Archive for Blake Edwards

After the Phantom

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 29, 2020 by dcairns

Well, in a fit of madness I viewed and wrote about all three of Blake Edwards’ post-Sellers PINK PANTHER films — TRAIL, CURSE and SON — so it seems appropriate to write about the early, funny ones, too. Only took me five years to get around to it.

THE PINK PANTHER is the first one which disappointed me as a kid — because I saw them out of sequence on TV, it was a shock to find Sellers as Clouseau as only joint lead, arguably below David Niven in narrative importance and just above Claudia Cardinale, Robert Wagner and Capucine. Plus, no Herbert Lom and no Burt Kwouk.

Of course, watching through more mature, informed eyes — which might seem like the last things you want to cram into your eyesockets before attempting to view a Blake Edwards slapstick farce — these “flaws” are nothing of the kind, and the one and only truly original PINK PANTHER emerges as the most carefully put-together film of the series by a country mile.Sellers stepped into the role of Clouseau three days before the shoot began to replace a departing Peter Ustinov (his wife, Welles’s Desdemona Suzanne Clouthier talked him out of it). Whether Ustinov was foolish enough to regret missing out on the most successful comedy series of the 20th Century is questionable — surely he knew that Sellers brought an entirely different genius to the film, and a Ustinov Clouseau might have been terrific but could not have been guaranteed to hit the mark commercially in the same way. Besides, success drove Sellers round the bend, in part because he felt it was given to him for the wrong films (newsflash: it usually is). Edwards fully agreed that Sellers’ work with Kubrick was more deserving, but there wasn’t much he could do about that.

We begin with ONCE UPON A TIME, an invitation for us to check any expectations of social realism at the door, I guess. Maybe we can find some more fairytale resonances later. Well, here’s a king and a palace and a princess, and the titular MacGuffin. The IMDb doesn’t know who any of these surprisingly credible “Lugashians” are, except for James Lanphier, an Edwards regular who is the only one who looks blatantly wrong ethnically and so naturally is the only one who will appear in the rest of the film.

The theme tune: “Can you IMAGINE being in the audience in 1963 and hearing this for the first time?” asked Fiona. Animated credits by DePatie-Freleng. For the only time, the cartoon panther has a feline body, not just a lanky man’s body with a feline head and tail. Edwards demanded that the Panther be patterned on him. And by the time the credits were made up (and did fifties-sixties audiences ever tire of these Saul Bass type pastel boxes? I never do), it was evidently clear that the film belonged to Clouseau, because here he is as the only other character to get a cartoon. And an antipathy between Edwards/Panther and Sellers/Clouseau is already established.

“When the picture was finished, I got the first sense of these unpredictable
crazy kind of actions when Sellers – after we had this wonderful time and
the picture was run – went crazy and sent word to the Mirisches that it was
a disaster, which was very typical of him on the films be would do.”

I realise I’m guilty of ignoring Edwards’ co-writer, Maurice Richlin (PILLOW TALK). Well, everyone else has: he didn’t receive a co-creator credit on any of the sequels until the very last one, SON OF (a film one might well sue to AVOID being associated with). I assume this robbed him of a fortune in residuals… Oh, he’s named on INSPECTOR CLOUSEAU, it seems. Must have had some special dispensation that only allowed him to be credited for shit.

The first frame after the titles is also the last frame of the film, further indicating how well worked-out it all is. A series of MEANWHILES take us around Europe and America, establishing a globetrotting scheme which isn’t really kept up in the movie itself, which plays mainly in Cortina d’Ampezzo, with a climax in Rome and a coda back in Paris.This might be Robert Wagner’s best thing. He’s quite deft. Of course, it’s a strain to even notice him with Sellers and the others doing so well, but my point is, he’s not boring in this. Capucine is very funny. Niven is fine, and I like that he has his good-luck charm, Michael Trubshaw, along for the ride. In later films, Sellers is the one who has an entourage of chums in minor roles. Claudia Cardinale is, as Fiona remarked, adorable. She seems to be dubbed — except for her lovely drunk scene, where suddenly her Italian accent emerges and her already husky, smoky voice suddenly gets even throatier. Well, who’s to say that Lugashians don’t have Italian accents?The fact is, probably Clouseau does make more sense as a supporting figure who adds slapstick to a sophisticated, or mock-sophisticated farce-caper, than as a hero. He’s incapable of real change, it seems, so you can’t give him a character arc. But on the other hand, it’s all but impossible to surround Sellers with subplots as entertaining and brilliant as him. All you can hope for, which Edwards achieves very well here, is that the surroundings will be charming so you don’t mind the genius being diluted. Although the supporting cast of the Clouseauverse are not in place yet, the man himself is fully formed. The appearance came from a matchbook image of channel-swimmer Matthew Webb. Sellers liked the moustache: “Very masculine.” He and/or Edwards conceived the character as an idiot who, unlike Laurel & Hardy, KNOWS he’s an idiot. But he’s determined not to let anyone else find out. He’s also too dense to realise the jig is up. So he’s under tremendous strain, maintaining this pretense of being a brilliant detective. You can feel for him. The Dunning-Kruger effect has collapsed under him.

And we understand this instinctively in his FIRST SCENE. Everything else Sellers will do across five films will be basically mining this one idea. A man whose idiocy is perfectly, agonizingly balanced between awareness of his own inadequacy and lack of awareness that it’s obvious to pretty well everyone around him.

Very good musical number, by Mancini of course. Italian lyrics by Franco Migliacci & English lyrics by Johnny Mercer. Mancini is other key figure of the series, and perhaps the only one who wasn’t horribly tortured by it. I certainly hope he wasn’t, and I can’t see why he should have been… he would be protected from Sellers and evidently didn’t mind Edwards.(Typing those names over and over again, it seems just perfect that both men contain multitudes: you couldn’t have a Blake Edward and a Peter Seller.)

Very good costume party gags. Edwards is OBSESSED with parties, of course. Two separate gorillas — I beg your pardon, two separate thieves DRESSED as gorillas — attempt to rob the same safe.  I remember watching this as a kid with my sister and she was overwhelmed with sympathy when he inserts his sexy strangler gloves into two perfect baby bear bowls of prison porridge, just as he’s attempting to gloat at the felons he’s captured. “It was his big moment!” she cry-laughed. Sellers can do that, even when his character is kind of a monster. Fred Kite can break your heart. And he does it even when, as here and in I’M ALRIGHT, JACK (the only Sellers film Edwards had seen), the film doesn’t need or even want him to.

So this is a really well-tooled entertainment. Sellers is again pathetic in the witness box — the only moment in the series when everyone laughs at him, which is what he’s spent his life and enormous energy trying to avoid. When he says that his wife has bought a mink coat with money saved from the housekeeping, it’s like a thing out of your nightmares — something you’ve always taken on faith is revealed to be ridiculous to everyone else.Fortunately the film gives Clouseau a happy ending, since being a Raffles-type jewel thief apparently makes you irresistible to women. And then the sequel is along, in less than a year, and it turns out Clouseau was never convicted of diamond-robbery at all, and is still an inspector… The clouseauverse is terribly forgiving of its policemen, which will be one bit of good news for Chief Inspector Dreyfus…

THE PINK PANTHER stars Sir James Bond; Evelyn Tremble; Number Two; Princess Carolyne Wittgenstein; Jill McBain; Maggie Hobson; Sgt. Arthur Wilson; Lord Dowdy; Poldi – Blackie’s Flunky; Leonora Clyde; and Dr. Rosen.

Party Down

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 26, 2019 by dcairns

Why didn’t I find THE PARTY funny as a kid? It’s weird, as I was a big Peter Sellers fan, a big PINK PANTHER movie fan. I laughed once — the flying shoe caught me by surprise.

Of course, I was watching the film on TV, pan-and-scanned. But I was used to that. In fact, an early occasion when I became aware of film style was when I noted the strange mechanical movements in RETURN OF THE PINK PANTHER — faced with Edwards’ audacious use of the widescreen, the hapless clod charged with having the film “adapted to fit your screen” was forced to pan, with grinding slowness, from one side of the 1:2.35 frame to the other, creating the exact effect of HAL’s lip-reading in 2001. As a tiny tot, I didn’t know what was behind this, but I thought it an interesting directorial choice.

Since a lot of THE PARTY is about social embarrassment, maybe that just didn’t speak to me as a kid. In fact, a lot of it’s about feeling lost at a party, something I’ve experienced a lot more in the interim. God, it’s agonizing, and that’s where the funniness comes from, as usual with Edwards. Sellers’ character, Indian actor Hrundi V. Bakshi, is cinema’s great lonely man. I mean, he has it way worse than Travis Bickle, who at least was a native English speaker. Bakshi wanders the big crazy LA house, humiliating himself in every imaginable way, clumsy, unlucky, unable to read social cues, not knowing anyone… it’s just terrible. I laughed quite a lot, and I was always on his side.

And yes, it’s slightly racist. The idea of a white man impersonating an Indian for comic effect is uncomfortable today, but if we accept that this was not abnormal at the time, we can admire the sympathy and skill of Sellers’ performance. As David Wingrove pointed out in a recent conversation, he’s not Mickey Rooney in BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S — who I found myself shamefacedly guffawing at when they screened the first reel on 35mm in Bologna last year. The sheer energy of the burlesque, you know. But BAT treats Mr. Yunioshi as a clown because of his race — he’s unworthy of being taken seriously. Whereas THE PARTY, I think, takes Bakshi VERY seriously. That strange, sad little coda…

The most troublesome bit is the opening. The plot requires Bakshi to make Hollywood enemies — the prologue explains how he came to be brought out to Tinseltown to appear in some kind of Raj epic. And the joke seems to more or less explicitly be, “If an Indian actor were brought to Hollywood, it would be a disaster because he would be an idiot.” Bakshi takes an outrageous amount of time to die (so he’s a bad actor), he wears a waterproof wristwatch in a Victorian period movie (actually it’s someone else’s job to prevent that) and he steps on a detonator and blows up a whole building before the cameras are rolling (could happen to any of us).

Each of these gags is moderately amusing, but they don’t add up to a coherent character sketch, and although the sequence is necessary to the plot, it still feels like the movie really starts as Bakshi arrives at the party, at which it becomes funnier and more sympathetic.

One day after admiring Peter Cook’s red socks in BEDAZZLED (a fashion choice also favoured by Michael Powell) I was charmed by Bakshi’s footwear. He wears white shoes, so that when he steps in mud it’s as bad as it could possibly be. And red socks, so that when he loses is a shoe, it’s as bad as THAT could possibly be.

Comedy, it seems, needs to be both cruel and kind.

The Luminous Dong

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on October 25, 2019 by dcairns

SKIN DEEP is a weird one. It felt consistently not good enough to me, but at the same time it has lots of proper laughs and is definitely about something. Casting may be the problem. Blake Edwards never found anyone as suitable as Dudley Moore again. In THE MAN WHO LOVED WOMEN, the late Burt Reynolds, a good light comedian who had major ambitions in that direction — he wanted Cary Grant’s career, not his own — comes across as creepy, which is exactly what that character needs to not be. Truffaut’s original didn’t have that problem, and he cast a guy who’d literally played Bluebeard.

John Ritter in SKIN DEEP is hampered by a beard that is sometimes real and sometimes not. Obviously he finished the picture, shaved, then got called back for reshoots. Big problem. When a minor continuity problem comes up on set, the director will sometimes say “Well, if the audience is looking at that, there’s something wrong.” But you can’t really use that argument when the problem is on your leading man’s face. The beard is a problem anyway, because it says “yuppie creep” to me, and since a lot of this movie is Ritter letching after women, and he’s supposed to be flawed but charming, the very thing one’s skin ought not to be doing is crawling. I caught mine writhing towards the nearest exit on several occasions, which took me out of the movie, or part of me.

BUT — there’s a scene where he’s overdosed with electric shocks, on an unconvincing pretext, and he does some terrific physical comedy, spasming down the street. Jerry Lewis would approve. Frame grabs just don’t do it justice so I won’t bother.

AND ALSO BUT — everything Nina Foch does and says, as Ritter’s surly ex-mother-in-law, is really funny. Michael Kidd proves to be excellent surprise casting as a glowering therapist. In fact, the characters who disapprove of the hero are the most welcome. The tsunami gag — taken from Edwards’ real-life experience of being hit by a killer wave while meditating, suicidally depressed, upon the failure of DALING LILI, is pretty astonishing. Though the conclusion, “God is a gag writer!” is something Blake Edwards would think and say but not necessarily something Ritter’s character would say as he’s supposed to be a novelist, not a comedy director.

Even at the time, aged twenty-one, I thought the glow-in-the-dark condom scene sounded like it was trying too hard, but it does allow Edwards to stage a bedroom farce with the action reduced to sort-of abstract shapes. Abstract enough to pass the censor, anyway. He’d frequently used lights going off, or characters leaving the room where the action takes place, being reduced to sound effects without physical presence, so this idea of reducing his surrogate to a glowing prick wagging in the void seems a natural development.

Whereas this doesn’t make any sense to me: