Faustus (Richard Burton) is a scholar at the University of Wittenberg when he earns his doctorate degree. His insatiable appetite for knowledge and power leads him to employ necromancy to conjure Mephistopheles (Andreas Teuber) out of Hell. He bargains away his soul to Lucifer in exchange for living twenty-four years during which Mephistopheles will be his slave. Faustus signs the pact in his own blood and Mephistopheles reveals the works of the devil to Faustus.Written by
When Faustus anoints his head with blood there is one mark on his forehead, but when he is conjuring Mephistophilis, there are two blood marks. See more »
[Mephistopheles has come to Faustus' study]
Where are you damned?
How comes it, then, that thou art out of hell?
Why, this is hell, nor am I out of it. / Think'st thou that I, who saw the face of God / And tasted the eternal joys of heaven, / Am not tormented with ten thousand hells / In being deprived of everlasting bliss?
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DOCTOR FAUSTUS (Richard Burton and Nevill Coghill, 1967) **1/2
Cerebral and altogether too-literal transcript of Christopher Marlowe’s venerable play – the end result is opulent yet claustrophobic, not to mention dull.
Burton the producer/director certainly made inspired choices for his collaborators – production designer John De Cuir, cinematographer Gabor Pogany, composer Mario Nascimbene. Burton the actor, then, is riveting as always (particularly the monologue towards the end) – but real-life spouse Elizabeth Taylor is simply ludicrous as Faustus’ object of desire (in various disguises including Helen of Troy)! The remaining cast is largely made up of Oxford University drama students (the University itself, of which Burton was a former graduate, partly financed the film!): of these, only Andreas Teuber’s bald-headed, monk-clad Mephistopheles manages a striking performance.
The “Mondo Digital” review had likened this to the cult horror films made by Hammer, Roger Corman and Mario Bava: judging by the campy Papal sequence (with a host of fey clergymen on whom Faustus plays childish pranks) and an equally tacky conjuring act before a medieval court, I’d say that Burton and Coghill probably drew more on the decadent work of Federico Fellini or Pier Paolo Pasolini than anything else! Anyway, the experimental nature of the film extends to the baffling over-use of a pointless ‘foggy’ effect; its depiction of lust, however, emerges as traditionally naïve – with frolicking satyrs in a garden setting and decorous female nudity (including Taylor herself for one very brief moment).
Ulimately, DOCTOR FAUSTUS is to be considered an interesting failure – a personal tour-de-force for Burton but which, perhaps, needed a steadier hand…say, Joseph Losey (with whom the two stars would soon work on BOOM! , curiously enough, a similar and equally maligned blend of fantasy and theatricality).
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