"Here, my ice lolly's melted. You really must be The Devil!"
"Incarnate. How do you do?"
Three wishes?! It's been quite a lot more than 1,001 Arabian nights since that was standard practice. Accounting for inflation, then converting to pounds sterling, your traditional soul divestment package circa 1967 stands at seven wishes strong.
And seven wishes ought to be plenty for painfully shy fry cook Stanley (Dudley Moore) to at long last win the heart of Margaret (Eleanor Bron) – the apple of his eye, the white cheddar to his quarter-pound hamburger patty, the Peter Cook to his Dudley Moore. But as the saying goes, the devil's in the details, especially when your wishes are being granted by the capital-D Devil (Peter Cook, of course), exploiting every conceivable loophole to ensure that his new pal Stanley remains as miserable as possible.
Bedazzled very much plays to the strengths of the longtime comedy team of Moore and Cook. Building upon their background in improvisation and sketch comedy, every wish is more or less an episodic mash of the 'Reset' button: wildly different scenarios, different characters with almost unrecognizably different personalities, and, hell, different accents half the time. Stanley's struggling to find the words to tell Margaret how he feels...? Well, let's make him a hyperarticulate, insufferably pretentious professorial type. Oh, that ended with a chomp on the hand and cries of rape? Yikes. Combine a bunch of wishes into one: wealth, wedding bands, and whatever synonym for 'amorous' would keep this alliterative run going. It sounds like a winning idea on paper, but alas, Stanley didn't specify who Margaret would be hot for, exactly. The hits keep coming from there, from a quickly-upstaged stint at pop stardom to quite literally being a fly on the wall.
Bedazzled is, as a result, seven or eight different movies in one, each propelled by Moore and Cook's brilliant comic timing, inspired wit and wordplay, and seemingly endless barrage of double entendres. I'd say that it's devilishly funny, but I can practically see you disapprovedly shaking your head at such an obvious pun, and I can't blow a raspberry like Stanley can to reverse such a woeful mistake.
I get that I'm squarely in the minority here, but I have to admit to not being all that bowled over by Bedazzled. It's a satire I'd say I appreciate more than outright enjoy. I'm more likely to find one of its many stabs at humor amusing rather than laugh out loud funny. Part of it's the cursory introduction to two of its most pivotal characters. Stanley's not a lovable sad sack. If there's anything to him beyond being lonely, miserable, and so pitiful that he can't even manage to kill himself without mucking the whole thing up, we're not treated to it, at least not anywhere near the outset. It's a challenge for me to feel all that emotionally invested for a hundred minutes-plus in someone so ill-defined. Thematically, it makes perfect sense that someone so dissatisfied with his lot in life would be a profoundly different character in each wish, but that too winds up keeping Stanley somewhat at arm's length. It'd be one thing if the trappings varied while the core of Stanley remained intact, but that's not so much the case.
Similarly, I'm sure it's very much by design that Margaret is barely sketched as a character. Despite what Stanley's brought himself to believe, he's not in love with her – hardly ever having spoken to Margaret, he's in love with the idea of her at most, and whatever charms or personality she wields before being wished into an assortment of fundamentally different people go unseen by us as the audience as well. I can't help but wonder if Bedazzled would've hit harder for me if it had shown more of Margaret's spark...what it is about her that's so entranced Stanley. Instead, the film hinges on a one-dimensional schlub consumed by his compulsion to possess a woman he doesn't really seem to give a shit about. Because, y'know, if it were anything bearing so much as a passing resemblance to love, Stanley wouldn't keep wishing her to be someone she's not.
Maybe you're rolling your eyes at all that as single-semester-of-film-studies navel-gazing. Perhaps I am overthinking it. But well beyond characterization, Bedazzled struggles somewhat. Plot threads like Margaret growing closer to the inspector investigating Stanley's disappearance don't ultimately go anywhere. I would've thought its sketch comedy format would be a constant shot in the arm, but the pace winds up meandering more than it has any right to. The vignettes have a tendency to drag on twice as long as they really ought to, and they're invariably upstaged by whatever shenanigans
I wish I were writing a more enthusiastic review right about now, especially so soon after the passing of director Stanley Donen, who long pointed to Bedazzled as one of his favorite films that he helmed. The movie just didn't play nearly as well for me as I'd hoped, and I can't say that I'm particularly thrilled with its presentation on Blu-ray either. Still Recommended, though with reservations.
I don't have Fox's long-out-of-print DVD from 2007 handy to do a direct comparison, but it wouldn't come as much of a surprise if Twilight Time's Blu-ray release were sourced from the same high-def master as that twelve year old disc. At least, this bears some of the hallmarks of a remaster that's been on the shelf for a long while. Even outside of the softest focus shots, definition and detail are middling. Film grain is present but not especially pronounced. While not to the point of distraction, Bedazzled is more peppered with flecks of dust and the like than I'd expect from a more modern remaster. Most worryingly, the image looks vertically elongated:
I know you just read a suicide note, Margaret, but why the long face? The film is indeed presented at its theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1, but it looks awkwardly stretched to my eyes. Whether this is from whatever anamorphic glass that cinematographer Austin Dempster could get his hands on back in '67, if the image wasn't unsqueezed properly during this remaster, if a Fox tech wanted to make Dudley Moore look just a bit taller, or if it's simply a delusion all my own, I really couldn't say. While fully acknowledging the flaws inherent in comparing against an ancient, cropped trailer:
In the image on the left – from the trailer, of course – the shape of Peter Cook's face more closely matches the way he looks on Bedazzled's cover art. In the screenshot from the film proper, the image appears to have been vertically stretched somewhere in the neighborhood of 4.5%. Not enough to be unwatchable, no, but sufficiently stretched to look off. Some quick math and a freeware image editor later:
Again, the difference is hardly night and day, but the corrected image on the left looks so much more natural to my eyes. Making similar adjustments in other scenes, the snooker balls in the second big wish sequence look more properly round, for instance. Your mileage will surely vary as to how much this will bug you, if indeed it is the flaw I believe it to be. I found this more of an occasional annoyance than any sort of ruinous dealbreaker, and it ceased to stand out after a short while. At the end of the day, I'd still say that Bedazzled looks okay, but this is hardly the definitive edition I should be reviewing right now.
Oh, and since I wasn't clever enough to weave this into the rest of that mildly technical analysis, it's worth pointing out that Bedazzled arrives on a dual-layer platter, giving its AVC encode all the breathing room it needs.
Three lossless soundtracks have been piled on here, each in 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio. There is, of course, the isolated music and effects track that you've come to expect from our friends at Twilight Time. The smart money says you'll want to hear Cook and Moore's dialogue at least once, though, and to that end, Bedazzled features two more familiar tracks, defaulting to stereo with a two-channel mono soundtrack also along for the ride.
The reproduction of Bedazzled's dialogue is alright but no particular great shakes. I'm not left with an overwhelmingly strong preference between the soundtracks, but there are marked differences in the way that dialogue is delivered:
...or if you'd prefer an example with some music and effects in the mix as well:
Some mild background noise is audible but never terribly intrusive. The sibilance can be a bit annoying at times. I'm somewhat puzzled by how distant and echoey Lord Dowdy's lines are in the billiards room while Stanley and George sound perfectly normal, but perhaps that's deliberate...? Dunno. Stereo separation doesn't draw a tremendous amount of attention to itself, but its presence is felt in the Top of the Pops-style music show.
While not precisely a treat for the ears, the audio still rates at least as adequate, devoid of any glaring flaws of note.
The set's liner notes include a brief celebration of the film by Julie Kirgo, delving more into the genesis of Bedazzled than the extras on the disc proper.
The Final Word
If I had my own stack of wishes to plow through, perhaps somewhere on the list would be that I'm penning a deliriously over-the-top rave review of Bedazzled here instead of...well, this.
Though I like the film well enough, I'll confess that I don't share nearly the enthusiasm about this Peter Cook and Dudley Moore classic that its many rabid fans do, nor was I impressed by the technical end of its presentation on Blu-ray. Flawed though I found this release, this remains the only way on these shores that I'm aware of to experience Bedazzled in high definition. As I write this, anyway, the original movie isn't on any of the usual streaming or VOD services, and the German import apparently suffers from its own share of flaws. Still Recommended at the end of the day; just not nearly as highly as I'd hoped.