Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

'60s double bill: Bedazzled by Petulia

I had not seen PETULIA since the '60s and always meant to return to it, so finally I have .... this 1968 comedy drama set in San Francisco is probably the perfect late '60s film, capturing that time and place as perfectly as Antonioni's BLOW-UP sums up the mid-60s in London. And then there is Julie Christie, as mesmerising as ever .... Richard Lester's film fragments the story ("Me and the arch kook Petulia"), Nicolas Roeg shoots it all and John Barry did the score, and we get snippets of Janis Joplin and her band .... how '60s is that ? (Roeg also photographed Christie's FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD, FARENHEIT 451 and later directed her in his DON'T LOOK NOW).
Sparkling San Franciscan socialite Petulia (Julie Christie) wants an affair. She’s been married six months and hasn’t had one yet. Lucky surgeon and soon-to-be-single Archie (George C Scott) catches her eye and their tentative romance begins. Beneath Petulia’s charming kookiness it becomes clear that her new husband (Richard Chamberlain) is physically abusive.
A film set in late '60s San Francisco is bound to be visually vivid, and PETULIA  is a marvellous-looking movie that makes great use of colour. There are psychedelic light shows accompanying musical appearances by The Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin, striking vistas of Bay Area locations and Alcatraz, and the candy-coloured mod fashions of the era.  PETULIA depicts the messy complexity of relationships, one nice scene being where Scott and Petulia encounter each other on those streetcars going in different directions. He is taking his kids to see the penguins, she follows and sits wordlessly as they meet and touch and she departs again .... then there is that long scene between Scott and ex-wife Shirley Knight (doing wonders here, as she did in Lester's 1974 high seas thriller JUGGERNAUT with a role that barely exists on paper) where frustrations spill over .... Chamberlain is cast against type here as the husband who batters his wife to a pulp, so why does she stay with him?

There are plentiful examples of Lester's penchant for absurdist humor, caustic irony, and the sad/funny details of human interaction, and his razor-sharp editing. There is a lot of jumping around in time as we learn the story of Petulia and her abusive husband and the little Mexican boy very slowly over the course of the film.
Lester's '60s movies really are as essential as the decade's Losey, Schlesigner or Richardson movies, and I love his '70s capers too - the MUSKETEERS, ROYAL FLASH etc, as per reviews here (Lester label).

Pauline Kael though did not like it at all, as covered in her essay "Trash, Art and the Movies" (in her GOING STEADY collection), where she has "rarely seen a more disagreeable, a more dislikeable (or bloodier) movie" and its commercial success "represents a triumph of publicity". "PETULIA is the come-dressed-as-the-sick-soul-of-America-party" and the film is his (Lester's) "hate letter to America" (much the same I imagine as Antonioni's ZABRISKIE POINT was a year or two later). "Probably the director who made 3 celebrations of youth and freedom (A HARD DAY'S NIGHT, HELP!, THE KNACK) is now desperate to expand his range and become a "serious" director..." She does agree though that "Julie Christie is extraordinary to look at"  ....  For me though it is a great '60s American film like the recently-reviewed here THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR, THE GROUP, THE STERILE CUCKOO, PRETTY POISON or LAST SUMMER and Coppola's delightful YOU'RE A BIG BOY NOW.

BEDAZZLED, 1967 - more '60s high jinks and delirious comedy. Peter Cooke and Dudley Moore were possibly the finest comedians the UK has ever produced before Monty Python .... we loved their satirical tv shows (in black and white) then, Cook also had a (large) hand in the comic magazine "Private Eye" that was essential then too (I remember going to their offices to purchase a red enamel cofee pot, a trendy item to have then, and pinning the "Private Eye" covers on the kitchen wall). So it was marvellous to see them on the big screen in Cinemascope and Colour for 20th Century Fox and directed by Stanley Donen (on a roll then, after his '60s hits like CHARADE, ARABESQUE and TWO FOR THE ROAD - he came a cropper though with his next after this, the dreadful STAIRCASE... ). Not only is BEDAZZLED a brilliant modern version of Faust, but it's also a hilarious satire on the '60s. 

Dudley Moore plays Stanley Moon, a short order cook and a loser who works in a Wimpey Bar (before McDonalds came along). The fabulous Eleanor Bron plays Margaret Spencer, a waitress at the fast food restaurant where Stanley works. Stanley's spent six years trying to work up the courage to ask Margaret out, but just can't seem to manage to do so. Peter Cook plays the Devil, or George Spiggott. George has taken an interest in Stanley after his failed suicide attempt. George offers Stanley the standard Seven-Wishes-For- Your-Soul contact and Stanley reluctantly agrees. The problem with the wishes is that Stanley is never specific enough and something always goes wrong to prevent Stanley from having Margaret all to himself, as either an intellectual, then as a rock star, then as a wealthy industrialist etc. 
As each fails, he becomes more aware of how empty his life had been and how much more he has to live for. He also meets the seven deadly sins who try and advise him.We get Raquel Welch as Lust, and Barry Humphries as Envy. Bron is wonderful here (as she was in HELP! and in Donen's TWO FOR THE ROAD as that obnoxious American tourist) as the heavily made-up waitress intoning her hamburger orders "heavy on the onions". The London scene of the time is nicely depicted, even from the top of the GPO Post Office Tower, and the final segment with the leaping nuns will have you helpless with laughter ... Cook is a very petty devil, sending pigeons to drop their droppings on businessmen, scratching vinyl records and pulling the last page out of Agatha Christie novels, his magic words are "Julie Andrews" ! Dudley is great here, before his later less funny films. There was of course that remake, but I didn't bother with it, it just would not have the same funny memories for me. 
Soon: '60s thrillers like Lumet's downbeat THE DEADLY AFFAIR, Ken Russell's flashy BILLION DOLLAR BRAIN ...and some early '60s dramas: THE MARK, THE THIRD SECRET, THE INSPECTOR (LISA).


  1. You covered two of my favorites here. Both are so marvelously 60s in different ways. Eleanor Bron always cracks me up with the first lines she utters in "Bedazzled." Such such a Cockney shock after Moore has been building her up as a goddess. And what can I say about "Petulia" and the incandescent Julie Christie? I enjoyed the memories your post brought back.

  2. Two more marvellously written reviews, Michael. While I think PETULIA is a masterpiece I also think BEDAZZLED a classic comedy and very, very funny. The remake wasn't bad but it certainly wasn't in this class.

  3. "Petulia" is one of the worst movies of the 1960's: I have seen that movie 2 1/2 times and I STILL DON'T know what the hell it's about! (same goes with "Easy Rider") Is it about relationships...or is it about a time in which it may never happen again (I'm of course talking about San Francisco in the last half of the 1960's)? Masterpiece? How about "A Piece of Shit"! As for "Bedazzled"? What can I say except it's not only the best comedy of the 60's but maybe the defining film to be set in England during that decade (Eleanor Bron should had been nominated for Best Supporting Actress).