A strong and unusual story has been diluted in its telling. The theme is that those who 'shake hands with the devil' often find they have difficulty getting their hands back. Two such, in the screenplay from the novel by Rearden Conner, are James Cagney and Don Murray.

A strong and unusual story has been diluted in its telling. The theme is that those who ‘shake hands with the devil’ often find they have difficulty getting their hands back. Two such, in the screenplay from the novel by Rearden Conner, are James Cagney and Don Murray.

Against a background of the 1921 Irish Rebellion, Cagney is a professor of medicine at a Dublin university, and Murray, an American veteran of World War I, is his student. Cagney is also a ‘commandant’ of the underground, and Murray’s father, an Irish patriot, was killed while working with Cagney.

It is Cagney who wants to continue the terror when the leader of the Irish independence movement (Michael Redgrave) works out a treaty with the British that eventually leads to freedom.

The principals, paced by Cagney, are interesting and sometimes moving. But they seem posed against the Irish background, rather than part of it. The supporting cast looms larger than it should. Sybil Thorndike, for instance, as a titled Irish lady lending her name and fierce old heart to the cause, is fine. Redgrave has dignity and strength in his few scenes.

Erwin Hillier’s camerawork is good, creating a grim, gray Ireland that is a natural setting for the sanguine struggle.

Shake Hands with the Devil

Production

United Artists/Pennebaker. Director Michael Anderson; Producer Michael Anderson; Screenplay Ivan Goff, Ben Roberts; Camera Erwin Hillier; Editor Gordon Pilkington; Music William Alwyn; Art Director Tom Morahan

Crew

(B&W) Extract of a review from 1959. Running time: 104 MIN.

With

James Cagney Don Murray Dana Wynter Glynis Johns Michael Redgrave Sybil Thorndike
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