The life part is easy, because it being the wee hours of Christmas Day as I write this, we’re now celebrating the birth of J.C., despite being the least prepared for this holiday we have ever been. Kicking off a ten-day vacation, I slept until 10:00, finished writing a Matheson post for Tor.com, and availed myself of the last opportunity for some, uh, “quality time” with the wife before our daughter and her boyfriend fly in from Oregon. Then we gorged ourselves on corned beef (an unusual gift from the senior Mrs. B., who sent us a Box o’ Ruben Fixin’s from Zabar’s in New York) and I slipped in a nap, with Mina sleeping on my lap, and a workout on my exercise bike, while embarking on Kurosawa’s The Idiot (1951), before I had to shower and change for church.
Although I’m technically an agnostic, Madame BOF and I attend a local Congregational church and are in the choir, singing on Christmas Eve at 7:30 and 11:00. In addition to the traditional carols for which we join the congregation (e.g., “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” “Angels We Have Heard on High,” “Joy to the World,” “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” “Silent Night, Holy Night”), this year we did a pretty French carol, “Saw You Never, in the Twilight,” and a rousing English one, “Masters in This Hall.” In between the two services, we repair to the home of a fellow choir member for potluck food and drink—albeit hopefully not too much of the latter—and a nicer bunch of people to sing or socialize with cannot be imagined.
The death part is a little trickier, and I’ll state at the outset that this is going to be one of those I’m-not-really-crazy-about-So-and-So-but-feel-I-must-acknowledge-their-passing posts, in this case (belatedly) that of writer-director Blake Edwards, who left us on the 15th at 88. Without wishing to speak ill of the dead, especially on Christmas, it’s become a running gag among the Movie Knights that our Host with the Most will not allow any Edwards films to be shown, yet he takes his Hostly duties seriously enough that more than once he’s made exceptions for a Knight to see his favorite Pink Panther film. Gilbert loves A Shot in the Dark (1964), I favor The Return of… (1975), and the mighty Turafish comes down squarely on the side of …Strikes Again (1976).
I’m sure part of Gil’s fondness for Shot is due to the fact that William Peter Blatty, whom people forget worked in comedy before he struck gold with The Exorcist (we’re still waiting to receive the new issue of Cinema Retro featuring our interview with Bill), co-wrote that and three other films with Edwards. Yet I’ve seen two more, What Did You Do in the War, Daddy? (1966) and Darling Lili (1970)—the latter starring Julie Andrews, who married Edwards the year before—and didn’t care for either of them. I haven’t seen Gunn (1967) or the Edwards-created private-eye TV series that spawned it, although I absolutely adore the driving theme song (especially the Art of Noise version) by Henry Mancini, his longtime, and perhaps most valuable, collaborator.
Interestingly, as much as I admire Peter Sellers (TCM’s star of the month for January), I also saw the only non-Inspector Clouseau movie he made with Edwards, The Party (1968), and found that painfully unfunny. This suggests that Clouseau created a special alchemy among Sellers, Blatty and/or Edwards that may not have existed elsewhere, just as director Jack Arnold and producer William Alland seemed to do better work together than apart. And because the Edwards/Sellers relationship was a fractious one, it also calls to mind a milder version of the almost murderous love-hate bond between director Werner Herzog and star Klaus Kinski, which was documented in Herzog’s My Best Fiend (1999), and nonetheless produced some brilliant work…but I digress.
Edwards worked as an actor and screenwriter before graduating to director, making several films with Tony Curtis: Mister Cory (1957), The Perfect Furlough (1958), and Operation Petticoat (1959); in spite of Cary Grant’s presence in the latter, I think that as an undiscriminating teen, I actually preferred the TV spin-off. Now, I’m not dumb enough to say that I think Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) isn’t a good movie, but I will say it wasn’t my cup of tea, nor was I crazy about his other pre-Panther successes such as Experiment in Terror or Days of Wine and Roses (both 1962). I’ll also freely admit that my feelings toward Days have since been colored by my loyalty to John Frankenheimer, who directed the Playhouse 90 version and was passed over for the film.
The Pink Panther (1963) changed everything, giving Mancini his second immortal theme, and if the scenes involving top-billed David Niven and his aspiring jewel-thief nephew Robert Wagner have aged less well, Sellers steals the film with no less aplomb. The eponymous diamond did not appear in many of the sequels, but as with The Thin Man (1934), the inaccurate name stuck, eventually becoming synonymous with Clouseau himself. It’s clear from his contemporaneous work with Stanley Kubrick on Lolita (1962) and Dr. Strangelove (1964) that when Sellers was on, nobody could touch him as a comic genius, and the early Clouseau films bear this out, but I would agree with Hostly that they—selectively, at that—are the only Edwards movies to watch.
Although I seem to recall that a case could be made for Victor Victoria (1982), my impression is that most of his subsequent non-Panther films—although, God knows, I didn’t subject myself to all of them—relied overmuch on slapstick, toilet humor, mean-spiritedness, or some combination thereof. I’m thinking particularly of 10 (1979), despite the frenzy over cornrowed Bo Derek, and S.O.B. (1981), for which he persuaded wholesome spouse Julie to bear her breasts. But his worst sin was milking the Panther series beyond Hollywood’s most avaricious dreams, descending into first a patchwork quilt utilizing outtakes of Sellers from …Strikes Again (Trail of…, 1982), and then a pair of films in which Clouseau does not even appear (Curse of…, 1983; Son of…, 1993).
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