Before watching the movie:
Yes, there was a remake in 2000, which I haven’t seen either, but I was aware of at the time (I was only 12, there was no way I’d have gotten permission even if I wanted to see it).
I’m surprised by the critics’ comments about the intelligence of the movie. There’s a similar poster out there that has the quote shown here as well as another one calling it “an intellectual’s Hellzapoppin“. Considering it’s impossible to find a poster that doesn’t sell the movie on Raquel Welch’s body, I never thought “smart” would be a word to describe it.
What really sold me on it was the lead duo of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. I’m guessing the intelligence of the comedy comes from the ways the wishes get twisted.
After watching the movie:
Stanley Moon works a dead-end job making burgers in a Wimpy’s and continually failing to muster the courage to speak his affections to the waitress Margaret that he pines for. Having finally had enough of the longing for better things, he attempts to hang himself in his apartment, but only breaks the pipe he tied the rope to. The Devil (AKA George Spiggott) appears to him and offers him seven wishes for a better life in exchange for his soul, which really isn’t something people use anymore anyway, never miss it. Every time Stanley makes a wish, however, “George” finds some loophole through which to ruin it. But it’s not personal, it’s just his job to ruin everything, at least until he manages to collect 100 billion souls before God can.
The fact that the wishes generate entirely different lives for Stanley make this essentially a themed sketch film. The interstitial scenes between them sometimes offer plot advancement, but often just get into other sketches about George’s latest prank to make the world a nastier place or how the Seven Deadly Sins manifest as George’s staff.
I got the sense in the end that there was a genuine element in George’s professed friendship for Stanley, which didn’t make much sense. Maybe George is just that good at faking it even at the point he doesn’t need to, but if it’s real, it gets me wondering what was special about Stanley next to all the other souls he worked for. Ultimately, what I expected to happen did happen, but for the opposite reason.
Also, through the parts where Stanley isn’t in a wish that brings him Margaret, there’s an ongoing thread about her having been caught up in the investigation of him having gone missing and left a suicide note, which didn’t really pay off much except for demonstrating how fond of him she could be with the right push. Really, there isn’t enough development of anything about her character that Stanley would have been attracted to, though since most of his wishes completely change her personality, he’s almost certainly more in love with the idea of her. But then, can a movie about magically catering to a man’s wishes be all that great at representation? (Also there’s some casual racism that hasn’t aged well which I don’t want to leave unremarked upon.)
At first it is really funny, with plenty of jokes I appreciated so much I had a hard time not spoiling them. But as it goes on and the plot develops, I found the humor less clever and more predictable. Maybe that’s because I’d gotten their style of comedy into my head that quickly, or maybe it’s because it became less about society and more about dissatisfaction with religion.
Raquel Welch is only in two scenes, not that anyone would get that from the promotional material that practically positions her as the star. Being misleadingly sold is never something to hold against a movie, and really I liked what it actually was better, but that’s some particularly powerful gravitational pull of fame. It’s really just two comedians and the trophy woman in between them. And they get in plenty of fun and satire along the way.