Saturday, December 18, 2010

In Memoriam: Blake Edwards, 1922-2010



A handful of the Siren’s work colleagues read her blog, and she sits next to one, an economist who visits the site from time to time when he isn’t unraveling the mysteries of GDP and U6. Thursday afternoon as the Siren was stashing her pocketbook in her desk this gentleman greeted her with, “So, when can I expect a Blake Edwards tribute?”

The Siren stammered that she doesn’t, indeed she can’t write something for every great movie figure who dies. The Siren memorializes people when she has something to say, and contrary to what her longsuffering sister might tell you, she doesn’t always. Blake Edwards has a long, varied and important filmography, but many of the films that make his reputation--the Pink Panther series, 10, and even S.O.B.--are not to the Siren’s taste.

But her colleague’s question made the Siren think of an exchange on Glenn Kenny’s blog a while back, concerning Carol Reed, where the question came up: “How many great films does it take for someone to have auteur status?” Well, the Siren absolutely does not set herself up as an arbiter of such matters, but she pointed out that Reed has three great films, and others she loves, too. And Thursday, after telling the economist she wouldn’t post about Edwards, she afterthought that she should. Because Edwards made three films that are firmly ensconced in her personal pantheon.

The first is Days of Wine and Roses, a movie that belongs to that category of film that’s so harrowing it’s hard to analyze. In the Siren’s mind, it caps a whole cycle of alcoholic/AA films that begins, roughly, with The Lost Weekend and Smashup: The Story of a Woman and continues through I’ll Cry Tomorrow and other slide-into-the-bottle films such as The Joker Is Wild. Not one of those came close to the effect this movie had on the Siren. (Neither does Leaving Las Vegas, for that matter.) The other films either plunk you down in media boozus, or show alcoholism as something that’s triggered, essentially, by a run of bad luck. 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 Siren isn’t sure when or if she’ll watch it again, ever, because then she’d have to watch Lemmon smashing the greenhouse, or trying to persuade a breastfeeding Remick to have a drink with him. Frankly, just the opening bars of the credits kill her. But it’s a great movie.

The second is Victor/Victoria. The Siren loves everything about this film. What Dennis Cozzalio describes, perfectly, as its “expansive cabaret energy.” The fairy-tale Paris Edwards conjures, where sex is so delightfully pervasive you’re free at last to take the a la carte approach you’ve always dreamed of. Julie Andrews and the cockroach. James Garner getting hugged by Alex Karras. Lesley Ann Warren, each screech perfectly modulated in a dumb-blonde performance the Siren would rank right alongside Jean Hagen in Singin’ in the Rain. And above all Robert Preston, a great actor who never got the long run of film parts he should have, capping the movie with one line: “You bitches.”

And then the Siren cycles around to Breakfast at Tiffany’s. This film brings up a different question: Howard Hawks’ 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.

38 comments:

D Cairns said...

I spent years thinking I was wrong, as a child, to like the later Panther films (I mean the ones that still had Sellers in them). Convinced myself that while the first couple are lightly fun and show Edwards's skill with slapstick, the later ones devolve into grisly self-parody. Rewatched a chunk of Revenge of the Pink Panther the other day and now I think it's a masterpieces. It plays like a Jean-Pierre Melville movie made by Tex Avery. And while I love Melville, he was always curiously reluctant to do jokes involving bombs which are black spheres with sparklers on top...

The Siren said...

I like the first one (wait, was it the first? I get sooo confused) anyway, the one with Niven and Capucine and Cardinale, not for Sellers but for the great 60s jet-set ambience. My favorite scene is the song in the ski lodge. But I guess I have a crucial joint in my funny bone missing for most of them.

DavidEhrenstein said...

The Los Angeles Film Critics Association gave Robert Preston its Best Supporting Actor perize for Victor/Victoria, and at the awards dinner than year Preston sat around with us, long after the program was conclucded to simply chat. He regaled us with all sorts of stroes about his career - especially what fun he had working fro that great ham Cecil B. DeMille. I've rarely met anyone in Hollywood who so enjoyed being a movie star.

Among my Edwards faves I concur on V/V and Breakfast at Tiffany's Days of Wine and Roses wiht Piper Laurie -- though the Edwards is hardly chopped liver.

Among his others I adore S.O.B., The Great Race and That's Life

His Major Maudit -- Darling Lili isn't at all bad, especially when Mrs. Edwards sings "Whistling in the Dark."

DavidEhrenstein said...

Lord but I love Capucine! She's really a 30's person somehow shoved into the 60's. She was the perfect deadpan straightwoman for Peter Sellers in The Pink Panther and What's New Pussyca -- where in one scene he and O'Toole scream out her real name, Germaine Lefevere

The Siren said...

David, I love Capucine so much I even love her in Walk on the Wild Side, where Laurence Harvey told her that kissing her was like kissing the side of a beer bottle. One of the most beautiful actresses of all time, and while she was never what I could honestly call all that good, she had something, and how.

I haven't seen the TV DoWaR, alas. I'm very fond of Piper Laurie, as I am of almost all redheads.

The Siren said...

P.S. - chatting with the great Preston is yet another reason to envy you. Someday I'd love to hear those Cecil B. stories.

MrsHenryWindleVale said...

There was a period when AMC was showing the television version of "Wine and Roses," and I was lucky enough to've seen it. While I love Lee Remick, I believe that Piper Laurie trounced her (in advance) with that character. As for Cliff Robertson ... very respectable, but I'll take Lemmon.

I certainly agree about "Whistling Away The Dark." Though I have seen the whole film, more or less, it's that one number that I keep coming back to. The color! The camera movement!

I'm also quite fond of another Edwards/Remick/Mancini picture, "Experiment In Terror." Anyone else 'round here join me in those sentiments?

The Siren said...

MrsHWV, it's been a while since I saw Experiment in Terror, but I did like it, albeit not as much as the three I mentioned. I am hard put to name a Remick movie I don't like, at least for her in it. She was sort of like Preston--always good, always a pleasure, but there should have been MORE. Maybe I'm just greedy.

Vanwall said...

Like many artists, his early work, often quite raw and ragged-edged, is what I liked him for. "Mr. Cory" is a spiffy moral crisis film with the late, great Tony Curtis, and the mysteries that were Martha Hyer and Kathryn Grant. Recommended as one of Curtis's better roles, but it had a panache that was Edwards doing, I'm sure, so his touch could be light sometimes. As a writer, he was pretty damned good, too, but his directing was often a bit heavy handed. Or a lot.

"The Great Race", which I saw on release as a kid, and it's the perfect Boy's Own film, so I have a soft - very soft - spot for it; how can you not love Dorothy Provine singin' "He Shouldn't-A, Hadn't-A, Oughtn't-A Swang on Me!"??? Like Siren's love of the '60s setting in the first Panther film, the pseudo steam-punkish visuals in TGR are wonderfully deep and detailed, and part of the enjoyment. Once again, Tony Curtis is fine and dandy in that one, and Jack Lemmon and Peter Falk were perfect, to say nothing of Natalie Wood - I'll watch it anyday as escapism perfection.

The Panther films seemed to fall down some hole for me, just the first one, and parts of the second, being watchable. "Victor Victoria" is pretty good, tho, it has it's own vibe that the superior original doesn't have, which is good, considering there's only one Anton Walbrook that comes along in life, and it needed something not quite urbane, it couldn't reach to that level, but at least a flair. Lesley Ann Warren supplied much of the contrast to that, as Siren observed, to a high level - I like to contrast that role to her quiet strength in "The Limey".

Blake Edwards had a certain something late, that being Julie Andrewes, but unfortunately, just the mention of her name didn't really get him the same results as Stanley Moon.

Vanwall said...
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The Siren said...

Vanwall, The Great Race is another where I love the look and atmosphere of the thing, but just don't find it very funny. Gee I am sounding like a sobersides here. Well, not quite I guess. Lesley Ann *slays* me in V/V. The whole movie does, but her and Preston especially.

I often find that talented directors develop a sourness late in life, and to me 10 and SOB are a dose of pure alum. But there's been a lot of love for them in the blogosphere this week. And I always love to see older movies come back into the discussion.

THE FUTURIST! said...

Oh, Siren, THE FUTURIST! loves Blake Edwards. His thoughts can hardly be put into words. He has watched Blake through it all ... and winced during those later Pink Panther films and sex comedies of the 80s. Still, THE FUTURIST! loved him ... mostly for his grand wide screen love of slapstick. As a child, THE YOUNG FUTURIST! thought Peter Sellers and Blake Edwards were kings. And THE GREAT RACE? What a grand bloated beauty of fun.

Trish said...

I know it's generally reviled, but is there no love for "The Party"???

Vanwall said...

I do like DOWAR, it a bit of an aberration for Blake, tho, in my book. Remick was great, and in "The Detective" I caught a little of that harder, wanton edge of hers that reminded me of DOWAR.

I saw that TV version as well, but I'd say it was a draw, mostly because of Laurie.

Breakfast Tiffany's has sublime moments, to be sure, and careful editing could improve it a lot - no buck-tooth-ed buffoons need apply.

Dan Callahan said...

Edwards certainly had a distinctive sensibility, and had a great run from, say, "Mister Cory" to "The Party."

I like that you pointed out the careful stages of the alcoholism in "Days in Wines and Roses," which is one of his very best from that period. And I also love the scene in "Experiment in Terror" where you watch a girl undress for quite some time in a room full of mannequins, and just at the point when you're beginning to wonder why the camera is still recording her, one of the mannequins MOVES. A super "gotcha" moment.

Also love that great single-take shot of Andrews singing the Mancini/Mercer song at the beginning of "Darling Lili," and the reprise at the end. They seem to have made each other very happy off-screen. Professionally, though, Edwards might have been better off marrying somebody like Paula Prentiss and putting her in his comedies. Andrews too often seemed like a wife dragged along on her husband's vacations, though not in "Victor/Victoria."

And the party sequence in "Breakfast at Tiffany's" is just pure bliss. Even just remembering the music from it makes me happy.

Trish said...

I love the fact that Edwards refused to apologize for the Mickey Rooney character in Breakfast at Tiffany's. Even though I'm offended and have to fast-forward through the Rooney sequences, I still like the film.

Tonio Kruger said...

Breakfast at Tiffany's was one of the few old movies I was fortunate enough to see with my favorite ex-girlfriend on a big screen--so that was always be a favorite of mine for sentimental reasons even though I'd much rather have seen Blake Edwards leave the yellowface to Berkeley's Footlight Parade.

I've loved The Great Race since childhood--though it probably plays better when you're ten than when you're thirty. Then again it's got that great Henry Mancini score and those great sets plus Lemmon and Curtis play so well off each other it's a shame they weren't in a better movie that time out.

I actually liked the Pink Panther movies which actually starred Peter Sellers--but don't care too much for more recent efforts. 10 I remember liking pretty much though I suspect I'd be less impressed if I saw it today. If nothing else, it gave Dudley Moore's career a much needed boost and gave us an early introduction to Dee Wallace.

The best thing I can say about SOB was that it was the Tropic Thunder of its day. No doubt it was very funny to those in the industry but not so funny to those who could care little about Hollywood politics. It didn't help that the rather embarrassing fuss Mr. Edwards makes about his wife's anatomy in this movie would have seemed a lot more shocking back in the late 1960s.

In any event, Blake Edwards may not have been the Billy Wilder of our day but he's not exactly chopped liver either. He will be missed--and indeed, I do miss him almost every time I see what passes for movie comedy these days.

Patrick Wahl said...

Siren, I also find his comedies to be lacking in the critical ingredient of humor. I can't even watch the Panther movies (partly a Peter Sellers problem), and while I sort of like The Great Race, I don't recall it being terribly funny. I have gotten to like Breakfast at Tiffany's quite a bit in recent years, after not caring for it that much on first viewing. (some of the credit for that goes to Audrey and George. Never got why Peppard didn't become a bigger star) Overall though I think Edwards is a pretty minor figure.

Patrick Wahl said...

Siren, I also find his comedies to be lacking in the critical ingredient of humor. I can't even watch the Panther movies (partly a Peter Sellers problem), and while I sort of like The Great Race, I don't recall it being terribly funny. I have gotten to like Breakfast at Tiffany's quite a bit in recent years, after not caring for it that much on first viewing. (some of the credit for that goes to Audrey and George. Never got why Peppard didn't become a bigger star) Overall though I think Edwards is a pretty minor figure.

Kent Jones said...

I guess it's in THE PINK PANTHER STRIKES AGAIN where he hoists himself off the parallel bars and down the stairs, and then destroys the piano with the mace? And is it A SHOT IN THE DARK where he tears open the felt on the snooker table? I guess so, because it's under the cold eye of George Sanders. Those are things of beauty. As are John Larroquette driving into the paint truck (or factory?) in BLIND DATE and Kim Basinger going down on Burt Reynolds as a cop writes him a speeding ticket. And I have to admit that I love THE PARTY until in degenerates into a big budget LAUGH-IN sketch. And BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S is undeniable. As is PETER GUNN. I also find his partnership with Richard Quine really interesting. DRIVE A CROOKED ROAD is quite a movie.

dr.morbius said...

S.O.B. is the inspiration for my own funeral arrangements. Dingy, horned hat. Chord of wood. Lighter fluid. I'll probably embellish it with a fabulous gown and "The Ride of the Valkyries."

I'm not necessarily a fan of the Pink Panther movies, but I can watch them endlessly for the Herbert Lom sequences. Lom just makes me laugh in those movies. I also like the rhythms of A Shot in the Dark, particularly the shots of the police wagon at intervals through the movie.

And, yes. Julie Andrews and the cockroach! I love that scene, and I love that movie.

Phillip said...

What a joy to see a scene from "Desk Set" on your header! Oddly, this is one of my favorite films to watch at Christmas. I just ordered the dvd yesterday.

Love, love "Victor Victoria", one of my all time favorite films.

Flickhead said...

Props to Blake for the "director's cut" of Darling Lili, pruning it from a bloated 136 minutes to a streamlined 114 minutes.

Memo to those who support the unfortunate trend of DVD "Extended Cuts": less is more.

Kent Jones said...
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Kent Jones said...

Basinger/Reynolds scene in question, in Edwards' remake of Truffaut's THE MAN WHO LOVED WOMEN.

Gloria said...

I confess that I have a soft spot for Pink Panther films, the main reasons being the Closeau-Kato increasingly insane showdowns... And Herbert Lom.

(And I could add that George Sanders appears in A Shot In The Dark)

The Siren said...

The Futurist, it grieves the Siren to grieve you. The Great Race looks great, as I recall, and my better half still loves it. Is threatening to buy it for the kidlets, actually.

Trish & Dan, Breakfast at Tiffany's is one of the most mixed of mixed bags ever, and I always seem to pull something different out. One time I see it and Mickey Rooney makes me stabby. Another time it's the treatment of Patricia Neal. And another time I am loving the party, and her perfume in the mailbox, and them at the Tiffany's counter, and "Do you think she's talented...deeeeeply and importantly talented?" which is a line that got a huge workout back in the day with my beloved ex-roommates. But that end is consistently perfect. It destroys me every time. And Glenn Kenny pulled the definitive shot, Cat in the railings, soaking wet. I loved his tough-guy commenters lining up for the Kleenex over that one. :)

The Siren said...

Kent & Trish & all who mentioned The Party - crikey, I know I saw that one but I remember so little. Ditto A Shot in the Dark. I have no explanation for why V/V should have me howling, but not the others. It's not Blake, it's me. I swear.

Tonio, you summarize some of my thoughts on SOB quite nicely. I don't know, maybe if when I saw it, I got all the in-jokes, I would have liked it more.

Dr. Morbius, that is gonna be some funeral, for sure! Are you sure you don't want someone to bring a cockroach, or should we not mix tributes?

Patrick, I don't know about minor; today at a friend's we were discussing The American Cinema and going through the "Less Than Meets the Eye" and hey, I loved pretty much everyone in it, along with "Lightly Likable," so from this I concluded that I am not perhaps the best barometer.

Flickhead, I didn't know that - how FABULOUS. Yes, major major props.

Gloria, I *wish* I got the Panther movies. I truly do.

Phillip, it's nice to see my Ala. paisano again. My banner has me craving Desk Set, too. And Joan Blondell!

Brian Doan said...

Siren, thanks for your comments about ROSES. I feel exactly the same way, and you express the power of that film beautifully. I actually can't watch Remick in anything else now-- she's a marvelous actress, but her performance in that film is so haunting that just seeing her face sets off the harrowing memories.

DavidEhrenstein said...

The Party came about because everyone love the party scene in Breakfast at Tiffany's, so Edwards decided to make a whole movie about a prty. The gags he and Sellers created for it are quite beautiful.

I saw The Great Race when it opened at Radio City. I doubled over at the sight of Lemmon's Professor Fate and his assistant played by the great peter Falk pedalling their balloon across the sky -- the top of an enormous Panavision frame -- with the word "Fate" on it.

10, btw was supposed to star George Segal. But he and Edwards clashed and Dudley Moore stepped in AT THE LAST MINUTE!
The film looks like it was made for him but it wasn't. All that great gag work was thrown together practically on the spot.

Kent Jones said...

David, I took another look at 10 recently. I'd completely forgotten about George Segal. Boy, would THAT have been a different movie. I loved it when it came out. Now, a little less. Sometimes, he deals with material that is so painful that itnseems to be straining for a different kind of movie that he can't quite allowhimself to make? Something like that? But it's a really fine piece of work, and the whole sequence of gags with his dental work and the arrival of the cops is brlliant. Or the time at the beach in Mexico. I like Segal a lot, but he couldn't have done that stuff with the towels on the hot sand, or waking up to the barrage of Mexican music outside the window.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Actually had Segal done it the "stalker" aspect of the plot would have been more prominent. Dudley moore is always playful and cute on screen. He even made alcoholism adorable in Arthur.

The Siren said...

See, to the Siren, the "stalker" aspect was prominent even WITH Moore...

Kent Jones said...

The "stalker aspect" is prominent enough as it is, but I guess it would have been more unsettling with Segal - Moore and Bo Derek seem to occupy different universes. As for alcoholism, that's a big part of 10 too - the amount of brandy he consumes is staggering.

What is genuinely disturbing in a not-good way is the moment where Moore suddenly turns on Derek after she gets off the phone with her husband and condemns her for being so shallow. Creepy.

DavidEhrenstein said...

That was to my mind self-criticism. HE'S the one that's shallow.

What also remains of interest is the very forward-looking sub-plot with Robert Webber as a decidedly un-"flamboyant" gay gentleman, worrying about how to hold on to his young, well-appointed boyfriend.

Kent Jones said...

David, I just don't think the film supports the idea that HE'S the one who's shallow. But there are a lot of things I still like about it, and one of them is the Robert Webber character.

BeanMama said...

Days of Wine and Roses is a fantastic film. Jack Lemmon blew my mind with it - I had no idea he had that in him, and he is one of my very, very favorite actors ever. But I will never, ever watch that film again voluntarily. It is so painful. And it haunts me, like my memory of seeing a glimpse of the torture hall in the wax museum when I was 9.

Breakfast at Tiffanys I will love without apology. I don't love the Mickey Rooney character, it's like he's in the wrong film by mistake, but I suffer through it for the rest of the film which makes me cry every time.

My family used to love the Pink Panther and my husband and I re-watched it recently... it didn't hold up for me. I think I may have loved how hard my dad laughed at the film when I was a kid. He was a huge Sellers fan.

And Desk Set is my favorite Christmas movie, too. I love everything about it. "Goulash?" Love them.

William said...

I have learned a lot about film from Robert Avrech and his blog, and he said that he likes your site, too.

Breakfast at Tiffany's is very different from the Truman Capote original novella, and the ending to me is a lot nicer.

Audrey Hepburn said during the filming of the last scene (done on the Paramount lot and not NYC) that the wet cat really stunk - but then that is what makes movie magic isn't it? Seeing what the director wants us to see!

If you want to read a beautiful book (and tribute) to Audrey read Audrey Hepburn: An Elegant Spirit by her son Sean Ferrer. You will "meet" her not as a movie star but also a mother and human being.