Blake Edwards

by Peter Bogdanovich
December 18, 2010 7:29 AM
17 Comments
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“How do you thank someone for a million laughs?” With the passing of Blake Edwards, one of the very last survivors of the golden age of pictures has gone. At 88, he had seen the whole parade: his grandfather was a silent film director, his father was in the business, and Blake started out as an actor in the l940s, eventually turned to screenwriting---quite successfully---and then to directing in the mid-l950s. Over the years, he had an impressive array of popular and superbly made pictures, including Breakfast at Tiffany’s (probably Audrey Hepburn’s most iconic appearance), Operation Petticoat (Cary Grant’s biggest box office hit), 10 (which made Dudley Moore a superstar), S.O.B. (which bared wife Julie Andrews’ breasts and skewered Hollywood mercilessly), Victor/Victoria (a taboo-breaking gender-bending farce that he transferred successfully to Broadway as a musical), and, of course, the glorious Pink Panther series that started in the l960s and ran throughout the l970s (giving Peter Sellers his most devastatingly funny incarnation as the hopelessly bumbling Inspector Clouseau).

I first met Blake on the set of his comic extravaganza, The Great Race, where I discovered he was the first person besides Jerry Lewis to use video-assist monitors (which Lewis invented), and which is standard equipment on sets now. Edwards was very laidback in a kind of intense way, which is a contradiction in terms but fits the man I came to know over the years. He had a mordantly wicked sense of humor, very black Irish---Julie Andrews’ nickname for him was Blackie---and a self-deprecating manner that was quite disarming. He often seemed very amused at the absurdities of life in the movie business, indeed life in general. This was a man who once, at night, dove by accident into an emptied swimming pool and broke nearly every bone in his body; he was often doing things like that, so that a lot of his humor was derived from his own foibles. But Blake’s most vivid characteristic was this wry sense of rebellion, a kind of conspiracy against any form of authority.

For a man famous for his comedies, he also made one of the most searing dramas ever filmed about alcoholism---something he himself successfully overcame: Days of Wine and Roses is a devastating look at addiction and features perhaps Jack Lemmon’s greatest performance, as well as an equally brilliant one from Lee Remick; the picture is viscerally difficult to watch. He could do crime melodrama as well as anyone, as the noir thriller, Experiment in Terror, conclusively proves. And detective pictures, like Gunn based on the TV series he created, Peter Gunn. Also some of his best work went unnoticed, like the uproariously funny World War II farce, What Did You Do in The War, Daddy? with a classic performance by comic Dick Shawn, or Skin Deep, with a memorable job by dear John Ritter.

Though he began in the waning years of the old studio system, Blake succeeded in making the transition to independent production, but he had been brought up in the golden age when directors didn’t shoot everything in sight, but cut in the camera; knew what they wanted, and knew how to get it. If it could be done in one shot, without cutting, that was the way to do it. I just recently saw again A Shot in the Dark, the second Panther picture, and was amazed at one living room scene with a half dozen actors playing out a complicated series of gags and slapstick bits which required great precision, all done in one long continuous shot; it was breathtaking. As Orson Welles said, when I once asked him what he thought was the difference between cutting up a scene or playing it through in one shot, “Well, we used to say that was what separated the men from the boys.” Blake Edwards was definitely among the men---a really terrific guy--- and with him goes one of the final examples of real, classic filmmaking.


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17 Comments

  • David Sones | January 14, 2011 1:36 AMReply

    I am a longtime fan of Mr. Edwards' work since I was a little kid in the '70s laughing myself silly at the Panther films. I believe that he invented his own unique brand of slapstick, and he was one of the few directors who made enormous widescreen comedies that were not just funny, but looked beautiful and were highly stylized. There was nobody like Blake Edwards, and we're all fortunate that we were blessed with his genius that lives on through so many great movies that never cease to dazzle.

    DSS

  • Jennifer Edwards | December 29, 2010 6:52 AMReply

    Dear Peter
    Thank you for your lovely words. I am sorry you guys never did t that final interview.. .Many people aren't aware that he was also an amazing sculptor and painter. The pacific design center, in Los Angeles, featured his work recently..
    But as a film maker,I have to say, he not only LOVED his actors (most of them) he LOVED his crew... Everyone from grips, to prop masters, to makeup and hair. One would find the same people on his set, film after film because they wanted to work with him!! I spoke to Joe Dunn the other day...he was Sellers stunt double and he reminded me how common it was for people to turn down a movie because they knew Blake would be doing a movie and they wanted to be on his set.
    My father was the funniest, most generous man I have ever known...I was fortunate to have worked with him as an actor and feel I am the most fortunate to have had him as a father. He was my hero...The first man I ever loved. I shall miss him every day of my life...But with all this incredible out pouring of love for him, I believe his wings are huge and he is soaring toward the ultimate sound stage....See you soon Peter..xxoo

  • Jean-Pierre Jordan | December 29, 2010 2:21 AMReply

    To Jerry Kovar, again...

    Steve Franken's appearance in OPERATION PETTICOAT, as Seaman Hornsby, was just a joke. Franken does reappear, drunkenly, in AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY.

  • Jean-Pierre Jordan | December 20, 2010 5:59 AMReply

    To: Jerry Kovar

    And did you spot Steve Franken in OPERATION PETTICOAT? Also inebriated.

  • Jean-Pierre Jordan | December 20, 2010 5:56 AMReply

    To: Elizabeth

    Many thanks for the tip on THE WILD ROVERS.

    Cordially, JP

  • Peter | December 20, 2010 4:47 AMReply

    In 1976 I had the privilege of interviewing Blake Edwards for a cover story I wrote for Millimeter. Notwithstanding the fact that 34 years have passed I remember vividly his elan, his wit, his still smoldering enmity for Jim Aubrey (who dismembered The Carey Treatment and The Wild Rovers and who was the inspiration for SOB) and his candor about his lifelong bouts with depression. I also remember how gracious and accommodating he was to a wet-behind-the-ears 22 year old journalist. He was an exceptionally gifted and talented writer/director and one helluva classy guy. RIP...

  • Elizabeth | December 20, 2010 4:19 AMReply

    To Jean-Pierre:

    Facets Multi-Media has the uncut WILD ROVERS available for rent on VHS:

    http://www.facetsmovies.com/user/movieDisplay.php?movie_id=887901

  • Jerry Kovar | December 20, 2010 1:08 AMReply

    I quick nod to his "The Party" with Sellers being Sellers - not a bad thing - but featuring a genius turn by Steve Franken as the inebriated waiter. Very underated slapstick.

  • Frank | December 19, 2010 11:39 AMReply

    A wonderful tribute from a wonderful film artist yourself, Mr. Bogdanovich!

  • Mickey Fisher | December 19, 2010 11:19 AMReply

    As talented a comedy director as he was - I cherish THE GREAT RACE - I think EXPERIMENT IN TERROR and DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES were his masterpieces. He'll be missed, as there's not adirector with his range today.

  • Joe Leydon | December 19, 2010 6:10 AMReply

    Glad to see someone else remembers "Skin Deep," a movie released so half-heartedly that, if memory serves me correctly, it opened without press screenings in many major markets. In some ways, a daring movie: Edwards dared to wring laughs from a darkly comical appreciation of the links between alcohol and sexual addiction. And you're right: John Ritter was terrific in the lead role.

  • Jean-Pierre Jordan | December 19, 2010 4:18 AMReply

    To Gary Meyer (or Peter Bogdanovich)

    Where would one find an uncut WILD ROVERS? I just checked Amazon, for naught.

    By the way, not one mention of DARLING LILI (what could be more Blake Edwards?), one of the most accomplished films ever, by anyone.

    And yes, as Billy Wilder said of Ernst Lubitsch, "...no more Lubitsch films," we then said, "...no more Billy Wilder films," and now we must say, "...no more Blake Edwards films." Alas...and amen. What a trio, what a lineage.

  • Manuel | December 18, 2010 11:07 AMReply

    Thanks for the article, Mr. Bogdanovich. And thanks God for giving us -and now taking from us- Mr. Edwards... Wasn´t it gorgeous that he always introduced a progressive out-of-control drunk party? It didn´t matter if it was a comedy, a love story or even a drama. I already miss him.

  • Gary Meyer | December 18, 2010 8:48 AMReply

    By odd coincidence TCM showed several Blake Edwards' films earlier this week and have scheduled a marathon for Monday, Dec. 27.

    http://fan.tcm.com/_Blake-Edwards-TCM-Tribute/blog/3122151/66470.html?createPassive=true

    And by the way, seek out the uncut WILD ROVERS, a totally different movie than the studio originally cut and released.

  • Gary Meyer | December 18, 2010 8:45 AMReply

    I have long held a theory that Edwards often paid homage to Billy Wilder with his movies. What double bills we could make with Wilder’s SOME LIKE IT HOT and Edwards’ VICTOR AND VICTORIA, THE LOST WEEKEND and THE DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES, SUNSET BOULEVARD and SOB, STALAG 17 and WHAT DID YOU DO IN THE WAR DADDY?, THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH and 10. THE APARTMENT and BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S might even work.
    Maybe this is a stretch but fun to speculate. And both directors loved Jack Lemmon but in this case Edwards discovered him first for Wilder to borrow.

    Granted the Edwards filmography had clunkers---don't most---but when he was on his game it was great for we the audience.

  • Lin | December 18, 2010 7:56 AMReply

    When one looks at his resume and the iconic films he helmed, it's astounding that one man would possess such a multitudinous vision and diverse host of filmic voices. Mr. Edwards was equally effective at drama, farce, social commentary, parody, and more, and he commanded each genre with a mastery reserved for legends. In losing him, we have lost a singular artist whose like we'll not soon see again.

    Condolences to his family.

  • Robert | December 18, 2010 1:14 AMReply

    A fine tribute to one of my favorite directors. Another typical Edwards moment that never made it into a film: In the early 70s, Newsweek had a story about a trend in Hollywood for martial arts classes. they reported that Edwards had been in some minor traffic scuffle and had words with another driver- eager to challenge him with his new moves. As the other driver approached his car, Edwards realised that he'd forgotten to undo his seat belt.

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