Archive for The Great Race

Heroic Surrender

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on October 4, 2019 by dcairns

Descriptions of WHAT DID YOU DO IN THE WAR DADDY? obviously didn’t do it justice because I was really surprised at how good it was. If I’d ignored descriptions and simply visualised a widescreen wartime farce by Blake Edwards — shunting the turgid GREAT RACE from my mind and sticking with THE PINK PANTHER — I might have approached it with more enthusiasm and seen it years ago — but it would also have been necesary for me to picture it at the top end of Edwards’ output. It’s REALLY accom-plished and very funny and in foul bad taste. If turning war into entertainment is a disreputable activity, turning it into a bedroom farce, with battles replaced by harmless punch-ups, ought to earn you a spot in movie Hell’s hottest cauldron.

War’s peace.

We also have a fatal poisoning, two attempted rapes (male-on-female and male-on-male), a burial alive, and the comedy of mental illness. Edwards attributed his slightly vicious sense of slapstick (think of Herbert Lom’s thumb) to his chronic back pain, which drove him to make light of physical suffering. I’m not sure when he first had his trouble with agitated depression (documented in fictional form in THAT’S LIFE) but the persistent strain of madness in his comedies (Herbert Lom again, S.O.B., and others) must surely have some autobio origin.

War’s piece.

For all that, this is a sunny, breezy romp. Written by William Peter Blatty, who I guess had the military experience (black ops!) to give it as much verisimilitude as you can have in a story where Italians and Americans, then Americans and Germans, then men and women, trade uniforms for comic effect.

Dick Shawn in drag: a habitue of the realm of nightmare.

The three leads have no business gelling in this movie, but James Coburn (astonishingly cool — too relaxed for the character as written, but overpowering the writing with sheer charisma), Dick Shawn and Sergio Fantoni somehow work. I only knew Shawn from THE PRODUCERS, where he’s my — and maybe everybody’s? — least favourite element (his character is deleted entirely from the musical), but he’s very skilled here — lots of fine detail work. Even if I don’t quite warm to him as a presence, I am moved to admire the talent. Fantoni is both skilled and likeable, a really funny guy. Turns out I’d seen him in lots of things, from SENSO to ATOM AGE VAMPIRE, but never in a comedy. Some additional storehouse of charm is unlocked.

The same is true of Giovanna Ralli, who can do things here that wouldn’t have suited the gialli I’ve seen her in.

Edwards applies the same genius for anamorphic long takes to the more-or-less serious invasion of a small Sicilian town (odd to think that A WALK IN THE SUN is happening a few miles away in a different genre) as he does to bedroom farce and drunken escapades. If you can overlook the question of “Should he be doing this?” — and the film works really hard to make sure we do — it’s a really dazzling piece of cinema. Edwards can do large-scale slapstick with moving parts — like a tank falling through the earth — which traditionally don’t like to obey the rules of comedy timing. And make it look easy and natural, so that someone like Spielberg might be fooled into thinking he can do it too.

A demented monologue from Harry Morgan rounds the thing off in almost Shakespearean fashion, somehow clarifying the poetic intent and maybe almost justifying the whole thing — the events portrayed, and the film itself, are a kind of All Fool’s Day festival, a suspension of the laws of reason, allowing us to have a holiday, albeit a very suspenseful one, along with the characters, from the conditions imposed by Reason — a prevailing state of Total War.

WHAT DID YOU DO IN THE WAR, DADDY? stars Derek Flint; Lorenzo Saint Dubois; Teocrito; Asst. DA Vittoria Stori; Johnny Nobody; Col. Potter; Archie Bunker; General Burkhalter; Xandros the Greek slave; Nazorine; Karl Matuschka; Mademoiselle Fifi; and Horst.

The People Versus William Blake Crump

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on September 9, 2015 by dcairns

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Why don’t I just watch DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES or BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S or something else that people like? Why do I relentlessly trawl through Blake Edwards’ worst films? It isn’t masochism — I find some pleasure hunting for truffles in his late-career garbage. An erratic talent, Edwards could get it wrong even in his prime — THE GREAT RACE is not just bloated, it’s embarrassingly hammy, with Jack Lemmon giving one of his periodic shrill performances that are all the more painful because you remember how much you normally like him. But Natalie Wood is good — not only lovely whether in Edwardian lingerie or slathered in cream pies or both — but funny, deploying a declamatory, silent-movie performance style with a lot of pose-striking, which serves the double function of embodying her character’s suffragette politics as well as a stylised, period flavour. And she does this WITHOUT being too loud or inducing cringes with over-effort.

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It’s probably to the best that Edwards changed his name from William Blake Crump to become a D-list leading man before he started writing, producing and directing. Crump is a great name for a comedy director but would sit awkwardly on something like EXPERIMENT IN TERROR or GUNN.

But as the career goes on, comedy predominates. It’s comparable to Billy Wilder’s oeuvre, where a versatile filmmaker began to increasingly focus on one side of his output, perhaps because of box office concerns: if a drama flops, run for cover and make another PINK PANTHER. If that’s successful, why take a risk and jump back to the serious stuff? Depressingly, Wilder once said that when he was feeling good, he’d make a drama, and if he was a little low he would be more in the mood for a comedy. That suggests those last decades were largely kind of downbeat. I hope it’s not true.