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The Faust legend retold (loosely) and applied to a mentally disturbed patient in a hospital run by a doctor of dubious sanity himself. The patient (Burton) offers the innocent orderly (Bridges) vast riches if he'll help him escape. Written by
Steve Crook <firstname.lastname@example.org>
'I will make you rich and strong, strong and rich!'
This amazingly bizarre film directed by Peter Ustinov has been largely forgotten.At the time it was released, it made quite a sensation because it featured that 'star couple' known as 'Burtonandtaylor' in it. If Burtonandtaylor agreed to appear in something, money was no object, as they were super-bankable. My wife and I knew Peter Ustinov extremely well about this time. He was one of the wittiest and most amusing men we ever knew, and was never pompous or self-important. It was possible to sit spellbound for hours just listening to his stories and his wonderful jokes, especially in private, as we often did. But Peter had a deeply serious side, and wanted to make serious films, such as for instance BILLY BUDD (1962), from the Hermann Melville story, and this one, which is a version of the Faust theme. Peter was a successful playwright and a highly intellectual, cosmopolitan, and profound person. He did not always pull off his efforts at profundity, however. This film is chilling and fascinating, and of course has moments of exquisite humour and satire, but it does not really work somehow. Richard Burton plays a very calm and quiet madman who sits in a solitary confinement cell in a lunatic asylum wrapped in a straight-jacket. In fact, he himself affects the straight-jacket as a favourite outfit, which he can whip off anytime he pleases because it is never fastened. His steely blue eyes look straight through you as he asks you to 'let me out'. All you have to do is sell your soul to him. So Beau Bridges, who works in the asylum, does just that, because Burton, who is really a Satan figure, promises to 'make you rich and strong, strong and rich'. And he does. Bridges has taken up with a floozy waitress played by Elizabeth Taylor, who is hilarious in such roles, and throws herself about with total abandon, and to great effect. There is no questioning the fact that Burtonandtaylor are such old pros! So Bridges and Taylor get richer and richer and richer with Burton as their financial adviser, they move around the world changing identities, and taking over more and more big corporations. Bridges and Taylor both play total idiots, and Burton puts up with them because he knows he will get their souls, the silly fools. Burton is eerily, almost terrifyingly, convincing. I think perhaps the script was one of the problems. The story just does not really work, despite the hair-raising performances. The music is very bad, which is strange considering that Peter was knowledgeable about classical music and should have had better taste. Peter did have a problem concentrating and focusing, I must say, as it was always tempting for him to stop and tell another funny story. And I think perhaps he knew Burtonandtaylor at the personal level too well. The film is a little bit too much of a 'wouldn't it be fun if we did it?' type of project, and with Burtonandtaylor starring, there was just no struggle involved, and there cannot have been enough rewrites, and probably not many retakes either. Peter was a man of such immense talent and yet he did not always enter top gear, or at least he did always remain there. Too many stoplights, too many jokes. But the film is well worth seeing and is phenomenal in certain ways. Peter himself plays the doctor and is, as usual, very good indeed.
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