Part Four of my essay on “Dark Humor in Films of the 1960s” appeared today in Film International, along with links back to parts 1, 2, and 3.
I start the essay with these thoughts: ”As the 1960s drew to a close, so did the string of dark comedies; the real world was bleak enough, and audiences began to prize artificial optimism over satiric criticism. John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963 was seen at the time as aberrational; but by the end of the decade, Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy and Malcolm X had also been assassinated, and the public’s taste for “sick humor” started to wane. Simply surviving seemed a tough enough goal. Stanley Donen’s Bedazzled (1967), an updating of the Faust legend with Peter Cook as Satan and Dudley Moore as the hapless Stanley Moon, a short order cook, offered a graphic demonstration of the hopelessness of ambition. Stanley wants to be loved by Margaret (Eleanor Bron), a waitress at the Wimpy hamburger restaurant he works in, and Satan promises to help him in his quest with a series of seven wishes, but every time Stanley thinks up what he imagines to be a foolproof plan for romantic bliss, Satan can’t resist adding a little wrinkle to frustrate Stanley’s dreams.
For one wish, Stanley asks to be a pop star, and his wish is granted; shrieking a wanton ballad of unbridled lust, ‘Love Me,’ on television, he seems to have attained Margaret’s love, until Satan, appearing in the role of a rival pop singer, begins intoning a dirge-like song of rejection (‘You turn me off – go away – you disgust me – I’m not available’) that proves to be the next new trend in rock music, rendering Stanley’s pleading ballads obsolete. Stanley’s numerous other attempts to seduce Margaret, as an intellectual bachelor, and finally as a nun, also fail to work. In the end of the film, Stanley manages to escape from Satan’s clutches through a loophole in his contract, and is back at his old post, frying burgers, but this time, content with his lot. The film’s message is clear; one must be content with what one has, and not hope for more. Ambition, in a sense, is potentially disastrous.”