Thursday, December 16, 2010


Blake Edwards (1922-2010)

Blake Edwards' 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' work as a director and a writer was more multifaceted than that. Born in Tulsa, Okla., in 1922, Edwards died this morning at 88.

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. Like many recent honorary Oscar presentations, it was a highlight until the youth hungry, ratings-obsessed execs in charge segregated honorary awards to a nontelevised dinner where movie buffs couldn't celebrate significant players in film history such as Edwards anymore.

His work in the film industry began as a screenwriter in the late '40s with his most notable work probably being the screenplay for 1955's My Sister Eileen starring Janet Leigh and Jack Lemmon. In this same period he also did a lot of television work, including creating several shows in the late 1950s, the most famous being Peter Gunn starring Craig Stevens and Richard Diamond, Private Detective starring David Janssen and the legs of one Mary Tyler Moore.

His feature directing debut came in 1955 on the musical Bring Your Smile Along. He directed a few more films but the one that was his first standout was 1959's Operation Petticoat starring Cary Grant and Tony Curtis.

In 1961, he helmed the adaptation of Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's starring Audrey Hepburn. The following year, he made two films that no one could accuse of being slapstick: Experiment in Terror with Glenn Ford and Days of Wine and Roses with Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick battling alcoholism.

Though it opened in 1963 elsewhere, the film that would launch his most famous film series didn't open in the U.S. until 1964: Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau in The Pink Panther. The first followup, A Shot in the Dark, came out the very same year. Edwards became so attached to the series that he kept it going for decades, even after Sellers had died.

Other notable films of the 1960s included The Great Race, What Did You Do in the War, Daddy? and The Party.

In 1970, he directed the woman he wed in 1969, Julie Andrews, for the first time in Darling Lili. He tried a Western in 1971 with William Holden in Wild Rovers. He directed the adaptation of the Michael Crichton thriller The Carey Treatment in 1972. In 1974, he directed Omar Sharif and his wife in a romantic drama called The Tamarind Seed.

It wasn't until 1979 that he got out of a Pink Panther rut and introduced the world to Bo Derek in the Dudley Moore comedy 10, which also managed to make composer Ravel's piece "Bolero" popular again.

He followed that up with the wicked Hollywood satire S.O.B. with an all-star cast led by William Holden and including Julie Andrews' first topless scene.

In 1982, he made his last really big hit with Victor/Victoria, earning Andrews an Oscar nomination as best actress. More than a decade later, he tried his hand at turning it into a Broadway musical with terrible results.

Most of his films after that were not worth mentioning, though Micki & Maude with Dudley Moore as a bigamist had its moments and you have to mention Skin Deep since it is the only film with a glow-in-the-dark condom chase scene.

Still, Edwards' resume was far more eclectic than you'd think and he did produce some classics. His only competitive Oscar nomination came for writing the adapted screenplay for Victor/Victoria. He received two Emmy nominations for Peter Gunn, for writing and directing the same episode. He also earned a Directors Guild nomination for Breakfast at Tiffany's.

RIP Mr. Edwards.

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