Blake Edwards RIP
I was fortunate enough to be near Blake Edwards twice in the past few years. The first was at the double feature of THE PARTY and SKIDOO as part of the Mods & Rockers Film Festival, where I was privileged to be interviewed along with John Phillip Law by impresario Martin Lewis. Blake Edwards was supposed to appear and discuss THE PARTY, but he wasn’t feeling well and had to decline. His lovely daughter Jennifer (who appeared in S.O.B.) said she would come to speak for him and during the film — which was going over like gangbusters to a packed house — I stepped outside to smoke and savor the evening. A slick black van pulled up and suddenly I was talking to one of Edwards’ other daughters, who told me, “There was no way he wasn’t going to show up.” Sure enough, Blake Edwards appeared in wheelchair and since he wanted no fanfare, he watched the rest of the film from the back of the theater, the roaring audience unaware that the writer/director was among them. I watched Edwards watching, and once the movie ended, his presence was announced to a long standing ovation, which he tried to wave off in real modesty.
I was doubly fortunate to attend a talk with him in September and a screening of my favorite of his films, the caustic S.O.B. (1981) at the Academy of Motion Pictures, moderated by veteran producer Walter Mirisch, with a nebula of stars in attendance (including Mr. Peel), and Edwards’ wife Julie Andrews sat only a few rows away, illuminated. To me, the evening was the essence of Hollywood Movie Magic. He was frail, but harsh and hilarious; sadly, they never actually talked about S.O.B. as I would have loved to hear him explain its genesis. Obviously the film is a tart rejoinder as a result of his experiences on DARLING LILI (1970), a unique World War I Road Show epic flop starring Rock Hudson and Julie Andrews that was cut to various lengths over the years. Our own “Cadavra” has the inside scoop on putting the deleted material onto DVD and Edwards himself even edited a new version — as usual, the UK and Australia DVD release now contains the full cut. So that’s why S.O.B. feels like a 70’s film set in the 80’s, as it details the story of a filmmaker who decides to turn his G-rated bomb into an X-rated hit with his own Julie Andrews surrogate, gamely played by Mrs. Andrews, who also exposes her “boobies.” It’s a bitter, funny roman a clef, and its shocking third act still throws the audience for a loop. I opted to see DRAGONSLAYER instead of S.O.B. when it opened but I watched it every single time it came on HBO.
Suffice to say, Edwards left behind a grand legacy of comedy and thrills, with not just the Pink Panther series, but fascinating dark treatsies such as THE DAYS 0F WINE AND ROSES (1962), and the stylish, creepy gem, EXPERIMENT IN TERROR (1963). He had an interesting propensity to use television actors in his films, no doubt due to his own tube work on the classic ultra-cool PETER GUNN series (and the unavailable 1966 feature, GUNN) featuring Henry Mancini’s iconic theme, one of many in collaboration. He loved slapstick but favored the widescreen, accounting for the dualities of THE GREAT RACE (1965), featuring Tony Curtis wandering through my favorite pie fight ever. He was also a proto-musical director, which came to fruition with his last big hit, VICTOR VICTORIA (1983). In some ways he was like a more congenial, libertine Billy Wilder with less cynicism; as his most personal film, THE PARTY, reveals, Blake Edwards wanted everybody to join in the fun. He’s a genuine auteur, an important part of Hollywood history and I’m certain he’s crossing his own deserved Moon River now.