powered by AFI
The 1960s pop culture love affair that the world had with all things British was headlined, of course, by James Bond and The Beatles, but extended far and wide and eventually included 1960s British comedy. The heyday of the Music Hall (the British equivalent to American vaudeville) had only recently passed, and by the mid-1960s the field had been overtaken by a new generation of satirical comics seen and heard on BBC television and radio and onstage in drama club revues from universities such as Cambridge and Oxford. One of the most popular teams of the era, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, hailed from the troupe known as Beyond the Fringe, and had recently scored a hit on the TV series Not Only...But Also (1965-1970). Cook and Moore made an assortment of movie appearances in the 1960s, but only one film featured them as stars throughout and captured them at their peak; it was a variation on the Faust tale called Bedazzled (1967). The film quickly became an irreverent highbrow favorite, and has remained one of the funniest movies of the 1960s.
The story structure of Bedazzled - a series of wishes bestowed upon a Schlub by an untrustworthy Devil - lent itself to a "sketch" format in which Cook and Moore could play differing characters in a variety of settings and situations. Stanley Moon (Dudley Moore) is about to tie a noose and hang himself in his dreary London flat; he has no social or any other kind of skills and despairs over ever winning the affections of Margaret (Eleanor Bron), the waitress at the diner where Stanley is a short-order cook. A dapper gent calling himself George Spiggott (Peter Cook) appears in Stanley's flat but soon clarifies that he is none other than The Devil ("Beelzebub, The Prince of Darkness, The Horned One..."), and that he has the power to grant Moon's greatest desire in return for his soul. Moon first asks for a Forbisher & Gleason raspberry-flavored ice lolly, which the Devil retrieves by hopping on a bus and buying for Stanley (although Stanley must advance him the money). Unimpressive as this is, Lucifer then transports Stanley through time and space with the magic words "LBJ." Stanley's true desire is to win the affections of Margaret, of course, and Lucifer grants him seven wishes in his endeavor to win her. Moon is able to interrupt any scenario by blowing a raspberry, which will summon The Devil so that they can regroup and poor Stanley can rethink his strategy.
Bedazzled may have been devised as a series of skits, but it miraculously hangs together as a whole and flows naturally as a feature film. (The story is credited to both Cook and Moore with a screenplay by Cook). American Stanley Donen, co-director of such iconic musicals as Singin' in the Rain (1952) and On the Town (1949), here engages in the sort of Mod transitions and odd shooting styles and cutting that fellow American director Richard Lester utilized in the Beatles films A Hard Day's Night (1964) and Help! (1965) (as well as the non-Beatles comedy The Knack ), which became something of a blueprint for depictions of Swinging London. Donen lavishes great attention on the photography (the cinematographer was Austin Dempster), even indulging in the rather odd visual motif of staging many shots through such stage scenery as windows, doorways, bedding gauze, shower doors, and mirrors. Yet Donen always manages to keep the comedy center stage; the patter between Cook and Moore is always crystal clear and more than likely the majority of the film's dialogue was redubbed in post-production so that none of the witticisms would be lost in the soundtrack.
In his book Cult Movies 2, Danny Peary recalls the impact the film had in the States and writes that "Bedazzled has become dated, but when it was released we considered it unique among the British imports, and much better than the other comedies that made it to America at that time. It combined the absurdity and breezy style of the Richard Lester films that were extremely popular in America in the sixties, the mixture of ridiculousness and sophistication of the early Peter Sellers/Alec Guinness/Ian Carmichael/Alastair Sim films; the verbal outrageousness and slapstick of the later Peter Sellers; the lowbrow comedy of the Carry On series; and, of course, the irreverent satire and parody of Beyond the Fringe..."
Peary also noted what a showcase Bedazzled was for the team of Cook and Moore. "They don't do much visual comedy (what there is, however, is unexpectedly wild), but much of their verbal repartee is brilliant. Much humor in Bedazzled comes not from what they say but how they say it; how adeptly they change voice nuances and intonations and conversational mannerisms as their characters move from class to class. As a team they can drawl like lazy-lipped British aristocrats or banter like ex-burlesque comics Abbott and Costello." Indeed, some of the great charms of the film are extremely subtle. At any given moment of Lucifer's banter with Stanley, he is absent-mindedly engaging in bits of business which he calls "routine mischief"; these consist of such acts as expiring parking meters, bruising a crate of bananas with a hammer, putting a deep scratch into one side of a random phonograph record, or ripping the last page out of an Agatha Christie novel.
Other than Eleanor Bron's key role, the other players in Bedazzled are clearly in support of Cook and Moore. Raquel Welch was played up in the film's advertising, and although certainly memorable, her role is minor. Welch plays Lust, one of the Deadly Sins that assist Lucifer in the running of his London headquarters in the Rendezvous Club. The club is decorated in "early Hitler" according to Lucifer, who says, "I can't get any decent help these days. God's laughing, of course. All he has to do is raise his little finger and he's got a thousand sycophantic prissy little angels dancing around his beck and call. I'm lumbered with Anger and Sloth."
As this last quote indicates, Bedazzled freely and gleefully engages in a mockery of religion that was quite a shock at the time, and still packs a punch. As Peary noted, "Considering that Bedazzled came out not long after John Lennon was forced to publicly retract his 'The Beatles are more popular than Jesus' remark in order to stop a boycott of Beatles records on many U.S. radio stations, as well as organized Nazi-like burnings of Beatles records and magazines, it's amazing Moore and Cook attempted and got away with using material I'm sure many people considered blasphemous."
The often uptight Bosley Crowther of the New York Times was unimpressed by the film, calling it a "pretentiously metaphorical picture" and accusing it of being "awfully precious and monotonous and eventually it fags out in sheer bad taste." Andrew Sarris of The Village Voice wrote "If Bedazzled does indeed need a defense, it must be recorded that there is more than a little exhilaration in the spectacle of clever people saying and doing whatever comes to mind without fear of pressure groups or the philistinism of the masses. More cleverness is not necessarily enough for the screen but it does deserve recognition and encouragement...."
Pauline Kael called Bedazzled a "very deft and silly and likable Faustian vaudeville," and writes that "the scenes are quick, and even though the rhythm is frequently stagey little bits of verbal wit seem to be flying about... The movie is no more than a novelty, but it may surprise you by making you laugh out loud a few times." Roger Ebert admired both the humor and the technique, observing that "in films of this sort, too often the camera records the fun instead of joining in it. However, that is certainly not the case in this magnificently photographed, intelligent, very funny film."
Producer: Stanley Donen
Director: Stanley Donen
Screenplay: Peter Cook (story and screenplay); Dudley Moore (story)
Cinematography: Austin Dempster
Art Direction: Terence Knight
Music: Dudley Moore
Film Editing: Richard Marden
Cast: Peter Cook (George Spiggott/The Devil), Dudley Moore (Stanley Moon), Eleanor Bron (Margaret), Raquel Welch (Lust/Lilian Lust), Alba (Vanity), Robert Russell (Anger), Barry Humphries (Envy), Parnell McGarry (Gluttony), Daniele Noel (Avarice), Howard Goorney (Sloth), Michael Bates (Inspector Clarke), Bernard Spear (Irving Moses)
by John M. Miller