as a bargaining tool for the life of Douglas, who is standing on the gallows with the noose draped around his neck. Scott now begins to look at her once-dull husband as a hero. She takes him back into her arms and Douglas and Olivier have a spot of tea as the
narrator tells the film audience that Burgoyne (Olivier) surrendered just three weeks later.
Shaw never really liked this play very much and considered it one of his minor efforts. After the one performance needed to secure copyright, Shaw forbade the play to be produced in England and not until American actor Richard Masefield staged it in the US was it seen in full regalia. The funny
lines are too many to quote, but Olivier gets most of them. Douglas asks to be shot rather than hanged, but Olivier says hanging would be far less painful. "Have you any idea of the average marksmanship of the Army of His Majesty, King George III?" he asks. Excellent supporting players but a
generally choppy directorial style keep this from being a classic. Lancaster and Douglas both had a hand in the production via their companies but they obviously deferred to Olivier in acting matters, as the visitor from abroad got all the critical nods.
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- Rating: NR
- Review: Irish-born George Bernard Shaw never did like the British and used every opportunity to satirize them. In THE DEVIL'S DISCIPLE the best lines are given to Olivier as General Burgoyne, leader of the Blighty Brigade in America in 1777. Olivier and his men ma… (more)