Bedazzled - 1967
This 1967 British comedy film directed by Stanley Donen and starring Peter Cook and Dudley Moore tells the story of the hapless Stanley who sells his soul to the devil in exchange for seven wishes. He learns that each wish comes with a catch.
Stanley and George make a transaction
Stanley (Dudley Moore) is a hamburger-flipper at a fast food place called Wimpey's, working in silent anguish because he doesn't have the nerve to talk to the waitress (Eleanor Bron) that he is infatuated with. In despair, he attempts to hang himself in his tiny apartment, only for it to miserably fail, bringing down a water pipe, spraying liquid everywhere, when in walks George Spiggot (Peter Cook), dressed like a stage magician in black and red, with an offer to exchange Stanley's soul for seven wishes.
Bedazzled isn't just a funny spoof of Faust, though it covers the basics of the Goethe tale, with the waitress Margaret (Bron) as the pursued love object instead of the traditional Gretchen. The script by Peter Cook and Dudley Moore also satirizes the Church of England, pop culture, youth culture, consumer culture, English bureaucracy, and human vices (the main feature in the film after our three actors is Raquel Welch as "Lust" talking in a faux-southern belle accent). On top of all that, because of the year Bedazzled was made (1967), it is a time-capsule of "Swinging Sixties" London.
Though Bedazzled could've been a black comedy in the English style of Kind Hearts and Coronets, it doesn't have the discipline to stay there and instead becomes a series of comedy sketches, each centered on Stanley's seven wishes. No matter how detailed Stanley makes each wish, they always backfire into a mess that he can only get out of by summoning the Devil again by blowing a raspberry and starting over with a new wish. This promenade between the episodes of the wishes is probably the best thing in Bedazzled, as the humor and (sometimes) underlying pathos between Dudley Moore's pathetic "everyman" and Peter Cook's tricky Satan gives the story a substantiveness that the wish episodes lack.
Cook's Satan behaves very English and delivers theology to the viewer with a flat expression that doesn't give way to either scorn or praise, as if calm bewilderment about the English God is matched by the confusion in the society at large, and perhaps the confusion in Stanley's self-centered wishes (for example, when given a chance to save some poor hippies in a field from a bee-attack, Stanley refuses because 'I've only got four wishes left!')
Peter Cook's Lucifer claims there is a contest between he and God, each trying to amass a hundred-billion souls, and Lucifer is so far ahead in the 'game,' that he cannot help but win. When that occurs, he wants to ascend back into Heaven and be God's favorite angel again. He details some of why this would be wonderful, and it suspiciously sounds like the daydream of any number of would-be celebrities imagining the adulation of fame.
This daydreaming is in between the petty torments this devil is constantly unleashing on humanity, such as training pigeons to poop on peoples heads, ripping random pages out of books, running petty cons on little old ladies, or cutting buttons off of new shirts.
This 'wish' of George Spiggot gives the audience a view of the Devil's lack of self-awareness and his hopeless pursuit parallels Stanley's array of wishes that equally cannot produce the result craved for. In the end, Stanley the human has the alternative of just finding enough courage to talk to the waitress, but George the fallen angel, no matter how charmingly Peter Cook has played him for the enjoyment of the film audience, there is only getting back on the job of damning and being damned, with God portrayed as an inscrutable being ruling over all.
Shot in color but for a brilliant black-and-white section in which both Stanley and George are dueling pop singers on a music TV show, Bedazzled is inventive and often very funny.
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Original Page September 30, 2020 | Updated Deb 2023