(1968)2Craig ButlerOn the surface, the idea of Richard Burton playing the title role in Doctor Faustus is not a bad one; the basis of the play, after all, involves a man who sells his soul for what he thinks should bring him happiness and then discovers he has made a bad deal. One can see how Burton, a gifted actor who sold out his talent to become a star and then found stardom lacking, could understand such a character. And with the appropriate director, perhaps Burton could have made an impressive Faustus. Unfortunately, Burton (with Nevill Coghill) directed himself, and the result is not only a performance that is unfocused, hollow, and uninvolving, despite an array of histrionic tricks, but a film that is dated technically and a mess dramatically. Burton never gets under the skin of this Faustus, never even attempts to show what makes the man tick, with the result that most of his performance -- which dominates the film -- is simply dull. Burton's voice, of course, is as mellifluous as ever, but here it has the effect of lulling rather than entrancing. Elizabeth Taylor is wasted in a role that basically requires her to walk around mutely and look stunning, which she has no problem doing (even when wearing silver body paint); the Star Trek-like "mysterious" vocalizing that accompanies her every appearance and move is only one of the many effects that misfire disastrously throughout the movie, which also features garish, ugly sets and costumes and some of the dimmest and most oppressive lighting in film. The basic story of Faustus provides some attraction, as does Christopher Marlowe's masterful way with words, but there's little else to recommend this version.
Richard Burton co-directed (along with Nevill Coghill) this labor of love that records a performance given by Burton at Oxford University in 1966 of Christopher Marlowe's 400-year-old verse play. Burton plays Faust, a medieval doctor who sells his soul to Mephistopheles (Andreas Teuber) in exchange for mastering all human knowledge. The Devil tempts Faust at every turn by confronting him with the seven deadly sins and Helen of Troy (Elizabeth Taylor), who appears throughout the film in various stages of undress as Doctor Faustus stands firm. The production was filmed in Rome, with the majority of the cast Oxford University amateur actors.