20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Cast: Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Eleanor Bron, Raquel Welch
Extras: Archival Interviews, Video Interview with Harold Ramis, Theatrical Trailer, Still Gallery
For centuries, the Faust legend was synonymous with the spiritual dangers of obtaining wealth and knowledge too easily. But in our current era of anything-for-your-15-minutes-of-fame – populated with bug-eating survivors, scheming apprentices and conniving models – this cautionary tale has transformed into a simple "how-to" manual. But for those of us who remember when selling your soul to the Devil for fame and fortune was a bad thing, check out Stanley Donen's "Bedazzled," recently released on DVD by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.
Produced and directed by Stanley Donen (of "Singin' in the Rain" fame) and written by "Beyond The Fringe" members Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, "Bedazzled" updated Faust from medieval Germany to 1960's mod London. Stanley Moon (Moore) is a short-order chef at Wimpy's Burgers, toiling over the hamburgers and French fries, all the while pining for waitress Margaret Spencer (Eleanor Bron). Moon's desperate longings attract the attention of the Prince of Darkness himself (Peter Cook), or George Spigott, his current nom de travail. George offers Stanley seven wishes of happiness in exchange for "the exclusive worldwide rights" to Stanley's soul. Convinced he has no other way to get the girl of his dreams, Stanley signs.
Over the course of the film, Stanley finds that every time he thinks he's created the perfect circumstance for he and Margaret to unite in love and harmony, George finds some loophole to turn paradise into hell. With each passing wish, Stanley finds himself as unhappy as before, as well as a step closer to eternal damnation.
Even four decades after its release, "Bedazzled" still dazzles. Even though the 1960s mod fashions and sexual politics date the film to an extent, there's a reason we still gravitate to the Faust legend and "Bedazzled" proves it without breaking a sweat. Sure, all the Big Questions associated with a Christian morality tale are present – exercising free will, living the righteous life, differentiating love vs. lust, etc. What keeps it from getting too preachy – and in many ways makes it a more resonant epic – is the humor, and there's plenty of it here. Moon is a sad sack, but not without an inherent charm that even George recognizes. "Bedazzled" doesn't shy away from the metaphysics of the premise, but you'll be laughing too much to notice. Almost like a "Simpsons" episode, there is something to notice in every scene, be it a visual gag or a throw-away line of dialogue. When George talks about how he's saddled with such pathetic help as the ever-unconscious Sloth and the predictably hostile Anger, George sighs about the sins in his employ and blames it on "the wages." At one point in a nunnery, there's a picture of Mother Superior on the wall with the phrase "Big Sister is Watching You" under it.
While Cook and Moore are the obvious headliners of the film, in many ways the real star of the film is Eleanor Bron. During the course of the film, Eleanor-as-Margaret represents woman with a capital W. Playing the extremes of the feminine experience – as filtered through Western religious dogma – required Eleanor to represent woman as a prude, whore, wife and Madonna. What could have been cartoonish in the hands of a less experienced actress becomes sublime with Eleanor's performances. The plural is no mistake; Eleanor essays no less than five roles in the film, each one alternatively exquisite, hilarious and even poignant.
Given how every frame is packed with information, the only way to watch "Bedazzled" is in its original Panavision aspect ratio. 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment properly presents the film with the correct theatrical aspect ratio. Even though the cover does not actually say so, the 2.35 transfer is gloriously anamorphic. This is the first R1 DVD release of the film. A R2 release came out in the UK two years ago. There's no comparison, however. Short of a Blu-ray version, this is the definitive DVD release. Colors are rich, but not garish. The image is nicely detailed (even in the R2 DVD, the "Big Sister" sight gag takes some squinting to notice; on the R1, it's plain as day) and the source print is surprisingly clean, almost spotless in fact. Perhaps owing to the upconverting from my Toshiba HD-A1, but there were moments when I thought was I was watching a true hi-def presentation; the transfer is that good.
The audio boasts a Dolby Digital stereo soundtrack as well as the original mono. In listening and switching between the two, I was hard pressed to notice any differences between the two. The stereo audio does have an ever-so-slightly fuller presence, especially if you process the stereo through a Dolby Pro-Logic II DSP, but frankly, that's about it. What's most important about either track is that the dialogue come through cleanly and clearly, remaining distinct through Moore's (yes, Dudley Moore composed the film's score too!) jazzy and very 1960's musical passages. The DVD also offers a Spanish language mono track.
There's not a whole helluva lot in the way of bonus features, but what they did compile is fun. A hilarious but short (less than 3 minutes) black-and-white sequence features Dudley Moore interviewing Peter Cook as the Devil – in character. There's also a five-minute excerpt of a 1979 interview with Cook and Moore on the Paul Ryan talk show. Harold Ramis, whose own remake of "Bedazzled" fizzled at the box office (and rightfully so), gives a seven-minute video interview in praise of the film and its creators, discussing how their literate approach to humor and their irreverence were integral to the film's success and enduring legacy. An original theatrical trailer, presented in anamorphic widescreen and a still gallery round out the extras. Sadly, the video interview with Barry Humphries from the R2 release is not here. Barry plays "Envy" in the film, but he's best known as "Dame Edna." I remember he gave some interesting insights about working with Peter and Dudley. Oh well, can't have everything.
What is here is definitely worth celebrating and owning. The original "Bedazzled" was a long time coming across the pond. After watching it from stem to stern, I can happily report that the DVD more than justifies the wait.