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.

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16 Responses to “Blake Edwards RIP”

  1. A wonderful tribute to a great and underrated filmmaker, christian. I grew up watching the PETER GUNN series as a kid. All the films of his you listed are worthy. I first caught EXPERIMENT IN TERROR on the local TV network and was enthralled with it (again, in my youth). In reading some of the many salutes for Edwards, I learned of his suicide attempt on the Malibu beach (the N.Y. Times piece). All of it made his masterwork, S.O.B., that much more poignant. Well done, christian.

    • Oh, forgot to mention, I happen to believe his 1988 SUNSET remains a highly underrated and unfairly chastised film. It has a lot more heart and story (and a good cast) than folk gave it credit for, and I always thought he handled the western motif with a delightful flair. Thanks, christian.

    • Thanks! EXPERIMENT IN TERROR is not available on DVD believe it or not — but it is on Netflix Instant Watch right now! Amazing black and white photography by Philip Lathrop. I neglected to mention a real 70’s Edwards oddity, THE CAREY TREATMENT (1972) about a doctor played by James Coburn and botched abortions. MIA on video too.

      I forgot about Edwards suicide attempt, but it’s clearly reflected in Richard Mulligan’s bug eyed portrayal, which I love.

      • I have a secret hope that someday the Criterion Collection folk will take and present EXPERIMENT IN TERROR on disc the way it truly deserves. Good call on THE CAREY TREATMENT. Believe or not, I actually saw that odd but intriguing medical thriller on its initial theater run in ’72. The great James Hong makes a solid contribution to it, too. Thanks.

        • Edwards from his PLayboy interview: “I have never seen The Carey Treatment. I found out Aubrey was cutting the movie even before I finished shooting it. In spite of that, I was determined that if there were one thing I did, I’d complete the film, and I did. That was it for me: I decided I wasn’t going to direct anymore. By then, I was afraid I was going crazy and trying desperately not to.”

  2. He really was a versatile, guy, wasn’t he? This might just be the day to finally stream EXPERIMENT IN TERROR on the ol’ Macbook.

    DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES is a favorite of mine. Really potent stuff. Heed no one who insists it’s unrealistic or over-the-top. Chances are they’ve never woken up strapped to a hospital gurney, so what would they know about life?

    Great piece, as always. RIP.

  3. apart from everything already well said here, weren’t edwards and julie andrews married for like forever, 50 years or something? amazing. thinking of her, how hard must it be to lose your fellow pea in a pod after virtually a lifetime together. the end of an era, RIP to a legend.

  4. Totally forgot he did TIFFANY’S. Well, we all make mistakes.

    • Here’s Edwards talking about WILD ROVERS, recut by the studio: “I’d survived what was done to Darling Lili, but what happened to Wild Rovers really broke my heart, because that was the first time I began wanting to say something in the same way that “10,” SOB. and Victor/Victoria would all become personal statements. Up until then, if somebody wanted a TV show about a slick private eye, I’d sit down and come up with a Peter Gunn or a Mr. Lucky. And if somebody wanted a movie director whose work had a certain gloss anti sophistication, he’d get me to do films such as Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Operation Petticoat. I’d never consciously tried to do or say anything different until I wrote this tragedy about two cowboys who stick up a bank and are eventually hunted down and shot to death. William Holden and Ryan O’Neal played those roles, and we went out and made a very fine movie-and then James Aubrey, who’d just become head of MGM, personally destroyed it. Aubrey took about a two-and-a-half-hour film and cut out something like 40 minutes by changing the ending and a lot of the relationships. ‘The sad part of the whole thing was that we all enjoyed making it, and I’d become convinced that I was back on the road to having autonomy on my films and to making good money again. The only people who’ve ever seen my version of Wild Rovers are students in Arthur Knight’s class at USC. Arthur thought it was the best thing I’d ever written.”

  5. Stories like that make me want to punch someone. Specifically, James Aubrey.

  6. Ohhh, it’s THAT James Aubrey. “The smiling cobra.” Makes sense.

    Let’s go draw pornographic graffiti on his tombstone.

    • Strangely, he demanded ZABRISKIE POINT be re-edited back to Antonioni’s wishes after the studio deemed it unreleasable.

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