Sometimes, it’s the chemistry between the lead actors that makes or breaks a film. When two actors just click, it lifts a film to a whole new level. It’s this on-screen cohesion (or lack thereof) that makes the difference between the two versions of Bedazzled.
The original version was made in England in 1967 and the remake in America in 2000. Both versions of the film follow a similar pot. Each one focuses on an unhappy man–named Stanley (Dudley Moore) in the original and Elliot (Brendan Fraser) in the remake—who is pining for a woman who doesn’t know he’s alive. Stanley/Elliot is approached by the devil who offers him 7 wishes in exchange for his soul. Accepting the bargain, our hapless protagonist gets to experience six alternate-reality scenarios which he hopes will help him win the love of his dream girl. Instead, the devil spitefully twists each of the fantasies around so that they all backfire and the poor guy ends up unhappier after each wish than he was before. In the end, despite using up all his wishes, circumstances allow him to escape eternal damnation and he ends up back where he started from, except with a bit more assertiveness because he’s learned that waiting and wishing for things will not make you happy. Neither has the classic Hollywood ending, but both leave us with some hope for the main character’s future.
Many of the wishes are similar in both versions. For instance, in both cases, the first wish that Stanley/Elliot makes is to test the Devil’s ability to grant wishes. In the 1967 version, Stanley wishes for ice cream and instead of conjuring it up, the Devil (Peter Cook) just takes him to an ice cream parlor to buy a cone, and even makes Stanley pay for it. In an almost identical scene, Elliot wishes for a Big Mac and the devil (Elizabeth Hurley) takes him to McDonalds. (Product placement!) Some of the later wishes are similar but the remake puts a different twist on them than the original did. Both have some clever scenes of the wishes being sabotaged by the devil but it’s the give-and-take between the main character and the devil that really makes the difference.
The biggest weakness of the remake, directed by Harold Ramis, is the casting. It’s not that the stars Brendan Fraser and Elizabeth Hurley aren’t talented people but they didn’t quite ‘click’ here. Also, Hurley was not the right choice for the Devil role.
The original Bedazzled starred Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, who also wrote the script together. ‘Pete & Dud”, as they were affectionately known, were a popular comedy duo and part of the British ‘satire boom’ in the 1960s/70s that also gave us the magnificent Monty Python gang. They worked together on stage (Beyond the Fringe), TV (Not Only…But Also), films (The Wrong Box) and made the award winning series of “Derek & Clive” comedy albums. Bedazzled was the second movie they made together and you can see their perfect symmetry from the first moment they appear on screen.
There was a time when comedy teams were common and popular. Going back to the black-and-white films of Abbott & Costello, Laurel & Hardy and Martin & Lewis, through to guys like Fry & Laurie in the 1980s-90s, comedy teams were a staple of the film industry. Pete & Dud were a terrific comedy pairing in their day. Sadly, the era of the comedy duo has faded away, which is a problem when you’re casting a film like the remake of Bedazzled because it was written as sort of odd buddy comedy. In order for a film like Bedazzled to work, you need to believe that there’s a strange bond between this loser of a man and the devil. Pete & Dud manage to make you believe in this odd relationship between the two, whereas the connection doesn’t come across very well in the remake.
In a way, the casting of a beautiful woman as the devil makes sense. If you want to beguile a man into doing something stupid, then who better to do that than a hot girl? The problem is that this is a comedy based on the rapport between the two leads, and unfortunately, Hurley isn’t nearly as funny as Peter Cook. Cook, a comic genius, was once voted in England as “the funniest man to ever draw breath.” He portrays the devil as a mischievous prankster, who has a certain likable charm.
Hurley’s performance, on the other hand, is based around her sex appeal. She gets some funny lines but mostly she’s there to wear skimpy outfits and look hot, which she does very well. The banter and buddy aspect of the original is replaced by the sexual titillation of Hurley’s temptress version. A problem with this approach is that Fraser’s Elliot character enters into the agreement hoping to win over his dream girl Allison (Frances O’Conner) so the fact that he’s being lured into his deal by the hotness of Hurley diminishes our belief that Elliot would sell his soul for this girl. The sex appeal for the ’67 version was provided by 1960s sex goddess Raquel Welsh as Lust, who was one of the 7 deadly sins. (An aspect that was missing from the remake.)
As for the main characters of Stanley and Elliot, both are likable but it’s Stanley who comes across as the more sympathetic. Dudley Moore’s Stanley is a bigger loser. He has a rotten job as a cook in the Wimpy Burger restaurant, has no real friends and spends his nights pining over Margaret (played by the wonderful Eleanor Bron), so he tries to kill himself and even fails to do that right. Fraser, in the remake, is a little too good-looking and has a decent job as an I.T. worker. Yes, he lacks social skills but he isn’t as pitiful as Moore’s character.
Both versions have very good directors. The 1967 movie was done by Stanley Donen, who directed many classic musicals such as Singing in the Rain; Seven Brides for Seven Brothers; Royal Wedding and On the Town; as well as another comedy about someone selling his soul to the devil, Damn Yankees. The remake was done by Harold Ramis. Ramis is known not only as a comedian (Stripes, Ghostbusters) but is also a talented director (Caddyshack; Groundhog Day). Both do a fine job with the material but Donen did a better job at casting.
The ending also falls short in the newer version. It ends on a somewhat serious note where Elliot is jailed, given advice by an angel, sent to hell but escapes by committing a selfless act of redemption which allows him to break his deal. This is not only unimaginative but it’s also not very funny. The original version, however, ends on a terrifically ironic note where the devil is undone for doing his first good deed in centuries. He’s punished from On High for his one selfless act. It’s a perfect comeuppance for the character.
The remake isn’t really a bad film, and there are some good moments during the wish segments but it falls short mostly because it doesn’t have a good teaming of star performers. It’s hard to replace a team like Dudley Moore and Peter Cook, because they worked so well together. The only people today who could probably replicate that kind of chemistry would be Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Those two could have done justice to the source material, and considering they’re Brits, they would fit into the mold of Pete & Dud properly. So all things considered, the original is clearly the better of the two.
So that’s all for this week’s look at remakes. We’ll be back in the New Year for another installment of our series. Have a safe New Year and come back for more next week.