Monday, August 06, 2007


This trippy 60's riff on the Faust story, directed by Stanley Donen, doesn't really hold together all that well, but it's worth seeing for the great comic chemistry between Dudley Moore and Peter Cook. They were part of a British comedy troupe that took Broadway by storm in a revue called "Beyond the Fringe" in the mid 60's and the two worked as a duo for many years. Based on the evidence of this film, they should have become a legendary comedy team, but though they did stage and TV work together through the 70's, they never took off as a movie team. Moore plays a kind of everyman figure, a cook in a burger diner who feels he has nothing to live for, especially because he’s too shy to get the love of his life, a waitress at the diner (Eleanor Bron), to notice him. He tries to hang himself but when he bungles the job, a tall man in a red cape (Cook) comes to his door, claiming to be the devil and offering him seven wishes in exchange for his soul. Each of the wishes is an attempt to win the love of Bron and is played out like a revue skit, throwing Moore, Cook, and Bron into a different situation each time, with Moore never happy with the outcome of the wish. The devil, whose name is George Spiggot, operates out of a dive of a nightclub, with the Seven Deadly Sins working (rather ineffectually) for him--none of the sins get much screen time, but Raquel Welch manages to make an impression as Lust, and Barry Humphries in his pre-Dame Edna days is a swishy Envy. The movie never quite lives up to its first 20 minutes, but Moore and Cook are always funny. A couple of sequences stand out, including one near the end where Moore and Bron are nuns of the Order of Beryl of Sussex who jump on trampolines, trying to get closer to God. Cook's shining moment is as a pop star singing (in a monotone) an anti-romantic song with lyrics like "You fill me with inertia" and "Just go away." Though Moore is good (and surprisingly attractive in a cuddly kind of way), Cook gets all the best moments. I like that the Devil's idea of being evil is to pull irritating pranks like tearing the last chapter out of Agatha Christie mysteries or having a pigeon shit on a man's head. I also like that the Devil's conjuring phrase to make the wishes happen is, "Julie Andrews!" The colorful style of the movie is a treat for the eyes. Even if it's not exactly a masterpiece, it's consistently amusing. [DVD]

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