Bedazzled (1967)

WFTB Score: 5/20

The plot: Desolate short-order cook Stanley Moon is willing to go to any lengths to obtain the girl of his dreams, even as far as making a pact with the Devil; but he quickly discovers that any offer that seems too good to be true undoubtedly is.

There is a received wisdom that the late sixties swung exactly like the colourful, dancing streets portrayed in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. Anyone wishing to argue the case against might choose Bedazzled as Exhibit A, since it takes an established director, a swinging scene and two red-hot comics of the time, and produces a lumpy stale loaf of a film.

There’s not a lot wrong with the set-up, which sees weak-willed burger chef Stanley Moon (Dudley Moore) ignored by waitress Margaret Spencer (Eleanor Bron) to the point that he attempts suicide; naturally, he is no good at this either and the Devil, under the nom de voyage George Spiggott (in the shape of Peter Cook) comes along to save him from himself. George offers Stanley seven wishes in which to find love and happiness with Margaret, but Stanley finds out that with all of these wishes, the devil is in the details and every bit of wish-fulfilment has a catch:

  • Stanley is intellectual (and Welsh), and he and Margaret indulge in a lengthy sensory explanation which goes wrong when he jumps on her and she cries rape (how’s that for a punchline?)
  • Stanley is rich, powerful and married to Margaret, but can only lavish gifts on her whilst she is all over harp teacher Randy and a weapons-dealing friend (in the shape of Cook again)
  • Stanley’s a swingin’ pop star, upstaged by the Devil and his monotone, miserable song Bedazzled (penned by Moore)
  • He’s a crudely animated fly on the wall, helplessly watching as the inspector conducting the investigation into Stanley’s apparent suicide makes some highly unpleasant remarks about rape as he makes advances towards Margaret (lots of laughs there, then)
  • Stanley is the other man, cheating with Margaret on her marvellous, faithful husband (Cook again), which causes them overwhelming, unbearable guilt
  • Stanley’s a nun! New to the order of leaping nuns, a recycled joke from Cook and Moore’s Not Only…But Also TV series, his and Margaret’s love for each other is pure but can never be. His raspberry-blowing, designed to take him out of the scenario doesn’t work because
  • He’s already had his seventh wish in a devilish catch!

Interspersing these sketches (which is what they are, essentially) are little vignettes where George causes petty mischief and mingles with the Seven Deadly Sins, Raquel Welch proving a voluptuous Lust and Barry Humphries a vainglorious Envy. Overarching all of this is the Devil’s race with God to be first to claim a 100 billion souls, eventually meaning that he does not even require Stanley’s, prompting him to perform an act of kindness that proves to be his undoing.

This all sounds fair enough, but in execution the film comes across as hopelessly dry, staid and (forgive me for using this word, none other will suffice) boring. Moore as an actor is not so bad, although his weedy little voice irritates after a while; but Cook’s delivery of his own material is mannered and even to the point of being dull, his dubbing barely matching what’s on screen. It appears to be a perfect example of what works on stage and the small screen being entirely inappropriate for the medium of film.

The same is true of the jokes: satirical barbs that would no doubt be caught on television (with appropriate pauses for laughter, presumably) go by unnoticed on screen. A few jokes hit their target – Barry Humphries knows how to work the camera and some of the cracks about religion are accurate – but by and large the comedy is understated to the point of being missed altogether, especially when distractingly ‘funky’ music accompanies much of what is being said.

Eventually, the Devil is rejected by God and vows to fill the modern world with noisy rubbish in revenge. It’s a rare moment of emotion for Cook and he, along with the film in general, could have done with a lot more of it throughout. Stanley Donen does himself no favours in stepping out of his comfort zone, showing that he should stick to glorious musicals such as Singin’ in the Rain. However, he’s not really to blame. Just like Morecambe and Wise, Pete and Dud were never cut out to be great film comedians. Unlike them, they managed to forge some sort of career nonetheless, and Harold Ramis found sufficient mileage in the story to remake the film with (eek!) Liz Hurley as Lucifer.

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One thought on “Bedazzled (1967)

  1. Pingback: Bedazzled (2000) | wordsfromthebox

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