Bedazzled March 11, 2015
What if The Devil were a smartass, lanky British dude instead of an unspeakably evil fire-monster? What if God weren't a bearded Abercrombie & Fitch model but an invisible, booming disembodied voice who likes to maniacally cackle in his spare time? What if Lust, one of the seven deadly sins, were embodied by the curvaceous Raquel Welch? With enough madcap energy and enough wit, those what if's amalgamate into Bedazzled, one of the finest comedies of the last 50 years.
It isn’t funny haha like Airplane!, you might say, and it isn’t trying to say something like the socially conscious Sullivan’s Travels. Bedazzled is a collection of clever quips and dryly funny performances glued together with an insanely ingenious storyline that hits you with the force of a sexy wink from Linda Evangelista. It isn’t anything other than consistently wicked and consistently engaging; yet comedy in the 1960s seems to be most attributed to Peter Sellers’ greatest vehicles. But The Pink Panther series had its limits; Bedazzled, on the other hand, seems limitless. It may be tongue-in-cheek in its attitudes towards soul selling and heaven and hell’s tricky relationship, but it is overtly serious when it comes to being unpredictable and quick. To call it underrated would be an understatement.
Dudley Moore, always an underappreciated comedic talent, portrays Stanley Moon, a hapless fry cook hopelessly in love with his coworker, the lovely Margaret (Eleanor Bron). He has kept his feelings secret for years, and, too nervous to do anything about them, finally decides that he’s much too miserable in life to continue going on. So, he ties a noose to his apartment’s pipe, jumps, and … well, the pipe breaks. But fear not; just as Stanley is about to lose hope once again, The Devil himself (Peter Cook) appears at his door, offering a sinful deal: If he grants Stanley seven wishes, then he, in return, will collect the poor man’s soul. Stanley doesn’t even hesitate - what does he have to lose? - and indeed goes through with The Devil’s plan. All his wishes revolve around capturing Margaret’s attention, but as the bible has told us several times, you can’t just trust the most vile force in the universe.
Like Sellers in Doctor Strangelove, Moore is given the chance to try on several personae and see where they go; when he wishes for eloquence in hopes to seduce Margaret with his mind, he adopts a smooth attitude and an intellectual Welsh accent to back himself up. When he asks The Devil to give him the swagger of a rock star, he really turns into a rock star, singing with the charisma of Roger Daltrey. Moore is so insanely versatile that awe is the only emotion that seems to come out of us; the fluctuations in his performances are so subtle that you have to remind yourself just how much talent it takes to switch characterizations back and forth so many times in a single movie.
But if I’ve made the film sound like a fantasy romp with a stellar performance at its core, that only scratches the surface. Cook, as much as Moore, can spit out adept pieces of dialogue with the wit of the most seasoned of comedians (an increasingly impressive feat considering much of the film is improvised), and Stanley Donen, most known for his musical features (Singin’ in the Rain, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers) keeps up with the forward thinking ideals of filmmaking in the 1960s, providing Bedazzled with a solid foundation while also giving it room to go off the rails when it needs to. Films like Bedazzled work so well not just because of the talent involved; they work so well because everything they do is funny, existing in a parallel universe only comprising remarkably backwards humor. Along with Raquel Welch’s sex appeal, it hasn’t aged a bit. A