Doctor Faustus (1967)

DOCTOR FAUSTUS (1967)
Article #1483 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-6-2005
Posting Date: 9-3-2005
Directed by Richard Burton and Nevill Coghill
Featuring Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, Andreas Teuber

Doctor Faustus sells his soul to the devil in hopes of reaping great benefits.

Richard Burton (“Great Actor”) performs in an adaptation of Christopher Marlowe’s “The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus” (“Classic Literature”) and the result is this movie (“Great Work of Art”). He is helped in this effort by co-director and co-producer Richard Burton (“Production Crew guaranteed not to steal the thunder from the Great Actor”). The only other name actor in the cast is Elizabeth Taylor (“Great Actor’s Wife”), and she plays several characters, all of which are beautiful women who stand around with little to do but look beautiful (“Co-Star carefully cast to also not steal thunder from Great Actor but to provide Sex Appeal”). The rest of the cast consists of drama students from Burton’s alma mater, Oxford University (“Cast of Unknowns to also ensure that no one steals the thunder from Great Actor”). This type of idea isn’t hopeless, and Burton certainly possessed the acting chops to pull it off. Unfortunately, the movie (“Great Work of Art”) suffers from a huge problem; it never for one moment forgets that it’s a “Great Work of Art” (this movie), and that knees-bent uber-reverent attitude infuses every frame of the movie. The movie is so busy chiseling itself into stone that it never comes to life. It does try to be cinematically creative and visually arresting on occasion, but this backfires. Example: Burton holds a skull in the air and talks about gold, and imaginary gold falls out of the skull. He then talks about pearls, and imaginary pearls fall out of the nose of the skull. He then looks into a crystal and talks about lions, and wouldn’t you know it, we see lions in the crystal, and by this time the obvious artifice of this kind of conceit has rendered the movie almost laughable. Even when the movie tries to lighten itself up in a slapstick sequence with the Pope, it’s still so much a “Great Work of Art” that it hamstrings any chance of the scene actually being funny.

Still, there are moments that work well enough. Classics are sturdy things, and Burton is good enough to make some of the dialogue work. But for the most part, this movie is a bore, and Taylor (who can be an excellent actress) deserves better than a role that relies only on her beauty. This story deserves to be brought to life, but this version embalms it.

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