- Year: 1967
- Director: Stanley Donen
- Starring: Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Eleanor Bron
Since the deal with the devil story dates back centuries, it’s clearly one that’s rife for parody. However, there just aren’t many famous comedic takes on the tale. They’ve been done, but Bedazzled is probably the best known.
Bedazzled is the brainchild of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, a British comedy duo who worked together on shows like Beyond the Fringe and Not Only… But Also. While Moore became relatively famous in America with hits like Arthur and 10, you probably know Peter Cook best as this guy.
It’s not all bad, because it is one of the funniest scenes in all of cinema, but he was more than just the Impressive Clergyman (and yes, that is how he’s billed in The Princess Bride). Cook plays the Devil here to Moore’s Stanley Moon in a fast-paced and modernized take on the Faustian story.
Stanley Moon is your average loser, with a lousy job at a burger joint and a huge crush on a co-worker Margaret (Eleanor Bron), but he lacks the strength to talk to her. He asks God for a sign, but when he doesn’t get one, he attempts to hang himself. Before he can finish the deed, he’s interrupted by the devil, who hilariously makes no attempt to hide his identity. For obvious reasons, Cook and Moore play off each other wonderfully. Most of the film’s humor comes not just from well-written lines (and they are well-written don’t get me wrong), but the quippy way Cook and Moore exchange them. Take for example the scene where the Devil has just revealed his identity.
- Stanley: You’re a nutcase, you’re a bleeding nutcase.
- Devil: They said the same of Jesus Christ, Freud, and Galileo.
- Stanley: They said it of a lot of nutcases, too.
You see what I mean? It’s a funny enough line on paper, but if you’ve seen the movie, you’ll know how much funnier their delivery makes it. It’s the kind of comedy that only a team who has worked together for years can pull off so wonderfully.
Cook’s Devil, also known as George Spiggott, is one of the only devils who appears to be the same age as the Faust character. Of course he’s actually millennia older, but he usually incarnates himself as someone at least slightly older. Here, we see the Devil trying to win Stanley to his side via friendship, showing himself as the sympathetic and personable one in comparison to God. Of course he’s only giving one side of the story, but Stanley falls for it, even seeming to become a bit obsessed with him. It could perhaps be interpreted as falling for him, but seeing as how Stanley never really had a close friend, it’s probably just not knowing boundaries.
That said, Stanley probably views George as someone he’d like to be (minus the whole being the devil thing). George is successful, good looking, fashionable, and seems to have no trouble with women. In fact, it would seem that George is trying to hook up with Margaret in basically all of their scenes together.
We get an interesting spin on the traditional X years of good luck, with the Devil instead giving Stanley seven wishes. He even gets a trial wish to prove that George is the Devil. He is then taken to headquarters, an office environment where George has the seven deadly sins working for him. Now this of course leads to some of the funniest moments in the film (Anger wearing a “Make War, Not Love” shirt, anyone?), but it’s also right out of Christopher Marlowe’s play Doctor Faustus.
Personifying the seven deadly sins goes back to medieval tradition, but featuring it in a film like Bedazzled definitely proves that it is smarter than your average comedy. All of the sins make an appearance, with the most hilarious being Sloth. When Stanley needs someone to look over his contract, George says, “Sloth would be best. He’s a lawyer.”
It’s amusing seeing the Devil working out of an office like this, being so casual about flipping through the souls in his file cabinet. There’s a very Monty Python-esque joke when he’s flipping through the “M’s,” “Machiavelli, McCarthy, Masoff, Miller, Moses.” Stanley is obviously taken aback at this, but the Devil clarifies offhandedly that it’s Irving Moses, the fruiterer. The sketches that result from the wishes are funny, sure, but these remarks are what had me laughing out loud over and over.
The Devil at the end of the day is mostly a prankster, enjoying playing jokes on people in between the dealing. He also pulls loopholes on all of Stanley’s wishes, explaining that, as the Devil, he has to do it. When Stanley asks to be more articulate, he does indeed impress Margaret, but she’s only interested in his mind and screams “Rape” when he tries to make a physical move. This is an uncomfortable enough scene on its own, but it leads to an asinine subplot where a police officer becomes attracted to her and even claims that rape victims are often asking for it. Look, I get that the cop isn’t supposed to be a sympathetic character, but rape jokes in any context just don’t go over. It’s really the movie’s only major flaw, though.
When Stanley wishes to be rich with a “physical” wife, he gets his wish, except she’s physical with somebody else. The wishes go on like this, leading to the most hilarious one where Stanley finally believes he has figured out the whole system. He makes an incredibly specific wish—somewhere quiet where he and Margaret will love each other and be together forever, as well as the thrill of meeting her for the first time.
And it’s still not specific enough as the Devil turns him into a nun of the Leaping Beryllians of the Order of St. Beryl, as he didn’t specify that he wished to be male. The extended scene in the convent is incredibly silly, and it’s clearly something that was created outside the context of the movie, but it’ll have you in stitches. It leads to a ridiculous initiation ceremony where the new nuns jump on trampolines in honor of their founder.
The way Stanley finally gets out of his contract isn’t anywhere near as clever as the trial in The Devil and Daniel Webster, but it does the job alright. It’s revealed that the Devil was in a battle with God to get 100 million souls, and the Devil hits his number. Trying to cultivate a kinder image for himself, the Devil gives Stanley his soul back. However, God still does not let the Devil back into Heaven, as his “good deed” was still an act for his own benefit. It’s too late to get Stanley’s soul back, though, and the Devil curses God left and right. It’s nothing ingenious, but it works.
Bedazzled is not a perfect film, but there are so many lines that cause huge laughs. The scenes without Cook and Moore both on screen do drag a bit, but anytime they’re together, it makes up for it. Cook’s Devil is the best character in the film, making hilarious blink-and-you’ll-miss-it comments. The Seven Deadly Sins are enjoyable too, including Raquel Welch as Lust and Barry Humphries as Envy. Eleanor Bron is fine as Margaret, but she doesn’t have much character outside of being the object of Stanley’s affection and whatever she’s turned into via his wishes. Let’s take a look at the final score.
Story (15/20 Points)
It’s the typical Deal with the Devil/Bad Genie story, but it leads to some clever and sometimes hilarious sketches. It’s definitely a film of its time, but it doesn’t feel dated. Take for example the scene where Stanley becomes a pop star. The music is clearly of the ’60s, but the message of 15 minutes of fame is a timeless one.
Faust (16/20 Points)
While many Fausts are guys who had a stroke of bad luck, Stanley Moon is a real loser, and Dudley Moore does a pretty good job portraying him. His scenes with Margaret work pretty well, and it’s nice to see at the end that he has actually learned something and become a more confident person.
Devil (18/20 Points)
Peter Cook’s young and hip Devil is a joy to watch, getting almost all of the film’s funniest lines, like pointing out that the paintings in his office are early Hitler. Like so many, he is the perfect Devil for the setting. I find his conversation with God and eventual break down a little underwhelming, but that’s splitting hairs.
Supporting Cast (12/20 Points)
The Seven Deadly Sins are funny, but the movie mostly comes down to the Devil and Stanley, which is fine. I don’t find the portrayal of God, just a booming voice, all that creative either. I did get a laugh out of the little old lady the Devil plays a prank on, though.
Experience (19/20 Points)
The jokes and rapid fire delivery are just so enjoyable. I would have been fine if the whole thing was just a discussion between the two about good and evil, because it’s so funny. Who can forget lines like “I Love Lucifer it was in those days”? The music and constantly changing set pieces enhance the experience as well.
FINAL SCORE: 80%
There are places Bedazzled drags a little, but it never really gets tired. There are so many hysterical lines, mostly from Cook, and it’s definitely worth the watch. It may not be for everyone, but I think for most people it will be a lot of fun, which only worries me more about reviewing the remake.
Next week, though, we’ll be looking at Disney and Ray Bradbury’s take on the tale, Something Wicked This Way Comes.