BR: Bedazzled (1967)

April 26, 2019 | By

Film: Excellent

Transfer: Excellent

Extras: Good

Label: Twilight Time

Region: All

Released: February 19, 2019

Genre:  Comedy / Satire

Synopsis: A short order cook sells his soul to the Devil in exchange for seven wishes that should bring petty Margaret into his arms, but misses the mark far too often.

Special Features: Isolated Mono Music & Effects Track / Theatrical Trailer / 8-page colour booklet with liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo / Limited to 3000 copies / Available exclusively from Screen Archives Entertainment and www.twilighttimemovies.com.

 


 

Review:

In the 1960s, Stanley Donen shifted his focus from directing musicals to romantic Hitchcockian thrillers (Charade, Arabesque), offbeat drama (Two for the Road), a biting satire (Bedazzled), and a play featuring a very eccentric couple (Staircase) – films which show a director very keen in telling stories by playing with form, colour, music, and montage.

The opportunity to direct a modern version of the Faust legend set in swinging London with Peter Cook & Dudley Moore must have been an irresistible lure, and like capturing lightening in a bottle, Bedazzled still bubbles with its organic blend of satire and absurdism.

Moore is Stanley Moon, a schmuck flipping burgers and dunking fries in a greasy spoon, and lacking an ounce of courage to tell waitress Margaret (Eleanor Bron) of his indefatigable, deep infatuation.

As thoughts of pubescent devotion rotate in his brain, the Devil, George Spiggott (Cook, decked in a Dracula cape, and donning one of the coolest sunglasses in history) sits and waits for the opportune moment to propose a deal: seven wishes to get the girl in exchange for an element that’s ‘as useless as an appendix’ – Stanley’s soul.

The lure of transforming fantasy into a fantastic romantic reality leads to an agreement signed in blood (not Stanley’s, but of Sloth, one of the seven semi-moronic sins who hang around and irritate George at the best of times). Being too dim to outwit the Devil, each of Stanley’s emotionally-charged wishes fall flat because George finds a loophole through which he can foil any chance at success.

You see, the Devil can’t let any wish work because it’ll prolong his full acquisition of a soul, and as George demonstrates to Stanley, he can’t help being “pathetic” and creating nuisance and mischief because a) it’s in his nature, and b) God expects him to balance Heavenly benevolence with darkness (even if it’s as childish as launching ready-to-shit pigeons above upper-class twits).

By 1967, Moore and Cook’s longtime creative relationship had already resulted in popular live and taped shows, and the pair’s perfectly honed timing guarantees snappy exchanges and brilliant pokes at the classes by affecting characters with snotty, grating versions of upper-class dimwits and pretentious artistes.

Each of Stanley’s wishes disintegrate into states of humiliation – some embarrassments take a little longer than others to fully sting – and his learning curve never improves partly because of a naive trust in George, because he’s the one person who’s bothered to listen to Stanley’s ramblings and show a hint of caring.

If the Devil offers his bed and red jammies to rest after a hugely disappointing wish,how can he be purely evil?

The steady streams of dialogue do slow the film down a bit, but the heavy exchanges are often counter-balanced by more visual sequences, such as George’s corruption of Stanley’s final wish: our hero reformulated as a novitiate for a cultish sect who speak no words, and pay homage to their yet-to-be-sainted nun by bouncing on trampolines.

After minor roles that weren’t more than eye candy, Fox’s vivacious contract star Raquel Welch had earned the right to star in One Million Years B.C. (1966), albeit in a neatly tailored prehistoric loincloth; and Fathom (1967), with the anamorphic ratio flattering her lithe figure and massive hair. These were hardly deep character parts, but as build-ups to the studio’s new sexpot, it seemed logical to interpolate the actress in a neatly tailored cameo-styled role, playing Lust. Welch gets major billing in much of the p.r. sheets and trailers, but she has just 3 short (but fairly memorable) scenes.

Bron, who had appeared in the hits Help! (1965), Alfie (1966), and Donen’s Two for the Road, is Bedazzled‘s real third star, playing Stanley’s love object who’s transformed just as radically as Stanley when his wishes move from arty-farty intellectuals, a millionaire couple, a rock star and rabid fan, and a (technically) married couple.

To start a wish, George uses the magic words “Julie Andrews!” and a wish can be terminated forthwith by blasting a loud, sputtering raspberry (which becomes challenging when he becomes a literal fly, peering from a wall as the detective investigating his disappearance makes moves on emotionally upset Margaret).

Matching the sharp repartee is Donen’s direction, which seems tighter than his prior Hitchcockian variants. While key sections are rather trippy, the visual style is also bit experimental for a number of reasons.

Maurice Binder’s gorgeous titles feature dizzying abstract footage and superimposed credits, set to Moore’s brilliant little score. (Prior to becoming a comedian, Moore studied composition and performance, and had his own jazz combo during the 1960s. As a film composer, his output was sparse, but his theme variations are very catchy. The slightly somber bass chords add some dramatic gravitas to what’s essentially a schnook’s earnest desire to find happiness in a dull, drudgery-drenched life.)

Longtime camera operator Austin Dempster made his debut as solo cinematographer with Bedazzled, framing the stars in massive Panavision close-ups, or crafting striking portraits, such as George and Stanley chatting their respective goals in wetsuits while rows of dock cranes converge to a triangle at the horizon.

Colours aren’t pastel, but the palette is very soft & lightly luxurious, and Stanley’s interactions with Lust are shot through the diffusing veils of George’s immense bed. (Although his career extended as far back as 1941, between 1967-1975, as solo cinematographer Dempster shot just 11 films, including Otley, The Lookinglass War, Loot, and The New Spartans.)

From a technical stance, the best segment in Bedazzled is the pop star fantasy. It’s a frenzied whirring of B&W images bouncing between handheld, docu-styled footage trained on the audience & screaming fans; and cutaways to multiple TV monitors as Stanley performs the main theme “Love Me” for a network variety show.

Stanley’s triumph is immediately trounced by George’s deadpan rendition of “Bedazzled,” performed under the name Drimble Wedge and the Vegetations. Donen’s visual design bounces between crazy angles, fast movements, and flash frames – some inverted to negative – which editor Richard Marden (Sleuth, The Falcon and the Snowman, Hellraiser) assembled into an arresting montage that never reduces the sequence’s comedic impact nor becomes an incoherent melange.

Whereas pop star Stanley seems to have fun playing a gilded icon and feeds off Margaret’s hysterical, belly-aching screams, the visual chaos intensifies the absurdness of George’s stone-faced performance. Margaret is hypnotized by George’s monotone statements into a blank-faced zombie while Stanley writhes on the floor, once again defeated by the Devil’s corrupted sense of fair play and exploiting another loophole.

As a director, Donen shares particular skills with fellow former dancer & choreographer-turned director Bob Fosse: an exquisite sense of visual rhythm, and an instinctive urge to cut shots to their essentials, resulting in a kinetic, precisely choreographed style that still feels modern.

When Harold Ramis remade the film in 2000, fans may have been irked by the very notion a British classic was being reworked into a teen-friendly, American comedy, but it’s a very different iteration of Cook & Moore’s story that has genuine moments of brilliance.

In Ramis’ film, the Devil becomes a sexually charged woman (Elizabeth Hurley); George is renamed Elliott; his physical transformations are more extreme; his co-workers appear in the fantasies, and the seven deadly sins have been dropped from the narrative entirely.

The revised and new scenarios work for any age, partly because they rely on Brendan Fraser’s own brand of self-effacing comedy; he’s completely game to playing an irritated South American drug lord, a weeping vitamin-D deficient poet, and a not-fully, giant-sized basketball player.

SPOILER ALERT

 

The Devil’s end goal is also different. In Donen’s film, George needs to reach a billion souls to re-apply to Heaven, whereas Hurley’s more ruthless Devil is just working on another hapless victim.

Whereas Stanley and Elliott are respectively saved from the fires of Hell, the reasons each misses the 24-7 broiler differ: in a moment of fleeting unselfishness, George sets Stanley free because he’s already exceeded his soul quota, and is convinced God can’t possibly refuse his admission to Heaven for a doing a good deed, whereas Elliott’s selfless wish for love object Alison (Frances O’Connor) to live out a happy life voids the sale of his soul.

Both men resume their lives more emboldened to approaching their beloveds, but where George has a chance at a dinner date with Margaret, Elliott gets a second chance with an ‘alternate’ Alison – a clumsy, overly chatty manic pixie.

Fraser’s comedic timing and suave Cary Grant stature keep the remake afloat when it starts to falter in the second half, and although not a disaster or misfire by any means, the remake reinforces the untouchable quality and classic status of the original. (That said, the original does have its share of squirmy references to weight, gender, and sexual assault.)

 

END OF SPOILERS

Twilight Time’s Blu-ray sports a gorgeous HD transfer and clean audio – the 2.0 mix seems to be a blend of the original mono mix and some of the detail perhaps culled from the surviving isolated mono music & effects track. The lack of a commentary is slightly counter-balanced by another fine essay from Julie Kirgo.

Featurettes ported over from Fox’s 2007 DVD include re-edited excerpts of separate Moore and Cook Q&A with talk show host Paul Ryan (the films Sherlock Holmes and 10 are both referenced, pegging the Q&As around 1979), and topics span comedic timing, their pair’s working relationship, and Moore steady career in Hollywood.

There’s also an interview with Ramis reflecting on the original and aspects of his remake; that Q&A’s inclusion leads one to believe the  DVD of 1967 film was supposed to be released in tandem with the remake in 2001, but was held back (and maybe forgotten) until it materialized in 2007.

Between 1974-1984, Stanley Donen would direct just 5 feature films: The Little Prince (1974) with  Bob Fosse playing The Snake, Lucky Lady (1975), Movie Movie (1978), the sci-fi disaster Saturn 3 (1980), and the provocative sex comedy Blame It on Rio (1984).

 

 

 

© 2019 Mark R. Hasan

 


 

 


 

External References:
Editor’s BlogIMDB  —  Soundtrack AlbumComposer Filmography
 
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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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