RIP Blake Edwards

This week’s box office preview has been canceled both by some hopefully not at all serious health-related family tasks I’m handling today and also by the death of a truly notable filmmaker.  Aside from being both extremely talented and extremely inconsistent, he was a sort of bridge between the classic Hollywood era and post-“Bonnie and Clyde” era of film school auteurs that arrived just his career faced its first major crisis.  He was a little too hip and raunchy for the old school crowd and a little too old school for the hip crowd, and I think that was Blake Edwards’ most interesting quality.

Excessive consistency was not one of Edwards hobgoblins. I have to admit there are a number of his films — mostly from his later career — that I haven’t seen primarily because their reputation isn’t so good. I’ve probably forgotten a couple that I have seen by an act of will. At his best, though, there are very few Hollywood directors who could claim anything half as marvelous as “The Days of Wine and Roses,” the brilliant slapstick set-pieces of “Return of the Pink Panther” and “The Pink Panther Strikes Again,” and, most of all, 1982’s “Victor/Victoria,” a film that was both aggressively old-fashioned and easily the most bold pro-gay, pro-tolerance film ever to be made by mainstream Hollywood to that point. It was also simply topnotch entertainment, a work of hilarious compassion, and a joy forever.

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Of course, that’s merely scratching the surface of Edwards’ films. Some of his less perfect pieces are nevertheless hugely entertaining and, in their own way, fascinating documents of their time. Prolific as a writer, producer and director from the 1950s until the 1990s, he had a career that supposedly went back to helping Orson Welles write the 1939 “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast when he was still a young teenager and continued into television in the fifties, so there’s quite a lot to go through. The assertively naive-yet-sophisticated silliness of “The Great Race,” a childhood favorite of mine from numerous TV viewings, still holds up, and looks better in widescreen than those panned-and-scanned TV prints I grew up with. “S.O.B.” is famous as the film in which Julie Andrews’ naked breasts all but received top billing; they certainly got a stars’ entrance. It’s also is a fascinating case study in how Edwards got caught in the crossfire of the Hollywood generational wars and is one of the most interesting anti-Hollywood films made in Hollywood. (I’d love it if you took a look at my 2008 thumbsucker about “S.O.B.” over my currently dormant blog.)

Largely because of Audrey Hepburn’s lingering fame and greatness, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” is a lot of people’s favorite movie and it’s not hard to see why. It can be breathtakingly wistful. Because of Mickey Rooney’s over-the-top godawful portrayal of a sex-crazed Japanese neighbor, it’s also not hard to see why none of those people are Asian. Bert Kwouk’s far more human, relatively competent and hilarious Kato in “The Pink Panther” series is a small consolation, but still a consolation.

Blake Edwards really was a hugely contradictory director. Deeply cynical, terribly romantic, a champion of tolerance and capable of creating stereotypes so vicious they stand-out even among films of their day, lacking in an obvious “style” but nevertheless a notable auteur in his versatile way, Edwards was just weird enough to be, maybe, truly great.

As usual, David Hudson over at MUBI has much, much more.

  

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15 Movies That Were Almost Turned Into TV Series

If you’re not an ABC Family aficionado like myself, then you may not be aware that the often-underrated network is preparing to launch a new series on July 7th: “10 Things I Hate About You,” based on the film of the same name. It’s hard to say whether this is a good idea or not, though the fact that Larry Miller has carried over his character from the film – patriarch Walter Stratford – is certainly a step in the right direction, but we can say one thing: there have been worse ideas. It’s been a television staple to transform motion pictures into weekly TV series, but not every attempt actually makes it to the airwaves. Here’s a list of 15 such swings and misses, many…okay, most of which deserved to fail.

1. “The African Queen” (“The African Queen,” 1962 & 1977) – It seems only appropriate to start this list out with an attempt at transforming a classic film into a TV series. The first time around was in 1962, when James Coburn took on the role of Cap’n Charlie Allnot, while Glynis Johns played the Hepburn role of missionary Rosie Sayer, but although it aired as an episode of NBC’s “The Dick Powell Theater,” it never made it any further. Fifteen years later, CBS took a stab at it, with the leads played by Warren Oates and Mariette Hartley. No dice. If the actual movie ever makes it to DVD (can you believe it’s still unavailable?), perhaps one or both of these pilots will be included as part of the bonus material.

2. “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (“Holly Golightly,” 1969) – It sounds nuts, right? Granted, if there was anyone in the late ’60s who was the TV equivalent of Audrey Hepburn, it was probably Stefanie Powers, but Hepburn’s performance was so iconic that it’s hard to even wrap your head around the idea of anyone else playing the role of Ms. Golightly. As it turns out, the original author of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” – Truman Capote – didn’t like the movie, either, calling it “a mawkish valentine” to Hepburn, so he was even less ecstatic about the idea of a TV series. In an interview with Time Magazine, Capote predicted that the show would be even more “jerky” than the film and that he would not stand for the TV version “if they give me all the money in Christendom.” One doubts that his position on the matter had anything to do with the series not being picked up, but the end result no doubt pleased him, anyway.

3. “Diner” (“Diner,” 1983) – This one had a lot of potential, with the film’s writer/director, Barry Levinson, doing the same duties on the pilot. There was only one original cast member willing to return, however, but, hey, at least it was Paul Reiser (Modell). Plus, Mickey Rourke (Boogie) and Kevin Bacon (Fenwick) were traded out for Michael Madsen and James Spader, respectively, which ain’t half bad, really. In an interview with Venice Magazine, Levinson said, “We had a great cast, but CBS thought otherwise. They thought it wasn’t compatible with the current programming line-up they had.” The fools!

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