Friday, December 17, 2010

Friday Dance Party: You and Me

I haven't had much time to update these pages, as the holidays have overtaken my time. But the Friday Dance Party survives! This week's star has appeared in several of the clips I share here, but this one has some poignance, as it was directed by her husband, one of the bright stars of American comedic film.
Blake Edwards
He was one of Hollywood's leading depressives, and had a lengthy career of success and failure. He spent a bit of time as a contract actor for Fox before recognizing that his true calling was behind the camera. His casting of Peter Sellers (with whom he did not get along) as the bumbling Inspector Clouseau was inspired, and led to the creation of one of the most recognizable film franchises in history, The Pink Panther. His creative partnership with composer Henri Mancini began with the 50s detective series Peter Gunn, and lasted 30 years (all four of Mancini's Oscars came from Edwards's films). In addition to the farcical Panthers, Edwards turned a Truman Capote novella, about a New York prostitute, into Breakfast at Tiffany's, a sparkling confection palatable to middle America of the early 60s. His direction of the dark tale of an alcoholic marriage, Days of Wine and Roses, proved he was adept with dramas as well (it was that film's star, Jack Lemmon, who suggested Blake would be able to inject a bit of humor into the morose story). The Great Race, an all-star homage to westerns, adventures, and slap-stick silent comedies, was not a big success, but is admired today as an expert blending of those various genres.
By 1970, Edwards's cost overruns and difficult relations with studio bosses put his career in decline. His espionage musical Darling Lili, a particularly bloated example of mismanagement (anyone who puts Rock Hudson in a musical is asking for trouble), introduced him to Julie Andrews; their 41 year marriage (the second for both) was one of the most enduring matches in Hollywood. Edwards lived abroad in a self-imposed exile for a while during the 70s, but had a surprise hit at the end of the decade with 10, which provided Dudley Moore with a tour de force, and turned the phenomenally untalented Bo Derek into an international sex symbol.
On the strength of 10's box office success, Edwards made what many consider his most personal film, S.O.B., a scathing dark comedy about the movie business. His last major success was a remake of a German film from the 30s, Victor und Viktoria. He received his first Oscar nomination for the screenplay for Victor/Victoria, and provided nods to Andrews, Robert Preston, and Leslie Ann Warren as well (Blake knew how to guide actors on film: Audrey Hepburn, Jack Lemmon, and Lee Remick were other actors who received Oscar nominations under his direction). It is from his best musical film that this week's Dance Party springs (if you are interested, Warren's solo from V/V appeared on the Dance Party here). Edwards later turned the movie into a stage musical, again starring his wife, which had a Broadway run of about two years (it was that lengthy return to the stage which caused the vocal trouble which led Andrews to the throat surgeon who robbed the world of her golden soprano). We don't hear any of her upper notes in this clip, in which Julie, impersonating a man, performs in a French bistro with the scene-stealing Robert Preston. Julie's co-star played the fop quite well, though apparently, his dancing skills were questionable: Edwards shot the soft-shoe portion of this number so that Preston's feet would be hidden from view.   Blake Edwards was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Oscar in 2004. He died this week from pneumonia, with his wife and family at his side.