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Theatre / The Devil's Disciple

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A comic play written by George Bernard Shaw in 1897 and set during The American Revolution, The Devil's Disciple tells of the title character, Richard Dudgeon, and his opposite, the Rev. Anthony Anderson, and the events which follow when British soldiers come to arrest Anderson for treason and Dudgeon takes his place. A further element is how Anderson's wife, Judith, rapidly goes from loathing Dudgeon to falling in love with him.

Adapted to the screen several times; most notably as a 1959 film, directed by Guy Hamilton and starring Kirk Douglas as Richard Dudgeon, Burt Lancaster as Anthony Anderson, Laurence Olivier as General John Burgoyne, and Janette Scott as Judith.

The Devil's Disciple provides examples of:

  • Aggressive Negotiations: Played with near the end, when Anthony Anderson negotiates with Gen. Burgoyne for Richard Dudgeon's freedom. note 
  • Anti-Villain: General Burgoyne is the perfect gentleman, and obviously respects Dudgeon.
  • Black Sheep: Richard Dudgeon.
  • Catchphrase: Major Swinden's repeated cry of "Monstrous impudence!"
  • The Cavalry: Anderson comes riding in at the last minute to save Dudgeon and ruin Gen. Burgoyne's day.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Early on it's shown that even though Anthony's a minister he's very physically strong, for twice he's shown easily doing very heavy lifting by himself. When the Punch! Punch! Punch! Uh Oh... scene comes later, those soldiers are clearly outmatched.
  • Les Collaborateurs: Rev. Parshotter is a Loyalist who tells the colonists to do as they're told.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Gen. Burgoyne. He is consistently shown to have a firm grasp of both the "big picture" and the countless details that keep an army fighting. He is also concerned about his over-reliance on foreign mercenaries.
  • Court-martialed: After surrendering to the British Army, Dudgeon is tried by a military tribunal. Major Swinden serves as the primary judge, and Gen. Burgoyne seems to alternate between prosecutor and casual observer.
  • Easy Evangelism: Dudgeon is able to bring Judith and Anthony Anderson around to his viewpoint in record time.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: Rev. Anderson goes from being an anonymous provincial priest to the man who almost singlehandedly destroyed Gen. Burgoyne's American campaign.
  • Honor Before Reason: Dudgeon switches places with Anderson to save him from being arrested by the British. Upon learning this, Anderson promptly sets out to return the favor (instead of using the chance to run for his life).
  • Hourglass Plot: Dudgeon and Anderson switch places to a great extent over the course of the play, and Anderson even wants to further this by giving his wife to Dudgeon and demanding that Dudgeon join the clergy.
  • I Ate WHAT?!: Subverted in the film version. After eating a bowl of soup, General Burgoyne asks one of his men what was in it. Clearly expecting a disgusted reaction, the soldier admits that it was rattlesnake. General Burgoyne doesn't even miss a beat before pronouncing it delicious. And he goes back for seconds.
  • Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: Shaw lampshaded the realistic side of the trope back in 1897:
    Richard: I think you might have the decency to treat me as a prisoner of war, and shoot me like a man instead of hanging me like a dog.
    General Burgoyne [sympathetically]: Now there, Mr. Anderson, you talk like a civilian, if you will excuse my saying so. Have you any idea of the average marksmanship of the army of His Majesty King George the Third? If we make you up a firing party, what will happen? Half of them will miss you: the rest will make a mess of the business and leave you to the provost-marshal's pistol. Whereas we can hang you in a perfectly workmanlike and agreeable way. [Kindly] Let me persuade you to be hanged, Mr. Anderson?
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Anthony tries to do the noble thing and let Judith go off with Richard, but Richard knows the Andersons belong together, and in the end Anthony and Judith ride away.
  • Just Following Orders: The attitude of most of the British officers, especially when they're hanging Dudgeon.
  • Love Triangle: One develops pretty rapidly between Anthony, Judith, and Richard.
  • Meaningful Look: In the 1959 film, there is a brief one between Anthony and Richard. As Richard is trying to thank Anthony for saving his life, Anthony gives him a wink over Judith's shoulder, as if to say that the whole "I Want My Beloved to Be Happy" thing is just a ruse. Richard gives him a look back as if to say "You sly dog". From there on, it's pretty clear that Anthony will take Judith back, and that Richard will step aside.
  • The Neidermeyer: Major Swinden. General Burgoyne recognizes this and calls him on it.
    Major Swinden: Come what may, General, the British soldier will give a good account of himself.
    General Burgoyne: And therefore I suppose, sir, the British officer need not know his business; the British soldier will get him out of all his blunders with a bayonet? In future, sir, I must ask you to be a little less generous with the blood of your men, and a little more generous with your own brain.
  • Nice to the Waiter: Richard is the only person in his family who is kind to the family servant Essie. He comes across as better than the Andersons, who, while nicer to Essie, are also highly patronizing.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Inverted; an Obstructive Bureaucrat, at least, would be doing his job. Instead, one such Bureaucrat in London failed to fill out or file the appropriate paperwork, since he was in a hurry to get out of the office and go on holiday. As a result, Gen. Howe was stuck in New York waiting for orders, while Gen. Burgoyne and co. advanced north to Springtown.
  • Officer and a Gentleman: General Burgoyne. His own troops have nicknamed him "Gentlemanly Johnny".
  • Punch-Clock Villain: General Burgoyne doesn't want to hang Dudgeon, but it's his duty.
  • Punch! Punch! Punch! Uh Oh...: A British officer breaks a chair over Anthony's back. Anthony gives him a surprised look. The officer punches Anthony in the face. Another look. Another punch, another look. Cue a look of utter terror from the officer, before Anthony punches him across the room.
  • Stop Motion: Used with puppets to provide some exposition over scene transitions in the 1959 film.
  • Talking Is a Free Action: Especially obvious during the 1959 film. If General Burgoyne hadn't been such a stickler for protocol, Richard would have been dead long before Anthony finished negotiating with the General.
  • Title Drop: Richard calls himself "the devil's disciple".
  • Unexpected Inheritance: Richard is surprised to learn that he has inherited the bulk of his father's estate (minus £50 to his younger brother), and that his mother was passed over.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Played with by the closing narration in the 1959 film.
    Narrator: ...but that is a matter of history, on which it is impossible to rely. The rest of this story is pure fiction. You can safely believe every word of it.

Alternative Title(s): The Devils Disciple