To conduct a study of the films of Blake Edwards would mean starting a discussion on his various themes and the way he went about them on the visual medium, as opposed to focusing on his technique as a director, which I personally feel is of lesser interest (though I will cover this in bits throughout my article). A good portion of Edwards’ films were box office successes that earned mostly positive reviews. He had an interesting way of using cinema as a commercial tool, with characters who would later on become cultural icons, costumes that would shape the fashion trend for many decades that followed, lines that would be quoted in general conversations, and stories that would be remembered for years to come.
I think the biggest reason for the popularity of his pictures is the simplicity he conditioned his background elements to, making for an ultimately relaxing experience, and thereby earning a substantially wide fan-base. At times, like in the cases of The Party (1968) and “10” (1979), the plot is handled so loosely that there really isn’t any room for inciting tension or injecting intrigue. What makes Blake Edwards work, then? What is it that gets people falling for his filmography, even today? I will try, with this article, to try and better understand the reasons he was such a success, and possibly even one of the great masters of commercial cinema.
Days of Wine and Roses (1962)
Mostly known for his comedy features, Days of Wine and Roses is a standout in Blake Edwards’ filmography, because it is a serious film, one in which alcohol plays the antagonist. Along with Leaving Las Vegas (1995), this may very well be the greatest movie ever made about addiction to booze. Notice how the problems dealt with by the characters are mostly personal, like Jack Lemmon’s ‘Joe’, an ardent alcoholic who wants to stop his dangerous habit, after noticing changes that develop around his appearance and personality. Alongside the drinking problems dealt by our protagonists is a crumbling marriage in the background, slowly affected by this compulsion that none of the counterparts will admit to. This is a heartbreaking film with strong characters backed by even better performances, and the direction is handled plainly, as in, there’s never an urgency to the situations depicted unless the characters feel as though something has to be done. I admire the depiction of conflicting thoughts and actions here, something that contrives and makes more hopeless the attempts of our characters to fix themselves.
The ending of this feature questions why we need to remove (or perhaps, reduce) the presence of the intoxicating substance in our lives, but rather than going the health route and turning into one of those annoying PSAs, the emotional side-effects are dealt with, and happiness in question becomes the primary issue, concluding with a lack of resolution that feels perfect, all the while troubling us viewers deep within, because it’s true. It’s all true.
The Pink Panther (1963)
The Pink Panther is a slow burner, a screwball comedy that works mainly because of the way it builds. The film starts off low-key, giving us the overall preface and setting up the characters, and little by little, each and every gag gets better and better, leading to a finale that’s pretty nuts, to say the least. This is a feature that relies on the stupidity of its characters to give rise to humor, with each joke being catapulted as a direct result of someone’s ignorance (often by way of slapstick) or confusion. There’s an air of sedation, a particular style that Edwards maintains here that smoothens the environment of this film, which makes its rather action-oriented gags all the more funnier. It’s crazy how a sense of sophistication manages to creep up in this otherwise absolutely outrageous film, which I think can be accredited to it being a product of its times. Though not one of his funniest features, The Pink Panther continues to be historically and culturally relevant, maybe for its unforgettable score, memorable characters, or because it gives everybody watching it a heck of a good time.