Poor Devil (1973)

TV Movie   |    |  Comedy, Fantasy


Poor Devil (1973) Poster

A young down on his luck resident of Hell (Sammy Davis, Jr.) is given a chance to redeem himself by signing up a down on his luck retail accountant to sell his soul to Lucifer.


5.3/10
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18 July 2015 | Bunuel1976
6
| POOR DEVIL (Robert Scheerer, 1973) {TV} **1/2
This was an unsold pilot for a proposed comedy series starring Sammy Davis Jr. as an unlucky devil whose repeated failure to secure souls for his master Lucifer (Christopher Lee) invariably sees him saddled – for a good many century! – with the unenviable job of keeping the furnaces of Hell going. While an amusing enough concept on the surface, it was rather a one-joke idea to begin with – obviously modeled on such popular 1960s comic-fantasy shows as "Bewitched" and "I Dreamed Of Jeannie" and, thus, decidedly outdated and tasteless in an era marked by social (May 1968 and the protests over the Vietnam War) and political upheaval (several assassinations and the Watergate scandal).

Davis seemed unable to find his cinematic feet after the members of The Rat Pack went their separate ways: in fact, perhaps his most notable work thereafter was his "Guest Star" credit in Bob Fosse's SWEET CHARITY (1969) – though he did manage a minor diptych of comedic espionage (made in Britain and co-starring 'old pal' Peter Lawford) with SALT AND PEPPER (1968) and ONE MORE TIME (1970; which, interestingly, features a gag cameo by the aforementioned Lee in his iconic Count Dracula guise!). Lee, on the other hand, was game for virtually anything by this point – so long as he did not have to 'support' Hammer Films by way of yet another forced vampiric outing; the irony is that, while he took umbrage at the company's attempts to bring the bloodsucking myth up-to-date, he presumably was not bothered with the Devil (horribly coiffured, I might add – indeed, the general attitudes on display, which scream 1970s, are lamentable!) receiving the same treatment!! That said, the role really gives him little to do other than scowl at Davis before eventually going soft-hearted and allowing him one last chance in the hope that he comes through as a minion (albeit clad in red).

What the hero has got to do here is find someone who is so inept at performing evil that he would literally need to sell his soul in order to deliver: the patsy he chooses is department store accountant Jack Klugman – so put-on here that he comes across as a predecessor to Paolo Villaggio's Ugo Fantozzi! – who has a gripe with the firm because it has apparently forgotten him (not merely never having been promoted but even missing out on the gift coming to anyone who has been in employment for 25 years!). Though he is intrigued by Davis' offer, he is uneasy about giving away his soul – since this means that in 7 years' time, the devil would come to collect. What drives him over the edge is his misconstruing a situation involving his wife and his supercilious boss (Adam West); to get even, he decides to empty the store of all its contents a mere 2 days before Christmas. To do so, Davis recruits all the souls in Hell emanating from San Francisco (where the tale is set)…but the good-natured Klugman ultimately has a change of heart because in this way he would indiscriminately be putting all of his colleagues out of work (and the troupe has to put everything back before dawn)! West does get his just desserts as, in true Lou Costello fashion, he first witnesses the 'clean up' and, after having labored to bring cops onto the scene, is befuddled to find the store untouched.

The film is a pleasant diversion, to be sure, with some nice ideas (Klugman's initial accident-prone attempt at revenge; Davis' girlfriend suggesting that he update the plan proposed by such hardened criminals as Blackbeard The Pirate and gangster Al Capone to utilize helicopters and Alcatraz for the carrying and stashing of the loot; the way in which Klugman is set free from his contract – Davis sabotaging his own promotion by doing a good deed) but, all in all, it does not exhibit enough style to prove memorable and is simply too lightweight for its own good.

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Comedy | Fantasy

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