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Bedazzled (1967)

Any conversation about the so-called British Invasion of the 1960s tends to focus on the new pop and rock music that tsunamied over American popular culture mid-decade. But riding that wave also came new styles of envelope-pushing comedy. This brash, cocksure postwar generation of young Oxbridge-educated comics modernized the British tradition of satire with sharp verbal wit, straight-faced or absurdist approaches to outrageous material, and gimlet-eyed sarcasm toward the previous generation's institutions. Political figures, religion, the upper classes, "high" and "low" culture/society/art — all were now open targets for unapologetic lampooning. In the early '60s, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, with Jonathan Miller and Alan Bennett, led this New Wave satire movement in Beyond the Fringe, a stage revue that was a sensation in London and on Broadway. Cook and Moore furthered their comedy partnership — "Pete and Dud" — on British television, most notably in their hit BBC series Not Only...But Also.

With this success in their pockets, they pitched a film to Twentieth Century Fox, a mod spin on the Faust legend, with Moore as the hapless schmuck who sells his soul to Peter Cook's dry, wry horned one. (Moore: "I thought you were called Lucifer." Cook: "I know. 'The Bringer of the Light' it used to be. Sounded a bit poofy to me.") It turned out that they already had an enthusiastic fan in director Stanley Donen, whose creds included Charade and Two for the Road, as well as top-drawer musicals On the Town, Funny Face, and Singin' in the Rain. Donen asked to work with Cook and Moore, and in 1967 — the year of Sgt. Pepper and The Who smashing their kit at Monterey — the duo's best film, Bedazzled, brought the spirit of Swinging London plus impudent pokes at religion, politics, and pop culture itself to their new audiences.

As timid, tongue-tied Wimpy's short-order cook Stanley Moon (a role that leaves us aching that he never co-starred with Rowan Atkinson), Moore pines for an aloof waitress, Margaret Spencer, played by veteran comic actor Eleanor Bron. So deep is his love and so long his anguish that he opts for hanging himself from his tiny flat's water pipe. (His goodbye note leaves Margaret his collection of moths.) He fails at that too, of course, although he does attract the attention of Mr. George Spiggot, a dapper swell who knows more about Stanley than anyone else cares to. Spiggot (Cook) reveals himself to be none other than Satan, who makes his God-appointed, workaday living as the proprietor of a grubby London nightclub and business office staffed by the Seven Deadly Sins. "What terrible sins I have working for me," he says of the riffraff Anger, Sloth, etc. "I suppose it's the wages." He offers Stanley seven wishes in exchange for the miserable little soul that, he says, is no more useful than Stanley's appendix. The appeal is irresistible to desperate Stanley: a chance to remake himself in any way imaginable to win Margaret's heart (as well as, naturally, her other bits).

Thus begins, with the magic incantation "Julie Andrews!", a series of altered-reality scenarios that place Stanley in situations of his choosing — a millionaire married to Margaret, an intellectual aesthete, a pop star, a fly on the wall (endearingly cartooned), and so on. The Devil, though, can't ignore the opportunities to insert himself into Stanley's wishes and screw them up. Cook's deadpan skewering of fleeting pop-idol vanities ("You fill me with inertia") will never lose its currency. To exit a fantasy, all Stanley has to do is blow a raspberry, whereupon he returns to wherever George happens to be awaiting the next attempt.

The best of the many funny moments here aren't necessarily Stanley's fantasy sequences, which sometimes drag, but the in-between scenes with Moore and Cook in their well-honed dialogue mode. Stanley learns that old Beelzebub is just another put-upon civil servant following orders. He may be the Prince of Darkness, but Spiggot's 24/7 job is chiefly urbane sarcasms and petty pranks such as expiring the time on parking meters, scratching LP records, melting ice lollies, targeting pigeons' bombardier runs, and phoning Mrs. Fitch ("Abercrombie here, I work with your husband") to tell her that Mr. Fitch has just checked into the Cheeseborough Hotel Brighton with his secretary. It's a mundane, dreary job for a fallen angel who aspires only to earn his way back into Heaven now that mankind can do his work well enough without him. Stanley tells Margaret that although George is the Devil, "he's not so bad once you get to know his problems." Perhaps the funniest sequence arrives when exasperated Stanley wishes to be with Margaret in a place of peace and spiritual purity, and he and Margaret find love as nuns in the cloistered Order of the Leaping Berelians, whose rituals require their sacred trampolines.

Bedazzled stitches its sketch-comedy scenes together with winning banter and collegiate theological spoofery — Mussolini barely slipped through George's grasp ("all that work, then right at the end with his last breath he says, 'Scusi, mille regretti,' and up he goes!"), God is English and "very upper class," the Garden of Eden was "a boggy swamp just south of Croydon; you can see it over there." Squeezably sexy Raquel Welch, clad in Frederick's of the Underworld lingerie, steals her scene as Lust in a bedroom cameo/typecasting. The DVD's poor paste-up box art oversells her presence, but it's an understandable marketing ploy. Barry Humphries ("Dame Edna Everage") appears as Envy.

On the downside, after a while the film doesn't quite generate the energy needed to sustain its momentum. Old-school Donen's directing is probably too restrained for the likes of Cook and Moore, who could have sent the material into orbit with the riffing spontaneity of their stage and British TV work. Richard Lester might have been a better fit. We can imagine the director A Hard Day's Night, The Knack, and Petulia putting his own wicked contemporary backspin on it. Nonetheless, Bedazzled supports itself on the heads of its two stars. Besides carrying the lead roles, Cook wrote the screenplay and Moore crafted the score, which he performed with his jazz trio. Bedazzled has attained the status of a modest comedy classic, and remains an essential splash in the sea change in British and American comedy that preordained, among others, Monty Python's Flying Circus.

The 2000 remake is harmless.

*          *          *

Fox doesn't promote its 2007 release of Bedazzled as a 40th Anniversary edition, but it's still a good piece of work. The print and transfer (OAR 2.35:1, anamorphic) are quite fine, if unremarkable. (Note that the box and press material erroneously state that it's 1.85:1.) Of the two English audio options, the DD 1.0 monaural sounds a bit better than the 2.0 stereo option, which is just rechanneled mono and has an artificial tinge to it.

The vintage extras are welcome even though they're not substantial. In an amusing off-the-cuff promo filmed on-set, "Peter and Dud: Interview with the Devil" (2 minutes), Moore appears as a TV interviewer collaring George Spiggot, Esq., a.k.a the Devil. A five-minute clip gives us Cook and Moore discussing their shared history on L.A.'s "Paul Ryan Show" in 1979 when Moore was just about to hit stardom in Blake Edwards' 10.

Finally, a newer piece is a six-minute interview with Harold Ramis, director of the 2000 remake, lauding the original. Also here are the American trailer and a click-through image gallery of 20 behind-the-scenes stills. Keep-case in a paperboard sleeve.

—Mark Bourne

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