Blake Edwards, 1922 - 2010

David Hudson

"Blake Edwards, the veteran writer-director whose films include the Pink Panther comedies, Breakfast at Tiffany's, Days of Wine and Roses and 10 and whose legendary disputes with studio chiefs inspired his scathing Hollywood satire S.O.B. has died. He was 88." Dennis McLellan for the Los Angeles Times: "Edwards, whose collaborations with his wife, Julie Andrews, included the 1982 comedy Victor/Victoria, died of of complications of pneumonia Wednesday evening."

Aljean Harmetz in the New York Times: "What the critic Pauline Kael once described as Mr Edwards's 'love of free-for-all lunacy' was flaunted in good movies and bad ones.... The critic Andrew Sarris wrote in 1968 that Mr Edwards had gotten 'some of his biggest laughs out of jokes that are too gruesome for most horror films.' Those jokes include a long sequence in which a desperate Peter Sellers is unable to find a bathroom in The Party (1968), Burt Reynolds's death while staring at the legs of a nurse in The Man Who Loved Women (1983) and nearly every incident in S.O.B. (1981), a movie in which Mr Edwards takes an ax dipped in cyanide to the movie industry, which alternately embraced and spurned him."

His "reputation as a film director seems locked by some in the realm of lowbrow slapstick comedy and, in many cases, not particularly good ones, but Edwards's work as a director and a writer was more multifaceted than that," argues Edward Copeland. "True, at his heart he was a clown. A few years ago when the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences finally saw fit to bestow an honorary Oscar upon Edwards, he used his acceptance speech as an occasion for a gag, abetted by presenter Jim Carrey, showing up in a wheelchair with a broken leg and making it appear as if it went out of control and crashed through the wall of part of the awards show set." Still, his "resume was far more eclectic than you'd think and he did produce some classics."

From the AP: "The Edwards family history extended virtually the entire length of American motion pictures. J Gordon Edwards was a pioneering director of silent films, including more than 20 with the exotic vamp Theda Bara. His son, Jack McEdwards (the family name), became a top assistant director and production manager in Hollywood." Young Blake "grew up on his father's movie sets.... Edwards had entered television in 1958, creating Peter Gunn, which established a new style of hard-edged detective series. The tone was set by Henry Mancini's pulsating theme music.... Peter Gunn marked the beginning of a fruitful collaboration between Edwards and Mancini, who composed melodic scores and songs for most of Edwards's films.... Breakfast at Tiffany's in 1961 established Edwards as a stylish director who could combine comedy with bittersweet romance. His next two films proved his versatility: the suspenseful Experiment in Terror (1962) and Days of Wine and Roses (1963), the story of a couple's alcoholism, with [Jack] Lemmon in his first dramatic role."


Lacing his remembrance at the AV Club with clips, Sean O'Neal notes that the 80s saw something of a "renaissance for Edwards, and he soon became the exemplar of that era's sexually charged comedies with films like Micki + Maude, The Man Who Loved Women, A Fine Mess, and Skin Deep. Perhaps the best of these was 1987's Blind Date with Kim Basinger and Bruce Willis, still one of the funniest 'into the night' films ever made. Edwards more or less retired from directing after 1991's harsh gender-politic comedy Switch and an ill-advised attempt to relaunch The Pink Panther with Roberto Benigni, although he went behind the camera one last time to direct his wife in 1995's TV movie version of Victor/Victoria, based on the Broadway musical adaptation of his film (for which Edwards had written the book). In the 2000 documentary I Remember Me, Edwards spoke candidly about his 15-year battle with chronic fatigue syndrome, which seemed to have contributed greatly to his career's slowing down — although by then, he'd certainly done enough to last a lifetime."

The Guardian posts a photo gallery — and Stuart Heritage has added a series of clips with commentary. Brian Baxter: "By the age of 35, Edwards had served a successful Hollywood apprenticeship. In 1957 he joined forces with Tony Curtis on their first movie together, Mister Cory, starring Curtis as a guy who uses the path of a crooked gambler to escape the Chicago slums. Edwards enjoyed his first real commercial hit with the second world war comedy Operation Petticoat (1959), cleverly uniting Curtis with the actor's hero Cary Grant. This and two successful TV series, Peter Gunn (1958-61) and Mr Lucky (1959-60), led him into the most successful decade of his career. The 1960 Bing Crosby vehicle High Time (in which Crosby dresses as a woman — an early example of one of Edwards's fixations) was followed by the sparkling Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), an adaptation of Truman Capote's novel, starring Audrey Hepburn, George Peppard and [Mickey] Rooney."

Viewing. Christopher Campbell's found and posted the first part of "a fascinating film, somewhat akin to verite celeb profiles like DA Pennebaker's Jane, but it's also a kind of first-person work since it's about Edwards's wife (now widow), Julie Andrews, and also features the director throughout. The focus is on Andrews receiving her own (ultimately short-lived) TV variety show, The Julie Andrews Hour, first talking over the possibility with Edwards while the two walk on the beach and in the park. Obviously much of this seems staged, but it's nevertheless a pretty candid portrayal of their private life, including many scenes with their kids." And he follows this up with clips from the afore-mentioned doc on Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, I Remember Me.

The Edwards film the New Yorker's Richard Brody would like to "to see right now is one that, unfortunately, is not available on DVD: Wild Rovers, his bleak, absurdist Western, from 1971, starring William Holden and Ryan O'Neal as a pair of gunslingers looking for a final payday."

Updates, 12/17: "In effect, he gave the physical comedy of the silent era and the character-based humor of Hollywood forebears like Preston Sturges and Billy Wilder a modern neurotic spin," writes the Boston Globe's Ty Burr.

Roger Ebert: "His life was filled with laughter, its end, shadowed by illness. He remained productive as long as he could. As Inspector Clouseau once observed, in words written by Edwards, 'There is a time to laugh and a time not to laugh, and this is not one of them.'"


Michael Hogan for Vanity Fair: "It is worth remembering, as we note the passing of director Blake Edwards, that the task he faced in adapting Breakfast at Tiffany's for the screen was none other than to, in the words of author Sam Wasson, 'take a novel with a gay man in love with a straight call girl and turn it into a romantic comedy!'"

"Much has been made of late as to how significantly the filmmakers tidied up the more unsavory aspects of Truman Capote's story and there is always the insufferable embarrassment of Mickey Rooney's Japanese caricature," writes Todd McCarthy in the Hollywood Reporter, "but the unforgettable images of Audrey Hepburn in New York and the poignant feelings caught prevail over the shortcoming and compromises. Even when slapstick reigned in such films as The Great Race, What Did You Do in the War, Daddy? and The Party, all of which stand up well today on repeated viewings, one finds lovely grace notes of emotion tucked away amidst the mayhem that has conquered the characters' attempts to uphold standards of civilized decorum. The Party, in particular, remains something of a marvel in its perhaps over-extended but nonetheless protean attempt to recreate the aesthetics of a silent movie, just as it incidentally evokes the feel of Hollywood just before everything literally went to pot in the late 1960s."

Viewing (0'35"). The BBC collects man-on-the-street appreciations.

"On the evening of September 30, 2010, I participated in a program at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences called 'An Evening with Blake Edwards,'" recalls Walter Mirisch for Vanity Fair. "Blake and I talked for nearly two hours. He was obviously failing and physically straining, but he made an extraordinary effort to reveal as much of himself as he could to his hugely appreciative audience. When our conversation concluded, the entire assemblage of the theater rose to give a standing ovation to Blake. He was sitting in a wheel chair, and I watched him make a herculean effort to rise and acknowledge the applause of his audience one last time. He said to me quietly, 'I must stand up for them.' Holding my arm for support, he waved his other arm in a fond farewell."

"Of the films I've seen that Blake Edwards made in his long, sometimes successful, sometimes troubled career, there are three that I can look back on with something like love — A Shot in the Dark, The Party and Victor/Victoria." Dennis Cozzalio revisits those three and offers a few more thoughts besides. A Shot in the Dark: "For me, his second collaboration with Peter Sellers in the Inspector Clouseau series remains the purest, the most graceful and delicate — if those are words that can be applied in a sentence that also uses the name 'Clouseau' — and overall the funniest of a run of films that were not lacking in individual moments of oxygen-depleting hilarity."

Richard T Jameson: "His best pictures are conceived and realized with a subtlety, elegance, and precision matched by few American film artists of his generation; his worst are godawful, what-could-he-have-been-thinking-of atrocities.... [O]f his nearly four decades' worth of feature filmmaking, he can claim a dozen first-rate pictures and at least that many graceful entertainments. Not to mention a synchronicity of style and theme that, at his peak, qualifies him as one of the masters of the American cinema."

Updates, 12/18: "The Tamarind Seed, like Roman Polanski's Chinatown, turns a Good Will genre into the genuine article, shifts and reshapes our thinking and feeling and seeing," wrote Kathleen Murphy in Movietone News in 1974, a piece reappearing today at the Parallax View. "And that new perception of reality is not just four-walled within a theater or the confines of a frame of film, but makes its way — or should — into the larger, less defined, and thus less understandable, territory of our lives.... Although The Tamarind Seed operates unbeatably as a suspense film, it strikes me that the world of international intrigue, betrayal, and counter-betrayal works as an exceedingly apt objective correlative of the atmosphere in which men and women ordinarily strive to achieve some kind of mutually satisfactory rapprochement."

"In conception, 10 is a comedy about male voyeurism raised to sexual obsession," writes Time's Richard Corliss. "George (Dudley Moore), a pop composer who lives, comfortable but restless, with Samantha (Andrews), spots the angelic blond Jenny (Bo Derek) on her way to her wedding, and follows Jenny to her Mexican honeymoon spot, where she asks him, 'Did you ever do it to Ravel's "Bolero"?' In execution, though, the movie was the extension of Pink Panther slapstick. In pursuit of the dream girl, Moore submits to a car crash, getting repeatedly whacked by a telescope, falling off a boat, into a swimming pool and down a mountain slope. 10 continued Edwards's own preoccupation with the rowdier form of antique film comedy — from the custard-pie marathon in The Great Race (which Sarris said qualifies as 'the last spasm of action painting in the Western World') to the Laurel-and-Hardy tribute A Fine Mess, based in part on Stan and Ollie's 1932 short The Music Box. If Edwards had a kindred spirit in late-century cinema, it was not the urbane Billy Wilder but the French master Jacques Tati, whose nearly wordless films (Mon Oncle, Playtime) also replaced surefire jokes with elaborate camera movements, long takes and scenarios of people, machinery — the rickety scaffolding of modern life — collapsing into chaos."

"Edwards made three films that are firmly ensconced in [the Siren's] personal pantheon.... Days of Wine and Roses, with a skilled purveyor of slapstick at the helm, has the nerve to start when the drinking is still fun and the drunks are still charming — and not just because they're the intensely lovable Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick — and then take them to where all smiles stop together.... The second is Victor/Victoria.... And then the Siren cycles around to Breakfast at Tiffany's. This film brings up a different question: Howard Hawks's dictum aside, how many great scenes does it take for the movie itself to be called great? The Siren recuses herself from the bigger argument, again. But she knows how many great scenes it takes for her to overlook every single flaw in a movie, and love it anyway. It takes exactly one."

"Film Studies For Free presents its own little 'cross-dressing-in-international-film'-links homage to its favorite Blake Edwards film, the cross-dressing comedy Victor/Victoria. It may not be the queerest of queer films, certainly; it may not even be the queerest of Blake Edwards's queerish films... But it is one of the funniest, with plenty of treats for fans of Julie Andrews and James Garner. It thus stands as a fine testimony to Blake Edwards's gently subversive powers as a screenwriter and a director."

Update, 12/19: "I first met Blake on the set of his comic extravaganza, The Great Race, where I discovered he was the first person besides Jerry Lewis to use video-assist monitors (which Lewis invented), and which is standard equipment on sets now," recalls Peter Bogdanovich. "Edwards was very laidback in a kind of intense way, which is a contradiction in terms but fits the man I came to know over the years.  He had a mordantly wicked sense of humor, very black Irish — Julie Andrews's nickname for him was Blackie — and a self-deprecating manner that was quite disarming. He often seemed very amused at the absurdities of life in the movie business, indeed life in general. This was a man who once, at night, dove by accident into an emptied swimming pool and broke nearly every bone in his body; he was often doing things like that, so that a lot of his humor was derived from his own foibles. But Blake's most vivid characteristic was this wry sense of rebellion, a kind of conspiracy against any form of authority."

Update, 12/20: "Edwards recognized that directing comedy was in large measure the construction of a scene, a sequence, a film, that was tailored to the specific talents of one's star," writes Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum and the Pink Panther remake) in the Los Angeles Times. "In the Pink Panther films, we can bear witness to one of the greatest-ever such collaborations. Throughout shoots that were hardly without difficulty or friction, Edwards recognized the ineffable elements that made Sellers brilliant, and his films with Sellers (both the Pink Panther series as well as The Party) betray a canny and supremely confident orchestration of those talents."

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