June 4th, 2020

Dim Setsuled

From the Depths of a Glitzy Hell

Did you know there's a movie where Sammy Davis Jr. plays a demon working for Christopher Lee as Satan to help Jack Klugman get revenge on Adam West? 1973's Poor Devil is a TV movie, in fact a backdoor pilot for a show that never happened, filled with awkward, corny jokes. But with such a cast it can hardly be a full miss and it starts to gain a real pulse when the relationship between Sammy Davis Jr. and Jack Klugman has time to develop.

The film opens in Hell where Sammy (Sammy Davis Jr.) works shovelling coal, hoping one day for a sweet promotion as a reward for shepherding another soul into Satan's (Christopher Lee) arms. Although it's great watching Davis Jr. and Lee perform together, the scenes in Hell are generally the weakest part of the film. One wishes the writers had just a slightly stronger grasp of the theology when Satan reminisces on how he first tried to tempt Adam with various other fruits before finally succeeding with the apple. As though God had forbidden Adam to eat any fruit of any kind.

But Sammy finds a kindred spirit in a mortal man named Bernie (Klugman), who's also bitter about not getting a promotion at the department store where he works. His boss is played by Adam West as such an over-the-top sleeze that he's one of the film's high points all by himself.

Bernie finally sells his soul to Sammy but the contract is void if Sammy can't fulfil Bernie's wishes. Bernie decides he wants his store to be looted of its entire inventory to ruin his boss. After putting together an extremely weird and nonsensical plot involving helicopters and Blackbeard the pirate, Sammy rounds up all the local burglars and has it done--only for Bernie to have a change of heart when he realises looting the store will endanger the livelihoods of the store's employees. A valuable lesson, that.

The chemistry between Sammy and Bernie fights its way through the cheesy dialogue to be genuinely sweet, almost a George Bailey and Clarence relationship.

Poor Devil is available on Amazon Prime.

Twitter Sonnet #1360

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