Directed by Stanley Donen
Story by Peter Cook and Dudley Moore; Screenplay by Cook
Starring Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Eleanor Bron, Raquel Welch, Barry Humphreys.
Peter Cook is considered one of the great geniuses of sketch comedy. His wry but hilarious style was best appreciated in live acts, where he was a master of the ad lib, without making it sound like an ad lib. That sort of talent did not translate well to films, but Bedazzled* was one of the better examples of his talent.
Cook started performing comedy in college, and rose to prominence with the seminal British comedy revue, Beyond the Fringe with Dudley Moore, Johnathan Miller, and Alan Bennett. It was a departure for British comedy, and the spiritual grandfather of Monty Python, a show that wasn't afraid to be topical or to rock the boat.** Many of the skits were written by Cook.
He and Moore hit it off, and they became partners. Together, they did TV series, stage plays, and Bedazzled.
The movie is a comic retelling of Faust. Stanley Moon (Moore) is a poor schlub at a restaurant who pines for coworker Wendy (Eleanor Bron). When he cannot attract her, he tries to commit suicide, but it stopped by George Spiggott (Cook) -- the devil. George gives Stanley seven wishes in exchange for his soul. All of them work out disastrously for poor Stanley.
The story, though funny, is second to the character of George. Cook gave himself all the good lines, surprising little jokes that come out of nowhere and leave you laughing. There's also a lot of subtle humor, as George quietly goes about creating nuisances like removing a wet paint sign from a park bench.
George introduces Stanley to the Seven Deadly Sins, including Lust (Raquel Welch) and Envy (Barry Humphreys***). Promotion for the movie did make a big deal about Welch, but she only appears in a handful of scenes.****
The film was directed by Stanlen Donen, whose genius I've written about before. He tried to add a sixties sensibility to the whole affair, and seems to know best what to do with Cook's genius.
Cook and Moore continued to work on screenplays, but never had much success. After the partnership broke up, of course, Moore appeared in 10 and Arthur and established himself as a star for a short while, but Cook never seemed to find the right vehicle for his talents. His style and ad libs made him more suited to TV and stage than to movies.
Bedazzled was not a big hit, but is still one of the best examples as Peter Cook's comic talents.
*The original. The less said about the 2000 remake, the better.
**I saw Beyond the Fringe on Broadway, but in 1965, when a new cast had taken over. The original production did win a special Tony Award.
***Who later became an international superstar as Dame Edna Everage, possums.
****Welch in the late 60s was a major sex symbol for two reasons. But at the time she was not much of an actress; she's managed to improve considerably, but there's a reason she never gets mentioned at Oscar time.