Thursday, September 29, 2016

A Blake Block

I just read A Splurch In The Kisser: The Movies Of Blake Edwards by Sam Wasson, who previously wrote a pretty good biography of Bob Fosse.  This is less biography than a series of essays on Edwards' films.  A "splurch in the kisser" is literally a pie in the face, but Wasson uses it as a metaphor for taking stuffy people, and society in general, down a peg or two--as part of Edwards' style mixing social comment with slapstick.

Edwards was a successful director, but has not gotten a lot of critical attention.  The critics may have a point.  The 30s had Lubitsch, the 40s had Preston Sturges, the 50s had Billy Wilder and the 60s had...Blake Edwards?  To represent the best of Hollywood comedy?  Seems like a comedown.

But if you're not looking for Olympian heights, Edwards has a more than respectable filmography.  Born in 1922, Edwards began as an actor, but soon got into writing and then directing and producing.  He served an apprenticeship in TV and minor movies, and by the end of the 1950s had a major hit--Operation Petticoat, starring Cary Grant and Tony Curtis.

He hit the 60s running, with Breakfast At Tiffany's and, showing his dramatic side, Days Of Wine And Roses.  Then came The Pink Panther, which was designed as a jewel thief caper, but turned into the introduction of Edwards' (and Peter Sellers') most famous creation, Inspector Clouseau.   It was followed almost immediately by another Clouseau spectacle, A Shot In The Dark.  With one hit after another, Edwards was at the top of his game.

But the next ten years were nothing but films--some quite expensive--that didn't turn a profit, though some have cult followings, such as The Great Race, What Did You Do In The Way, Daddy?, The Party and Darling Lili.

By the mid-70s he looked washed up, so he (and Peter Sellers, whose career was also ailing--Sellers and Edwards didn't get along, by the way) returned to Clouseau, and turned out three hits in a row, The Return Of The Pink Panther, The Pink Panther Strikes Again and Revenge Of The Pink Panther.

Edwards, with newfound power and prestige, did three films next that combined his sort of slapstick with his sort of characters, and made, arguably, the most Edwardsian films of all--10, S.O.B., and Victor Victoria.

It was the early 80s, he was 60, and though he'd make films for another twenty years, he never hit the same heights.  He tried to revive the Pink Panther films, but now that Sellers was dead, part of this involved using outtakes, and they just didn't work.

The rest of his films were mostly comedies that didn't get much attention, though Skin Deep (1989) has some moments of interest.

It's hard to make the case that Blake Edwards is in the same league as the comedy forebears he so admired.  But he had a specific, recognizable style, and he did have something to say.  He certainly did enough work of interest that he at least deserves a book summing up his output.  Like this one.

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