d. Stanley Donen /1967 / UK / 103 mins
Before Monty Python made cinematic history with The Life of Brian, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore tackled issues of Christianity with their own trademark blend of absurdest comedy and biting dialogue. It’s nowhere near as grand as their comedy successor’s magnum opus but succeeds in being Cook and Moore’s most well known and celebrated outing onto the big screen together.
In an exaggeration of the power dynamic that defined their off-screen relationship and their roles in the series Not Only but Also, Cook plays the sardonic George Spiggot (better known as the Devil) whilst Moore plays Stanley Moon, a down trodden short-order chef – in what may well be a dig on his height by Cook as screenwriter. Due to his lack of success in seducing his colleague Margaret (Eleanor Bron), Stanley decides to hang himself. Spotting a man ripe for manipulating, the Devil (in the form of George Spiggot) offers him seven wishes in exchange for his soul.
The film paces itself as a series of sketches, with Stanley trying harder and harder to wish himself into a life he considers ideal. Each sequence acts as an attack on bourjois sensibilities, although few social groups escape Cook’s quite literally damning depiction of humanity. The sketch-style format of Stanley’s wishes becomes drawn out and tedious on occasion but is also capable of moments of genuine brilliance. One highlight is the wonderfully timed comparison between two pop songs performed in turn by Cook and Moore. Moore sings with manic desperation “Love me!”, juxtaposing Cook’s deadpan and disinterested monotone of “you fill me with inertia”. Donen’s satirical presentation of the entertainment industry is a continuation of themes addressed in his previous picture, Singin’ in the Rain but updated with great style for the swinging sixties. The occasional critics who were less than favourable to Moore and Cook were mostly unanimous in their admiration for Donen’s sumptuous use of colour and engaging direction. His guiding hand roots the film in the same progressive tones that Cook and Moore’s comedy had become so well known for.
Cook and Moore handle their sex obsessed themes with far more intellectualism than their Carry On competitors, although Raquel Welsh (in an appearance as Lust) and Eleanor Bron are left with little opportunities to upstage the boys.
Bedazzled is a film about a hierarchy of power (something both men were very much aware of), a scene in which the Devil re-enacts his biblical origin from the top of a letterbox is both well executed and telling of Moore and Cook’s appreciation that neither is as of much value without the other. The ending may fall slightly short of dramatically fulfilling but allows the film to end on a somewhat bleaker and thoughtful note. Stanley is content with his lot (although he is still cruelly denied the affection of Margaret) and the Devil is rejected his promised redemption for what appears to be a technicality and the amusement of God.
The humour may often be absurd, Stanley’s new found intellectualism being accompanied by a hammed-up Welsh accent a case in point, but it’s cult success owes far more to its rare moments of sinister pathos. It’s hard not to sympathy with Spiggot (motivated by selfish desires though he is) as he sarcastically casts dirt over himself to highlight his subordination to God. The real villain of the piece may be authority. From the police inspector who admits that “I’ve always had mixed feelings about rape” to God himself, laughing maniacally over the credits.