Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Dr. Faustus: With the Devil, the Deck Is Stacked

Richard Burton & "friend" ponder the wonders & joys of his
FINAL DESTINATION in Dr. Faustus (1967, Columbia Pictures Corp.).

Dr. Faustus: With the Devil, the Deck Is Stacked

Dr. Faustus is a tale of a man who sells his soul to the devil in exchange for knowledge, power, & the various services of the nether-world. Richard Burton in the title role of Faustus, becomes dissatisfied with his acheivments in the numerous philosophies & sciences & turns to the black arts in his quest for riches both material & of the intellect.  As time goes on & runs out, he becomes aware of the emptiness of such things & of the nearness of the payment (His soul.) due. Try as he might, he cannot turn back to God & thus be saved from separation from God & eternal damnation. With his back on Christ, he is literally dragged into the very hell he seeks to escape.

This is a stage play set to film & comes across as such. All the actors, with the exception of Elisabeth Taylor, are stage trained & while it does show, it in no way takes from it. The film was panned by the critics not only for the above but also for Ms. Taylors' lack of acting. Considering the (non-speaking) role(s) she played in it & her good looks, she didn't have to. She literally walks through the movie.

I had first seen it on TV during a family summer vacation in Kentucky in the late 60s'. After a days' swimming, hiking, restaurant, we settled down in the cabin for a bit of viewing.

The movie did cause me a bit of concern. Raised as a Catholic, I was told rather vaguely about what salvation was & all that doctrinal dancing around it didn't help. The emphasis on ritual & extra-biblical doctrine/tradition only served to cloud the issue & I was left in the dark as to the fate of my immortal soul. Constantly being threatened with hell/purgatory if I didn't follow the instruction of priest & nun I had pretty much given up on Heaven as it had seemed unattainable.

So what if I followed ALL instructions to the letter? According to THE CHURCH ... Even if I did toe the line ... Even if I did wrap myself in their spiritual straitjacket 110% ... Even if I worked my way up & became the best pope ever ... I might still have had to fry in Purgatory for a million years or so in order to burn out any residual sin.

A million years in Purgatory? You know ... that place that's the next best/worst thing to hell or Cleveland? As a million years seemed pretty much forever, I decided to risk hell & take it easy.

In '74, I got aquainted with fundamentalism & escaped from ... THE CHURCH. Not that the "rapture bunnies" don't have their issues, but that's another story. Salvation, in & of itself supercedes all man made tradition/doctrine no matter who/where it comes from.

So I saw Dr. Faustus to the end & it did trouble me some. No matter how much Burtons' character wanted to turn from evil, he just couldn't bring himself to do it. Between Lucifer, procrastination, Liz Taylor & his own weak character, the deck seemed pretty well stacked. His Catholic upbringing probably didn't help much either. "Let's see ... I turn from evil ... & go back to ... THAT!?"

The film ends with Liz dragging him to perdition albeit a pantomime one. Think Monty Python & the Holy Grail but without the laffs. To my then 13 year old mind, this was powerful stuff & stayed with me.

A couple years back, I found this as a three dollar special at Big Lots. I take it out every six months & watch. The film is still powerful but in a different way. Having come to a real understanding of the gift Jesus offers (See second link below.), I now look at this movie as something more cautionary & redemptive than scary.

Of Dr. Faustus & Color TVs here.

On the Rapture, Third Impact, Armageddon & All That here. Second half of the article is important!

Internet Movie Database review here.

Go to Jays' Tee Vee blog main page here.


  1. You MUST see the B&W silent version from 1926. It as breathtaking!

    1. I have the restored version from Kino-Lorber. While visually stunning, I found it a bit slow moving. I still take it out & watch it every so often though.