Iconoclastic sixties merriment8/10
I did have high expectations going into this film, being a fan of Cook and Moore through what is available of "Not Only But Also", and several other Cook projects like the superb collaboration with Chris Morris, "Why Bother?" The expectations were largely fulfilled when I got to see this film, via a rare showing on Channel 4 this last April, as a tribute to Dudley Moore. The remake with Liz Hurley in place of Cook (how crass and thoughtless a piece of casting? They should really have discarded the title "Bedazzled" and just made it a Faust update, and not made any association with the Pete n' Dud film) is of course an irrelevance, and it is truly emblematic of our culture that it has received so many more IMDb votes than this original.
This film succeeds where "The Hound of the Baskervilles", a later Cook-Moore vehicle, abysmally fails. "Bedazzled" contains the essence of their comedic appeal, rooted as it is in errant taboo-breaking and gleeful absurdism. The strong guiding influence of Cook is in the script, which he had strong control over, by all accounts. The concept is a modern spin on the Faustian legend, based in 1960s London (amongst diversions!). "Bedazzled", with this scenario and its effective portrayal, is thus most winning when compared to both concept and execution in "The Hound of the Baskervilles"' lamentable case.
We have Pete n' Dud centre stage, and both at their comedic peak. Moore as a hapless, beleaguered little chap, and Cook as a matter-of-fact, mischievous, cunning and charming devil. A devil called Mr George Spiggott, bizarrely! :-) The other turns are good, and merely complementary, with the various sins portrayed pretty well. Eleanor Bron is reasonable as the malleable (according to the wishes) but essentially quite undeveloped love interest of Moore's. Not that this particularly matters in a comedy such as this; and her hair is eye catching. :-)
The brazenly literal cameo from Raquel Welch is something of a scream I must say; no pretence at her being anything else, which I presume there has been in other Welch movies of the period.
The various segments in this episodic film, are perhaps variable in their quality, but none are poor. The episodic nature of the film really does work in its favour keeping it fresh, but having the wonderful London linking sequences the heart of the film. It gets most amusing as Cook's devil repeatedly outwits Moore and finds loopholes in his wishes to downright exploit. The "happy family and home life" wish is really quite bizarre and almost disturbing in its oddness, while maybe the "rich" one slightly overdoes Bron's bumptious ultra-sexuality, even if the whole segment works very well. The "leaping nuns" part is prime "Not Only But Also" in its hushed absurdity and is a joy. The art direction and music aspects are notably good, embellishing the film and drawing out its sixties context. This film has not and can not date, as it is all so tastefully achieved and its technical grasp never exceeds its reach.
The whole film I feel, works excellently, with dashes of irony and an effective restating of the Faustian morals. There is an engaging melancholy to this film, below its comedic surface. The scene of the old woman being fobbed off by Cook is briefly poignant and suggestive of a whole society's delusion. The scenes as Cook effectively knocks on the door of Heaven feel slightly sombre to me, as well as oddly comic. There are some quite thoughtful scenes of dialogue as well, with the droll Cook in his element, perched atop a postbox. Of course, the depressing outcomes of each wish for Moore's character, only add to the slightly prickly, problematic mood that underlies the film. The whole thing ends on a very apposite note, I should add with a glint in my eye.
I loved watching this film, and while I doubt it could quite be labelled a fully-formed "masterpiece", it is a startlingly good evocation of the 1960s in a way... and also very much an amusing, clever comedy, with the subversive spirit of Peter Cook stamped all over it.