All hail the memory of Stanley Donen. We also appreciate the razor-sharp satire of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, whose genius Donen preserved in this hilarious Faustian comedy. Poor pitiful Stanley Moon bargains with the Devil for seven chances to win the woman of his dreams, which naturally turns out to be a big mistake. Who could make a wise decision with Raquel Welch’s ‘Lillian Lust’ climbing into their bed?
1967 / Color / 2:35 widescreen / 104 min. / Street Date February 19, 2019 / Available from the Twilight Time Movies Store / 29.95
Starring: Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Eleanor Bron, Raquel Welch, Barry Humphries, Alba, Michael Bates, Robin Hawdon, Robert Russell, Evelyn Moore.
Cinematography: Austin Dempster
Art Direction: Terence Knight
Film Editor: Richard Marden
Original Music: Dudley Moore
Written by Peter Cook and Dudley Moore
Produced and Directed by Stanley Donen
Stanley Donen took his first big screen credit at age 19, and at 28 co-directed the most acclaimed Hollywood musical of all time. The obituaries now circulating laud Donen’s big successes but barely touch upon his fine It’s Always Fair Weather, and generally skip his Bedazzled, a brilliantly irreverent, drop-dead funny satire of modern pop culture. A creative collaboration with the popular English comedy team of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, Bedazzled was greeted with rave reviews. But Cook and Moore were relatively unknown in America, where the show just didn’t do well.
Cook and Moore’s jokes on dating and courtship were a huge hit at UCLA in 1970, where a thousand insecure male students found themselves living in the same dorms with their thousand female counterparts. I was lucky that fellow film student Randall William Cook rented Bedazzled in a 16mm ‘Scope print for the dormie crowd. Randy was also already a fan of Dudley Moore’s music score, a major component of the film’s appeal.
Bedazzled is Cook and Moore’s wicked takeoff on the Faust theme. Donen already had experience in that vein, having co-directed the marvelous (and MIA on Blu-ray) adaptation of the musical comedy Damn Yankees. In the wake of the success of The Exorcist, curator Ron Haver threw a ‘The Devil Made Me Do It’ film series at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, with demonic-themed films both serious and light-hearted. Bedazzled and Damn Yankees were double billed for the most laughter-filled screening I recall this side of a Buster Keaton silent movie.
The British comedy pair’s feature film debut is far more than a collection of stand-up skits or Goon Show lunacy. Director Stanley Donen supplies the technical polish and lets Cook and Moore’s witty script do its magic. Although an audience is preferred, Bedazzled is guaranteed to make one laugh out loud, even if sitting alone.
The modern Faust spoof is set in modern London, which is pictured as a swamp of noise, consumer idiocy and franchise fast food, such as the fare served at Wimpy Burgers. Miserable short order cook Stanley Moon (Dudley Moore) can’t summon the courage to ask waitress Margaret Spencer (Eleanor Bron) for a date. That makes him a prime target for George Spiggott, aka Beezelbub, The Horned One, The Prince of Darkness… The Devil (Peter Cook). George quickly cons Moon into exchanging his soul for Seven Magic Wishes, seven chances to win to object of his desire. Unfortunately, incorrigible trickster Spiggott puts impassable obstacles in Stanley’s way — like the amorous Lillian Lust, one of his Seven Deadly Sins (Raquel Welch).
In 1967 Bedazzled was promoted as an irreverent, intellectual comedy. It caught on only in big cities, college towns and in the pages of Playboy, which called it ‘The Thinking Man’s Comedy of the Year.’ After hustling the poor schlub Stanley into signing away his soul, the irrepressibly mischievous George Spiggott repeatedly sabotages one wish after another. To woo Margaret Spencer, Stanley is set up in different amorous scenarios with his beloved: as an intellectual, a millionaire, a pop star, etc.. But George takes a role in each fantasy to put the kaibosh on Stanley’s plans, without fail. When called to explain why he’s always present in what should be Stanley’s fantasies, Spiggott shrugs,
“There’s a bit of me in everybody.”
Much of the humor plays like burlesque written by literature professors, or social critics pointing out that our world is so corrupt, it could have been designed by The Devil. George takes a cruel advantage of Stanley’s innocent trust. In the ‘Millionaire’ skit the mortified Stanley gives his wife Margaret expensive gifts even as she carries on an affair with her harp teacher (Robin Hawdon of When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth). George Spiggott’s character unleashes a battery of crude sexual references, all layered beneath upper class Brit snob-talk. The ‘Intellectual’ Stanley can dish out sophisticated-sounding conversation that escapes Stanley entirely. He easily steers student Margaret to his bachelor pad, only to discover that her appreciation of his literary references doesn’t translate into a roll in the hay. This cues Mr. Spiggott’s timeless advice to collegiate lotharios:
“In the words of Marcel Proust – and this applies to any woman in the world – if you can stay up and listen with a fair degree of attention to whatever garbage, no matter how stupid it is that they’re coming out with, ’til ten minutes past four in the morning… you’re in.”
In 1970 there was enough truth in that statement to wrench enormous laughs from the college audience.
George’s London headquarters is the Rendezvous, a seedy nightclub of the damned, which is decorated in ‘Early Hitler.’ His payroll is padded with Seven Deadly Sins: Gluttony, Avarice, Sloth, Vanity. Envy is played by the now internationally known Barry Humphries. Prominently displayed on the posters is Lust, or as George calls her, “Lillian Lust, the babe with the bust.” That’s of course Raquel Welch with a not-bad Southern accent, stripping to red underwear and tantalizing Stanley with off-color double entendres mixing food and sex. The other Sins are mostly liabilities, except for Anger, the club’s bouncer (Robert Russell, the brutal henchman Stearne from Witchfinder General).
Cook & Moore epitomize the collegiate brand of rude, energetic comedy eager to poke fun at society while showing off their own cleverness. The humor comes at an alarmingly fast pace yet never descends into scattershot silliness for its own sake. The most quoted joke is The Devil’s unusual choice of magic words. To launch Stanley on one of his wishes, George turns out the lights, hands Stanley a fireworks sparkler and shouts, “Julie Andrews!” A series of jokes over a pool table skewer stock speculators with an investor’s concern that a ‘Peace Scare’ is threatening to wipe out the sales of illicit arms. George Spiggott makes no excuses for his constant nasty tricks. No dirty deed is too heinous or too petty. George scratches phonograph records, tears out the final pages of Agatha Christie mysteries and drills little holes in oil tankers. It’s just a compulsion.
But the ‘jokes’ also touch upon the Christian concept of God’s universe, earnestly explaining some of its basic precepts, such as the idea that God gives us free will to choose between Good and Bad. George was formerly God’s favorite angel until he contracted the sin of Hubris and was banished from heaven. Now his job is to tempt humanity, as part of God’s plan: his goal is to corrupt a hundred million sinners. George’s biggest problem is still his attitude: even when atoning, he’s just too prideful.
The jokes about Satan’s role are actually rather thoughtful. George riles at how limited his powers are compared to God’s:
“He’s omnipresent! I’m just highly maneuverable.”
He also complains that the cosmos is unfairly weighed in favor of heaven. Spiggott says he spent fifty long years diligently corrupting Mussolini, only to watch the Fascist dictator sidestep damnation via a last minute confession:
“Scusi! Milli regretti! And up he goes!”
Spiggott proudly states that he’s collected all but a handful of the hundred million souls in his quota deal with God … soon his penance will be complete and he’ll be able to rejoin the other angels in heaven. We feel more than a little trepidation when George, his souls all accounted for, takes an elevator ride into the clouds to meet his maker — back in 1967, those of us with Sunday-school upbringings were uneasy about the power of Aggravated Blasphemy. But Bedazzled ends up reinforcing religious values. Happily, Cook & Moore find a conclusion consistent with the wild comedy tone. It’s quite a pleasing construction.
Peter Cook makes a charming Devil, despite his impish disdain and condescending sneers. Dudley Moore’s clownish Stanley Moon is a wholly worthy, innocent fool. He attracts George Spiggot’s attention by attempting suicide, and from that moment forward becomes a patsy for The Devil’s wicked pranks. It’s a universal expression of the Human Condition for the Unlucky Little Guy: Stanley is cuckolded by his best friend, trampled by fickle ‘pop fans,’ transformed into a literal ‘fly on the wall’ and finally trapped in a nun’s habit. He never once gets to possess the girl of his dreams, the wonderfully thick-brained Cockney Margaret. Eleanor Bron is twice as funny as she was in Donen’s Two for the Road, working half as hard. After Stanley’s ‘suicide’ she’s courted by Michael Bates’ obnoxious Inspector Clarke, much to Stanley’s chagrin. No matter how Stanley designs his wishes, George contrives to make sure that some obstacle stands between Stanley and his beloved. Every farce needs a good ‘sexus-interruptus’ running gag, and the devices cooked up for Bedazzled are especially clever.
Bedazzled’s legacy has been harmed somewhat by a lame 2000 remake with Brendan Fraser and Elizabeth Hurley. Steering past the bad remakes to direct people to the ‘good’ originals feels like cutting through weeds in a jungle. The comedy overdose of the original needs to be experienced, not explained. Try and see it with a few friends as opposed to alone. Get ready for The Fruny Green Eyewash Men, The Bouncing Beryllians and the Frobisher & Gleason Ice-Lolly. And don’t forget that Big Sister is Watching You.
The Twilight Time Blu-ray of Bedazzled is a major improvement on Fox’s 2007 DVD. The eye-popping enhanced color transfer retains the film’s proper Panavision framing. Stanley Donen’s clean directing style avoids choppy cutting in the Cook/Moore comedy exchanges, but doesn’t spare the visual fireworks when appropriate. His flashy main titles fly over chaotic POV shots on a fun fair ride. One scene uses colorful animation to turn Stanley into a housefly. Scene transitions often flash to white, when Stanley gives up on a failed wish in George’s rigged game, and blows a raspberry to return to square one.
The sequence with the most flash is ‘Pop Star,’ a B&W segment set in a TV studio and directed with a John Frankenheimer-like stress on multiple video monitors, cheap TV switcher effects and the degraded, ‘lined’ TV screen images. ‘Pop Sensation’ Stanley moon belts out his essential need with the tune “Love Me!” while Donen’s dizzying cutting flies between monitor views of go-go dancers and brainwashed, emotionally shattered teen fans. Of course, The Devil steps in to DEMON-strate the fickleness of pop music fans. The counter-song to Stanley’s love call is the main ‘Bedazzled’ theme, sung by ‘Drimble Wedge and the Vegetations.’ Like most of the film’s jokes, its message about sex attraction has a ring of truth. In a twisted consumer society, sexual hostility can be more seductive than open affection: “You fill me with inertia.”
Twilight Time’s best extra is the Isolated Music and Effects Track, which gives us most of Dudley Moore’s jazzy score in the clear. Although never given his due, Dudley Moore was an accomplished musician and composer, and the soundtrack music for Bedazzled is a long-OOP gem. It comes out even more strongly on the remixed stereo main track.
The other extras are carried over from the old DVD. Director Harold Ramis sings Bedazzled’s praises in a short appreciation interview; he directed the remake. Cook and Moore explain their comedy chemistry in an excerpt from The Paul Ryan Show, from around 1979, which allows us to see the duo as they presented themselves out of character. Two trailers are included. I think the only difference is that one is formatted ‘Scope and the other widescreen 1:85. Stanley Donen appears in the trailer, briefly. If you have the old Fox DVD, you might want to look at it before discarding, as it has an old film clip of a skit improvised for ABC News, in which Dudley interviews Peter as the Devil. Although not particularly inspired, we can see the normally composed and deadpan Cook start to break up at one point.
Julie Kirgo’s welcome liner notes concentrate on Stanley Donen’s impressive career and note Dudley Moore’s belated burst of comedic star-power a decade later, in Blake Edwards’ “10” and Arthur. I like very much the new cover illustration concocted for the Blu-ray … it’s an apt design.
Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Supplements: Isolated Music & Effects Track / Peter Cook & Dudley Moore on The Paul Ryan Show / A Bedazzled Conversation with Harold Ramis / Original Theatrical Trailers, Julie Kirgo liner notes.
Deaf and Hearing Impaired Friendly? YES; Subtitles: English (feature only)
Packaging: One Blu-ray in Keep case
Reviewed: February 24, 2019
Text © Copyright 2019 Glenn Erickson