25 March 2018



'Released in 1968, the film is a permanent record of a 1966 theatrical performance of DOCTOR FAUSTUS that Burton and Taylor starred in. Neither actors were paid for their performances. Instead, all the money earned went towards building a studio-theatre extension at Oxford University now known as the Burton-Taylor rooms. After the success of the production, which played to a full house every night, Burton expressed an interest in turning it into a film. A year later, the film version was released, co-directed by Burton and Nevill Coghill.'

'Meet me in my study at midnight and there resolve me of thy Master's mind.'

'There is no chief but Beelzebub to whom Faustus doth dedicate himself.'

'With Mephistopheles beside thee, what God can hurt thee, Faustus?'

Now, if you don't feel terribly cultured- and cultural- after reading this review, there's no hope for you, lol. As you can see from the wee blurb of promotional material above, it was something of a personal passion project for Richard Burton.

He was one of the truly fine actors of his day, with such a terrific voice that he was often called upon to narrate stuff for films as well, for example, in the movie ZULU, starring Michael Caine and Stanley Baker.

The film is based on the play by Christopher Marlowe, the English playwright who was both a contemporary of and an important influence on good old Willie Shakespeare, and who was dead at twenty-nine after being stabbed through the forehead in a brawl. Talk about live fast, die young and leave a slightly disfigured corpse. The play's full title is THE TRAGICAL HISTORY OF DOCTOR FAUSTUS and most of us have at least heard of its premise.

It's about the titular Doctor Faustus of Wittenberg, Germany, who famously made a deal with the Devil to 'live deliciously' (Black Philip, THE WITCH) for twenty-four years, after which time the Devil would drag his sorry ass, and his condemned soul, down to Hell for all Eternity.

Hmmm. Twenty-four years of living it up versus an Eternity in Hell? I personally wouldn't do it. It's not worth it. The lapsed Catholic in me shudders at the very thought, but Doctor Faustus is burning with a desire to know and experience all things while he lives. It doesn't seem like such a hard bargain to him, at least not at first. We'll see how he feels when it comes time to pay the Piper, as it inevitably will.

I was aided in my study of the film by an adorable little battered copy of the play itself, a copy that was published in 1947 and which smells old, old and chock-full of history. The writing is very Shakespearean-sounding and so it was handy to have the actual words written down in front of me, as Shakespeare and his contemporaries all used quite old-fashioned (old-fashioned to us, not to them!), high-faluting language at times. However, zounds, gadzooks and other similar olde-timey words appear nowhere in the text, lol.

Anyway, it is in rooms gorgeously decorated with ancient astrolabes and old tomes and walls lavishly encrusted with skulls that Faustus first summons Mephistopheles, Lucifer's minister. Mephistopheles, in the form of a young bald monk in a friar's robe, tells him that, indeed, he can have anything he wants in the world in exchange for his soul.

Grand, says Faustus, let's get on with it so! Not so fast, chides Mephistopheles. This has all got to be nice and legal-like, for my Master's peace of mind. You've got to sign this pact with
him in your own blood, and it's got to be a deed of gift made out to my Master. Faustus merrily does as he's asked, with never a thought for his immortal soul. 'Faustus gives to thee his soul.'

The first thing he does after he's signed the deed is to tell Lucifer's minister that he doesn't believe in Hell. 'First, I will question thee about Hell. Where is this place that men call Hell?' He laughs when Mephistopheles tells him that Hell is 'under the Heavens.' He replies: 'There is no Hell.' In the fullness of time, of course, he might think differently.

We can clearly see poor Faustus setting himself up for the fall of all time, but we're powerless to prevent him from so doing. He goes into this enterprise with his eyes wide open, and he must presumably come out of it the same way.

The pact with the Devil gives him back his youth and gives him the Queen of Love, played by Elizabeth Taylor in a non-talking role, to do with as he wishes. As Faustus is a man first and a doctor of learning second, you can be sure that he knows exactly what to do when he finds the most beautiful woman in the world in his arms.

Elizabeth Taylor, in a variety of fabulous costumes and elaborate hairstyles, also plays Helen of Greece, the face that launched a thousand ships, the beautiful paramour of Alexander the Great and, at the end, the Queen of Hell, but she only opens her mouth once, to laugh nastily at poor Faustus as she bears him away to fulfil his awful Destiny which none can now alter.

Still, we are very much aware of her smoky, sultry, smouldering presence throughout the film. She is the ultimate prize for the befuddled Doctor Faustus, who seemingly thinks she's worth going to Hell for. Maybe she is, we don't know. 

My God though, but she had the most bewitching eyes! They are emphasised to the max here, as are her lovely bosoms, which I rather suspect are the main reason Faustus wants to sell his soul for her. Never underestimate the effect of a nice pair of knockers on a man.

Time passes, and Faustus gains knowledge beyond his wildest dreams and gets to impress his friends, his students at the University and even his Emperor with the flashy parlour tricks he can now perform with Mephistopheles at his beck-and-call.

He gets to meet and question the Seven Deadly Sins in person and causes havoc with his mischief and powers of invisibility during An Audience With His Holiness The Pope. (Father Dougal in clerical sitcom FATHER TED: 'An Audience With Lily Savage, that was good as well...!')

Anyway, the twenty-four years pass in a heartbeat. When the end is near, Faustus pleads with time to stand still, so that the dreaded hour of his undoing may never come. But time and tide wait for no man, as you will know perfectly well if you've ever run for a bus that disappears over the horizon just as you reach the stop, puffing like a pair of bellows and cursing like a f**king docker.

Will Faustus be saved from his own folly at the eleventh hour, or will the Devil come to claim his own? If you've seen this marvellous film or read the play, you'll know, of course. The play is surprisingly short, a mere forty-five small pages long, so I read it all in one sitting last night, while keeping an eye on the IRELAND'S GOT TALENT final with my kids, lol. It's not as hard to read as I was expecting either, which was a relief.

DOCTOR FAUSTUS is out now on DVD from FABULOUS FILMS LTD/FREMANTLE MEDIA ENTERPRISES. It's a visually gorgeous film with fantastic costumes and settings. And if you have a copy of the play to hand, you'll be able to follow the dialogue down to the last apostrophe. If you don't have the play, don't worry. It won't make a blind bit of difference. Just relax and watch the film.

There's not many horror fans who wouldn't be attracted to a film in which a man sells his soul to The Man Downstairs, so I say go for it. Watch this and shiver a little at Faustus's utter blind naivety in thinking that he can gain the whole world yet not lose his soul in return...

The pact: 'On these conditions following. First, that Faustus may be a spirit in form and substance. Secondly, that Mephistopheles shall be his servant, and at his command. Thirdly, that Mephistopheles shall do for him, and bring him whatsoever he desires. Fourthly, that he shall be in his chamber or house invisible. Lastly, that he shall appear to the said John Faustus, at all times, in what shape or form soever he please. 

I, John Faustus of Wittenberg, Doctor, by these presents, do give both body and soul to Lucifer prince of the east, and his minister Mephistopheles: and furthermore grant unto them, twenty-four years being expired, the articles above written inviolate, full power to fetch or carry the said John Faustus, body and soul, flesh, blood or goods, into their habitation wheresoever. By me, JOHN FAUSTUS.'

Well, it's all there in black and white...


Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens' fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra's books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:


You can contact Sandra at:



No comments:

Post a comment