Thursday, December 16, 2010

Blake Edwards: A Hollywood Party, and A Nameless Cat

Blake Edwards, a reliable director of comedies and romantic dramas in the 1960's and '70's, died today.  Although I never considered Edwards a first-tier filmmaker, nonetheless he directed two films that I consider all-time favorites, guilty pleasures that have made me happy over the years.

While he may be best-known as the creator of the "Pink Panther" series with Peter Sellers, I believe another collaboration between them was even better.  1968's "The Party" is hopelessly dated, and politically incorrect in the extreme,  yet I may never have laughed harder at a movie.

Sellers plays Mr. Bakshi, a hapless movie extra from India, who innocently destroys a set for a film about Gunga Din.  Polite to a fault and trying his utmost to fit in, he is inadvertently invited to a Hollywood bash, where he bumbles and makes a shambles of everything he touches.  This movie does anything for a laugh, and mostly succeeds.  There's the pomposity of the Hollywood elite brought low by Bakshi's clumsiness; there's an unruly Cornish hen, a starlet's tiara and a loose wig; a drunken waiter; a plumbing mishap; a peeing fountain; a baby elephant with psychedelic paint; and a love song from Caludine Longet.  For starters.

By the time the elephant arrives and guests are plunging into a moat filled with suds, the film has lost all control.  But there is much giddy fun here, and Sellers plays the bug-eyed ethnic as gently and respectfully as possible... In fact, the laughs come from his understated demeanor and authentic double-takes.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *    

Edwards' filmmaking style was brightly lit, and unobtrusive.  There was a devil-may-care lightness of touch that suffused even more serious work like "The Days of Wine and Roses" and "Charade".  Edwards' career began as a writer in radio days, with Orson Welles and   "War of the Worlds".  He tried his hand at acting before settling behind the camera.  Along with Sellers he created the iconic Inspector Clousseau. Directing his second wife, Julie Andrews, he experimented outside of his comfort zone, in more adult fare like "10" and "S.O.B.", the latter as a way to explode Andrews' wholesome screen persona for good.  With  1983's "Victor Victoria",  Edwards' talents came together to create one of the best original musical films since the '60's, and revived Andrews' career as a musical screen legend.

Much of Edwards' success was due to his long partnership with musician Henry Mancini, who created memorable scores including the "Pink Panther" theme, the original songs for "Victor Victoria", and the music for "Charade" and "Days of Wine and Roses."

And then there was "Breakfast at Tiffany's" in 1961, and what has become my favorite movie song of all time, "Moon River."

Audrey Hepburn's unforgettable characterization of Holly Golightly is the stuff of cultural history, whose image even today graces calendars and fashion artifacts.  It's all a part of why I love the movies. 

Marred only by  Mickey Rooney's broad and embarrassing interpretation of the Asian landlord Mr. Yunioshi, "Tiffany's" is a casually playful, breezy, and carelessly funny romance.  Hepburn's slow metamorphosis from self-styled comic sophisticate to frightened innocent lends the film a dramatic gravity that pays off in the final moments of suspense and tenderness.

Nothing is more romantic, (or tear-inducing, to me) than the image of Hepburn in the rain, with George Peppard, calling out for her helpless, nameless cat, two drifters trying to make it in the world, looking for the rainbow's end; and their final embrace, with Cat wet but safe between them, and the chorus bringing the song home.  This was a career high point for all involved, and especially for Blake Edwards.


  1. Breakfast at Tiffany's is such a beautiful film, one of the films my girlfriend and I like to watch together (alongside Benjamin Button and Moulin Rouge). There's so much of Edwards' filmography I've yet to see, though: The Party (which sounds awesome, I've actually never heard what it was about until this post!), 10, S.O.B., and yes, even Victor/Victoria! So much to catch up with!

  2. Walter--it's good to know that Breakfast at Tiffany's is on our Shared Favorites list! I hope you are able to catch up with some of these...I think you will especially enjoy Victor/Victoria.
    Thank you for checking is always a pleasure to have you visit!

  3. Ah, Moon River is so, so, so, so SO beautiful. It's one of those songs where every artist can cover it - and I'd want every rendition.

    And Days of Wine and Roses, so intense and yet not for a moment claustrophobic.

  4. Very moving post in memory of an extraordinary talent.

    I hope you don't mind, but I've linked to it from my brief words on Edwards.