January's Essential Cinema: Blake Edwards & Julie Andrews - Read All About It

Hot off the presses, here are the programming notes for this January's much-anticipated Essential Cinema screening series. Screenings are open to the public. Click on links below for more information.

January 7 through 28
AFS @ The Marchesa
Tickets available here

Blake Edwards’ name is synonymous with the kind of sophisticated yet physical comedy he mastered as a writer and director. The urbane and the profane coexist in the Edwards universe, and frequently prove to be opposite sides of the same coin.

Born in Tulsa but raised in Hollywood, young Blake Edwards knew the studio back lots like the palm of his hand. As soon as he was old enough to work he became a messenger, delivering script pages and dailies to the various studio offices. Soon he became a bit part actor, then a writer and director of B-movies, radio and television. The success of his television series PETER GUNN and subsequent early films like OPERATION PETTICOAT and BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S made him a sought-after comedy director, and then the first two installments of his PINK PANTHER series, featuring Peter Sellers as the bumbling Inspector Clouseau, carried him to the top of the heap.

THE GREAT RACE followed, a (for its time) massively budgeted comedy. It turned a profit but was critically unpopular. His next few films did not satisfy critics or audiences much. Edwards had come to a turning point by the end of the sixties. His next film, DARLING LILI, encountered a number of costly shooting delays and, making matters worse, studio management changed before the release and the new brass did not much care about making DARLING LILI a success. The movie was released, with cuts made by the studio, and underperformed at the box office. Seen today in Edwards’ preferred cut, it’s a minor masterpiece. Julie Andrews, making her first appearance in one of her husband’s films, is remarkable, demonstrating her acting, singing and even sex appeal. This last attribute was very controversial at the time, and the studio management’s discomfort with Andrews’ sexual side will come up again in S.O.B.

Subsequent Clouseau-free projects proved unsuccessful as well and Edwards found himself at the cusp of the ‘80s without a studio and without many prospects. Outside of the dependable PANTHER films, which were becoming a little worn at the edges, Edwards had presided over a string of flops, and his latest script, about a man having a midlife crisis, seemed like another box-office depth charge. The small production unit Orion Pictures took a gamble on Edwards’ talent (and his not inconsiderable anchor star and wife Andrews). 10 became a massive box office sensation, raking in $75 million dollars, the equivalent of a quarter of a billion dollars today. New discovery Bo Derek became ubiquitous in the national media after this film’s success and Ravel’s Bolero became one of the best selling classical compositions of all time.

Thursday, January 7, 7:30pm
Directed by Blake Edwards, USA, 1979, 122 min
Written by Edwards. Starring Dudley Moore, Julie Andrews, Bo Derek, Robert Webber, Dee Wallace, Brian Dennehy

Dudley Moore plays a successful songwriter, blessed with a loving partner (Julie Andrews), who spies beautiful young bride Bo Derek at a wedding and loses his mind. Unbeknownst to her, he follows her and her husband on their Mexican honeymoon trip. Between awkward encounters and many, many strong drinks he finds where his true happiness lies.

Rather than rest on his laurels or begin a new, profitable franchise, Edwards went his own way yet again, featuring Andrews in the acidic, brilliant and completely uncommercial satire S.O.B., which, unsurprisingly, was dumped by the studio and lost money but which today seems ripe for rediscovery. The central character, a director played by Richard Mulligan, is very much based on Edwards and the plot events reflect the aftermath of the DARLING LILI debacle.

Thursday, January 14, 7:30pm
Directed by Blake Edwards, USA, 1981, 122 min
Written by Edwards. Starring Julie Andrews, Richard Mulligan, William Holden, Robert Preston, Marisa Berenson, Larry Hagman

After a long and remunerative career in Hollywood, director Felix Farmer (Robert Mulligan) is at the end of his rope. His latest film, a musical called NIGHT WIND, is a flop, his personal life falls apart and he finds he has few friends. Then Farmer has the insane idea to recall NIGHT WIND, add pornographic sequences starring his wife, a goody-goody Julie Andrews type (played by Julie Andrews, of course), and rerelease it. It’s an act of madness, of course, but then all of Hollywood is mad, unscrupulous and desperate in Blake Edwards’ deeply bitter, dark farce.

The Edwards/Andrews team followed this with sizeable hit and critical success VICTOR VICTORIA, which brought old-fashioned big-movie craftsmanship and talent back to the top of the box office charts again. It’s an extraordinary showcase for Julie Andrews and Robert Preston. This is top of the line stuff, as proficient an example of grown-up entertainment as Hollywood had ever managed.

Thursday, January 21, 7:30pm
Directed by Blake Edwards, USA, 1982, 132 min
Written by Blake Edwards from a story by Hans Hoemburg and Reinhold Schünzel. Starring Julie Andrews, Robert Preston, James Garner, Lesley Ann Warren, Alex Karras

In Paris between the wars, a British singer - an operatic soprano - (Julie Andrews) slogs from dive to dive looking for work. She becomes friends with gay cabaret pianist Toddy (Robert Preston) who comes up with the idea of having her impersonate a man who in turn performs onstage in female “drag.” The act is a sensation and the gender reversal causes a lot of personal turmoil for smitten American gangster King Marchand (James Garner) and his retinue.

VICTOR VICTORIA was a pinnacle of sorts for Edwards. His next projects must have been pretty dispiriting - one Pink Panther movie largely constructed of deleted scenes from other films in the series, a necessity created by the premature death of star Peter Sellers; and another Pink Panther movie starring Ted Wass as the lead investigator. Edwards’ next film betrays some of the ennui he felt during this period.

Thursday, January 28, 7:30pm
Directed by Blake Edwards, USA, 1983, 110 min
Written by Blake Edwards, Milton Wexler and Geoffrey Edwards. Suggested by a film written by François Truffaut, Michel Fermaud and Suzanne Schiffman. Starring Burt Reynolds, Julie Andrews, Kim Basinger, Marilu Henner, Cynthia Sikes, Jennifer Edwards, Sela Ward

A psychoanalyst played by Julie Andrews relates in flashback the tale of one of her most interesting patients, a wealthy sculptor who is obsessed by beautiful women and who pursues them even when it places his life in jeopardy. The film is told in a series of vignettes.

THE MAN WHO LOVED WOMEN is an Americanization of François Truffaut’s 1977 film, released stateside under the same title. Though he was a box office star, Burt Reynolds is not ideal casting. In fact Blake Edwards wanted Warren Beatty or Dustin Hoffman. Reynolds does his best though and the rest of the cast does very well at times, especially Andrews and Kim Basinger. This is a minor Edwards film, and chiefly interesting as the film that closes this cycle, but taken with the right attitude it is a lot of fun, it is well shot by the great Haskell Wexler, and there are several classic sequences.

The series has been programmed with author Bryan Connolly (DESTROY ALL  MOVIES!!!).