No, we’re not talking about that blasphemous remake with Brendan Fraser and Elizabeth Hurley from a few years ago. We’re talking about Stanley Donen’s echt-’60s film that best captured the comic genius of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore at the height of their powers — in a film they wrote (and for which Moore provided the music).
Bryan Forbes did all right by the duo with The Wrong Box a couple years earlier, and Richard Lester used them to at least interesting effect in his singular The Bed-Sitting Room a couple years later. But it was Donen — one of the few classic Hollywood directors to effectively embrace the freewheeling style of the British Invasion movies — who helmed the film that successfully reproduced the sort of humor that made Cook and Moore so incredible on TV and the stage.
A great deal of the film’s success, of course, lies with the Cook and Moore story and Cook’s screenplay. Moore plays Stanley Moon, a short-order cook in a Wimpy Bar who is hopelessly in love with out-of-his-league Margaret Spencer (Eleanor Bron, Help!). Stanley is so distraught over his hopeless love that he decides to hang himself, resulting only in a broken water pipe in his crummy flat. Enter Cook as the Devil himself (aka George Spiggot), who remarks, “Excuse me, I couldn’t help noticing that you were making an unsuccessful suicide bid.”
George has a proposal: Stanley’s soul in exchange for seven wishes (“In accordance with the mystical seven — seven days of the week, seven deadly sins, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers“). Surely, one of those wishes will land him Margaret Spencer. What makes this Faustian premise so successful is that it allows Cook and Moore to create a series of characters in what amount to little more than sketches of the kind they did on TV and the stage, held together by a framing story.
The results are almost a pure delight, with some of the sharpest jokes being little more than touches that score big laughs because they seem both absurd and true at the same time. (George engages in such absurdly minor devil tasks as smashing bananas in their shipping crates, scratching phonograph records and tearing the last pages out of mystery novels.) The main gag is that every wish goes wildly wrong, thanks to George’s ability to find a loophole in anything Stanley comes up with.
This insanely funny movie is not without a seriously satirical side (just watch the ending!), and it’s as close as narrative film would ever come to reproducing the Cook and Moore of such stage shows as Beyond the Fringe and Good Evening. Anyone who caught them doing “The Frog and Peach” and “Gospel Truth” sketches on The Dick Cavett Show knows how brilliant they were at their purest, and will find a similar brilliance here. Those who only know Moore from his rather drab Hollywood career, or who only experienced the pair after alcohol and ill-health had dimmed Cook’s genius, owe it to themselves to see what this dynamic duo was really capable of.
– reviewed by Ken Hanke
[The Hendersonville Film Society will sponsor a showing of Bedazzled on Sunday, April 17 at 2 p.m., in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community, 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville. (From Asheville, take I-26 to U.S. 64 West, turn right at the third light onto Thompson Street, follow to Lake Pointe Landing entrance and park in lot at left.)]