In a career spanning six decades, writer-director Blake Edwards (1922-2010) really mixed it up, making almost every conceivable type of film. There were westerns (Panhandle and Wild Rovers), musicals (Darling Lili and Victor Victoria), dark drama (Days of Wine and Roses), frothy romance (Breakfast at Tiffany’s) and such dyspeptic satires as S.O.B., in which wife Julie Andrews went au naturel; he even dabbled in horror (The Couch, co-written with Robert Bloch) and reincarnation fantasy (Switch). He is best remembered though for the Pink Panther farces and ‘male menopause’ comedies like 10. But actually it’s the crime and mystery genre that he kept coming back to. Don’t believe me? Then read further …
The following post is offered as part of the Tuesday’s Overlooked Film meme hosted by Todd Mason over at his Sweet Freedom blog and you should head over there to see the many other fascinating titles that have been selected.
“If you still want to kill him, do me a favor and take him outside. Those are new sheets.” – from Skin Deep (1989)
Edwards’ may not be a name one would readily associate with thrilling tales featuring hardboiled private eyes, weary policemen, femme fatales, uppity gangsters and Cold War spies – but over the decades he wrote, produced and directed dozens of such for TV, radio and the movies. A Hollywood writer and director of great commercial acumen, Edwards started out as an actor but soon diversified into writing, often in collaboration with Richard Quine, another ex-actor. The two would work together on and off for the best part of a decade, Edwards writing and Quine directing.
They were both under contract at Columbia, assigned to a variety of projects including musicals (the delightful 1955 CinemaScope version of My Sister Eileen) and service comedies (Operation Mad Ball), usually starring emerging star Jack Lemmon. They also worked on several Mickey Rooney projects, the most seemingly unlikely being Drive A Crooked Road (1954), in which he plays a patsy for a femme fatale. From a mystery standpoint however their best effort is probably The Notorious Landlady, from 1962 and their last collaboration in fact, a daffy comedy mystery about a suspected black widow bringing together Lemmon, Kim Novak and Fred Astaire, which is great fun (and I’ll be posting a separate review of this one shortly). When not working with Quine, as writer and eventually director, Edwards had some of his first successes on radio and TV however:
Richard Diamond, Private Detective (radio 1949-53; TV 1957-60)
Edwards’ first popular excursion into the crime and mystery genre was for radio as creator and writer of Richard Diamond, Private Detective (1949-53) starring Dick Powell as a
crooning PI, a smart combination of the star’s song and dance background with his tougher postwar image. 100 or so of the episodes are available to listen to over at the Internet Archive. The show later moved to television from 1957 to 1960 but with Powell producing and David Janssen taking over in the title role. His secretary, only ever seen from the waist down, was initially played by Mary Tyler Moore.
Mickey Spillane’s ‘Mike Hammer!’ (1954)
It may have been his initial radio success that saw Edwards attempt to turn Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer into a weekly TV series starring Brian Keith – he shot a pilot, Mickey Spillane’s ‘Mike Hammer!’, but it failed to be picked up. Eventually Darren McGavin would star in a weekly series, but by then Edwards had developed his own private eye and was about to have his first monster hit …
Peter Gunn (1958-61; 1968; 1989)
Edwards would have far greater success when he developed his own original show for TV, Peter Gunn, a smash hit starring Craig Stevens as the ultra smooth LA investigator featuring an immortal theme tune by Henry Mancini, who wrote the score for virtually all of the director’s projects. Edwards worked as writer, producer and director on the show and was the unquestioned auteur of the piece – and so when he decided to call it quits after three seasons, Stevens agreed.
However, in 1968 they made a movie version entitled just Gunn (1968) – but as the abbreviated title suggested, this felt like a cut-down version of the great show, with only Stevens reprising his role. Sensibly if somewhat radically re-thought for the big screen, it was shot in bold colour and given a tougher tone (though the original had often been accused of being too violent). This approach emphasised how much of the appeal of the original had resided in the fairy-tale atmosphere through its stylised noir look and the supporting cast, which had originally included Herschel Bernardi as the friendly Lieutenant Jacoby, Gunn’s girlfriend Edie Hart (played by Lola Albright), a singer at Gunn’s regular haunt, Mother’s. They were all sadly missed, though the film certainly deserved kudos for trying to be different. It flopped at the box office however – Edwards tried to revive the show one more time in 1989, this for television, with Peter Strauss in the lead, which while entertaining enough had little of the original magic sadly.
Experiment in Terror (1962)
Adapted by ‘The Gordons’ (husband and wife authors Mildred Gordon and, I kid you not, Gordon Gordon), this is a superbly made Noir, heavy on atmosphere and exhibiting none of Edwards’ usual comedic stylings. Instead we have a beautifully shot (courtesy of Philip Lathrop) policier set in San Francisco with Glenn Ford as a FBI agent trying to help Lee Remick, who is being victimsed by a bank robber who wants her to do the robbing for him. For two contrasting but equally excellent reviews of the film, see what Colin has to say at Riding the High Country while Michael provides further illumination over at, It Rains … You Get Wet.
A Shot in the Dark (1964)
Edwards will remain best known for the Pink Panther films starring Peter Sellers as the bumbling Chief Inspector Clouseau of the Sûreté. Technically of course these can all be classed as thrillers of one type or another – the first, The Pink Panther (1963) is a caper comedy in which various people try to steal the eponymous diamond, a situation reprised in the direct sequel Return of the Pink Panther (1974), while Revenge of the Pink Panther (1978) mainly has a plot involving Hong Kong gangsters. A Shot in the Dark (1964) however is an actual whodunit that, while crucial in the series for introducing Clouseau’s homicidal manservant Kato (Burt Kwouk) and his increasingly insane boss Dreyfus (the late Herbert Lom), is otherwise an atypical entry. And there’s a good reason for this. Adapted from Marcel Achard’ original play L’idiote into a modest broadway success by Harry Kurnitz, the movie version began under director Anatole Litvak as a straight adaptation of the play but when this went badly Edwards was parachuted in to rescue the film – and he did this by actually adding Clouseau to the storyline and beefing up his role, turning the film into a spoof of murder mysteries and with many standout moments including the Inspector’s encounter with a nudist colony.
The Carey Treatment (1972)
After a series of box-office disappointments, most notably the expensive wartime comedy-cum-spy-musical Darling Lili (1970) starring Julie Andrews and Rock Hudson, Edwards found himself temporarily out of favour in Hollywood (though he did go on to marry his leading lady at least). Making do without many of his usual collaborators, he undertook a number of highly unusual projects. One of the first was the James Coburn medical mystery The Carey Treatment, adapted from Michael Crichton’s Edgar-winning novel A Case of Need (review of this one coming here shortly). It is a rather low key affair but well plotted and highly entertaining – and it also features a memorable score by Roy Budd. Sadly the film would suffer badly under the hands of MGM studio head James Aubrey – indeed the film’s scriptwriters, Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank, Jr., had their names removed, something Edwards also threatened to do.
The Tamarind Seed (1974)
Edwards reunited with wife Julie Andrews for this Cold War spy movie backed by Lew Grade’s ITC company and which was clearly meant as a more adult alternative to the Bond movies, featuring 007 crew regulars Maurice Binder for the titles and a music score by John Barry. Egyptian star Omar Shariff once again plays a Russian as he did for Doctor Zhivago (and Edwards even used that film’s cameraman, Freddie Young). Edwards adapted the script from the eponymous novel by Evelyn Anthony (review coming along here shortly) and the result is a melancholy spy drama that didn’t do much business but which is worth revisiting. I’ll be posting a review shortly but there is already an excellent in-depth analysis of the film by Kathleen Murphy available over at Parallax View.
City Heat (1984)
This amiable movie had a somewhat troubled production and only did moderate box office business. Initially this seemed like a surefire commercial hit, bringing together two of the biggest stars of their day – Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds – in a light thriller, with Eastwood as a cop and Reynolds as a hardboiled PI in 1933 Kansas City (the title was originally going to be ‘Kansas City Blues’). However, things went wrong behind the scenes with Edwards getting fired over ‘creative differences’ (allegedly he wanted Julie Andrews to be in the film but Reynolds didn’t), which led to his taking a pseudonym on the writing credits (‘Sam O. Brown’ – the initials are not accidental …). In addition a serious accident during a stunt meant that Reynolds broke his jaw, delaying production and leading to life-long problems for the actor, who visibly lost a lot of weight during the films. It still works quite well but one can’t help wondering what it might have been like …
Justin Case (TV-pilot, 1986)
This pilot movie, made for Disney, is about a gumshoe who comes back from the dead to solve his own murder. It stars George Carlin, who is paired with Edwards’ daughter Jennifer for an amusing take on the private eye genre, reminiscent of the British TV show Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) (known in the US as My Partner the Ghost). It’s a fairly amusing trifle, aimed at a ‘family’ audience (so little of Carlin’s usual rebarbative style is in evidence) but a mild entertainment none the less.
This is a very odd combination if truth be told. James Garner reprises his role as Wyatt Earp from Hour of the Gun (1968) for a whodunit set in Hollywood and based on a real event – the meeting of Earp with movie cowboy Tom Mix, here played by Bruce Willis, who had starred in Edwards’ previous film, the farce Blind Date. Willis has just too contemporary a persona to really convince in this period role (he was at the height of his Moonlighting success) and the mystery plot is a bit feeble really though it remains an intriguing enough idea – shame it didn’t work better, though it is certainly worth a look.
Here is a chronological list of Edwards’ crime and mystery films – unless otherwise stated he directed and wrote the screenplays:
- Mickey Spillane’s ‘Mike Hammer!’ (TV pilot, 1954)
- Drive A Crooked Road (1954) (writer only)
- Richard Diamond, Private Detective (TV series, 1957-60)
- Peter Gunn (TV series, 1958-61)
- The Notorious Landlady (co-writer, 1962)
- Experiment in Terror (1962)
- A Shot in the Dark (1964)
- Gunn (1967)
- The Monk (writer only; TV-pilot, 1969)
- The Carey Treatment (1972)
- The Tamarind Seed (1974)
- City Heat (1984, co-writer, as ‘Sam O. Brown’)
- The Ferret (co-writer, TV-pilot, 1985)
- Justin Case (TV-pilot, 1986)
- Sunset (1988)
- Peter Gunn (TV-Movie 1989)
Now that’s a lot of crime and mystery projects for a writer and director best-known for working outside of the genre – I hope to get round to individually reviewing some, maybe even all, of these over the coming months …
Sergio – Blake Edwards was most definitely one of the most versatile of film-makers. I did like Victor/Victoria and some of his other non-crime-fiction films, but I’ve got a soft spot for Inspector Clouseau. My favourite in that series is A Shot in the Dark, so I’m glad you pay special attention to it here. In my opinion its plot is nicely put together and the comic elements quite well-done. And I’d forgotten he did City Heat; that film’s got some very good aspects I think. I didn’t know the history, though, so it was good to learn it. Nicely done post as ever.
I remember reading some of this when ‘City Heat’ first came out. It’s not a bad film (as you said, it’s “… got some very good aspects”). But, if only Blake Edwards had stayed on, and Burt, who didn’t make the best career decisions, have worked with Julie Andrews (how could this have been bad?), the film had the making of something extraordinary. Director Richard Benjamin tried to make the best of it, but you can certainly see the material called for Edwards’ touch.
Agreed completely. This film could have been so much more than it was. Just shows you what can happen when people let their own agendas etc. get in the way of fine film-making…
Yeah, it doesn;t just happen in the movies, but it seems a lot more obvious there when it happens and things go a bit wrong. Having said that, City Heat starts off especially well and certainly has one hell of a cast wih the likes of Richard Roundtree, Madeline Khan, Rip Torn and Irene Cara as well as Jane Alexander (replacing Marsha Mason), presumably in the role that Julie Andrews would have played …
I like quite a few of Benjamin’s films both as an actor (he was great in The Last of Sheila) and director (especially My Favourite Year) – I suspect it was less about Andrews and more about territoriality on the set. Edwards certainly liked to surround himself with family and friends though the crew ended up being almost entirely from Eastwood’s Malpaso company so maybe Reynolds felt he was getting squeezed a bit too far. But as you say, it’s a shame because Reynolds remains an underrated actor (he is actually very good in this film in my view) and really didn’t help his career with such moves, usually preferring to work with more anonymous, less personal directors – and yet his best work belies this.
‘The Last of Sheila’ is another of my favorite mysteries from the 70s. I remember the criticism of it back then. Many thought it “was too clever”. It’s what I love about it.
I’m with you Michael – apart from anythign else it makes it a lot of fun to re-watch and catch even more of all those great, absurdy convoluted clues!
Thanks very much Margot, really glad you enjoyed the post. I love the silliness of the Pink Panther films and I’m a sucker for old-fashioned silent comedy too. Victor Victoria has become a bit of a family favourite over the decades – a couple of times we have even seen in the New Year with it (well, the early section is set in Winter …). Richard Benjamin did a nice job with City Heat and directed for me a bit of a classic,My Favourite Year, with Peter O’Toole.
This would be quite a career, if only one were talking about mysteries. Add in all of Blake Edwards other work and it really is very remarkable. Fine highlight on this genre with the filmmaker, Sergio. Great find, too, with Roy Budd’s ‘Carey Treatment’ score. I didn’t know that one was his. Loved Budd’s work in ‘Get Carter’ (1971). And thanks so much for the back link, my friend. Very kind and generous :D.
Thanks for the great feedback Michael, greatly appreciated. Actually when I re-watched The Carey Treatmnt I suddenly realised that I knew the theme tune very well from various Roy Budd compilation, albeit in a fairly different arrangemnt, so that was a real plus. He did a great job but the lack of Mancini in Edwards’ films between Darling Lili and Return fo the Pink Panther seemed, while perhaps inadvertent, to symbolise the director’s fall from grace or anyway a certain lack of direction.
Re: your thoughts on Gunn (1967), a fine summation of what didn’t quite work (Ed Asner was okay, but Herschel Bernardi’s Lt Jacoby as well as Edie Hart as played by Lola Albright were very much missed). Still, I have to say I enjoyed seeing Craig Stevens again in the role. He was alway very charismatic as the L.A. P.I. I’m one of the few, simply because I watched Peter Gunn episodes as repeats on local TV as a kid, who saw the film first-run. I streamed the film (as it’s still not available on Region 1 disc) via Netflix, and I still enjoyed it. Thanks, Sergio.
I envy you that Michael – I watched Gunn (the 1968 movie) on Italian TV in the 80s (dubbed) and it made a pretty good impression (torture by squash court – what’s not to like?) – it must come out on DVD soon, surely? Even the 1989 TV-Movie is easier to get hold of these days …
This does show how a director can get as typecast as an actor. Looking at his CV one can almost categorise him as a mystery writer/director who got sidetracked onto other stuff. SUNSET was something that I saw once, years ago, and it seems to have rather vanished from TV since then. It’s one of those films that can be seen as enjoyable in parts rather than in the whole. Willis was just wrong, and the mystery was a little feeble as you said, but you enjoy it almost more for what it might have been rather than for what it is.
Thanks very much Skywatcher – I did enjoy putting the selective filmography together as it does give a very differennt feel to his filmography, doesn’t it? It is a bit askew and obviously it is slightly loaded since many of these could just as easily just be labelled as comedies and therefore fight right back in with the standard Edwards perception but it probably says as much about the commercial viability of the form as it does about his tatses. Incidentally, the Richard Diamond radio shows which he wrote and occasionally directed are really great if you are tempted to try some of the links. The ‘Blue Serge Suit’ episode is really funny for instance.
Great overview Sergio. Can I first just say thanks for the link.
I look forward to seeing your thoughts on The Notorious Landlady, which I liked quite a lot. It’s probably one of Quine’s best movies – never liked him as an actor at all, by the way – but does suffer from the same problem that affected much of his work, namely a manic but amusing finale.
I forgot Edwards was connected with City Heat. That film was regarded as a total bomb when it came out and I don’t believe I’ve seen it since release. I remember reading comments/criticism at the time which suggested Eastwood had hit rock bottom with this one and his career wasn’t in great shape at this point.
It’s good to see some positive comments about Reynolds too. I agree that he was a very capable actor when the material was right, but all too often he chose the soft option and bogged himself down in mediocrity. I fully intend to do a piece on Sharky’s Machine at some point, one of his very best movies.
Cheers mate – will be fascinated to see what you make of Sharky’s Machine – when I first saw it I pretty much wrote it off as a rather nasty Laura knock-off but it’s been a good 20 years since I’ve seen it so I just can’t somment on it now. TV screenings used to be quite heavily censored as I recall. You are so right about Quine’s tendency to descend into knockabout in his finales, I hadn’t really thought of that but it’s as true of My Sister Eileen as Sex and the Single Girl or Paris When it Sizzles or … well, when you’re right, you’re right – and you’re right!
It’s just something that always struck me about Quine, although I think this aspect works reasonably well in The Notorious Landlady.
I meant to say earlier that I’ve been wanting to see the movie version of Gunn for a long time – I know it doesn’t have the greatest reputation but the completist in me needs to be satisfied.
I haven’t seen Gunn in ages annoyingly – I liked it at the time but it was before I’d seen the TV series, which was probably was a good thing actually. It’s a bit trippy and psychedelic as I recall, very 60s while the TV shows was very late 40s early 50s Noir – but then again, it was 10 eyars later so that was pretty sensible on the face of it. One fo the great any films Edwards co-wrote with a pre-Exorcist William Peter blatty …
Well a movie must necessarily reflect something of the period in which it’s made I guess. I’d love if someone, somewhere, would get round to releasing it.
I am really surprised that it is not more more easily available – I gues it will make its debut as an MOD the way things go. Turns out Sunset is also a bit hard to find now and as for Justin Case (which I last saw about 25 years ago) …
Well if it does go MOD then there’s a fair chance of it turning up somewhere in Europe sooner or later.
That’s the spirit! Looks like it’s been streamed on Netflix, so hopefully it has been remastered …
Looking forward to this, Colin. You know I remain a big fan of ‘Sharky’s Machine’.
Really looking forward to hearing what you both have to say on this movie – Reynolds’ work with strong directors like Robert Aldrich, John Boorman, Bill Forsyth, Michael Ritchie and PT Anderson is I think very impressive (admittedly the collaborations with Don Siegel and Peter Bogdanovich wrre less successful).
Don’t forget Alan Pakula. I am a long-time admirer of Burt’s work in ‘Starting Over’. So against type, and it really showed what he could do with the right material. I almost wished he hadn’t ever worked with Hal Needham. While I’m a fan of ‘Smokey and the Bandit’ and ‘Hooper’, once Burt returned to work with the stunt legend and director (for ‘Cannonball Run’, ‘Smokey and the Bandit II’, and lamentably ‘Stroker Ace’) the tide of his material selection had warped, sadly.
Actually I haven’t seen Starting Over so I omitted that one though Pakula made several very fine films of course as a producer and director. I would add Cannonball Run to the other two Needham films I really like – I love roger moore spoofing Bond – so low brow, i know …
Good point. I admit to smiling at a good number of bits in Cannonball Run. That Roger Moore spoof being the best.
It is telling though that the best bits are the oouttakes on so many of his good ol’ boy movies …
I know that Michael – I seem to remember you wrote a piece on the movie yourself some time back.
And here is Michael’s detailed and thought-provoking view on Sharky’s Machine
Thank you kindly for sharing that link back to my old blog, Sergio.
Great post Michael, very glad to get some reflected glory!
What a wonderful analysis of his career in crime. I have seen some of these but not all and not in years. I do remember THE NOTORIOUS LANDLADY because I am such a Jack Lemmon fan.
Thanks very much Patti – looking forward to doing full post on Notorious Landlady as it is delightfully silly and as you say, lemmon was always good value (even with a moustache in Airport ’77!)
Sergio, thanks for taking me through Edwards’ crime and mystery films. I didn’t know he had so many to his credit in spite of having seen most of his PINK PANTHER series, CITY HEAT and SUNSET though I’m sure I’ve also seen THE TAMARIND SEED. To me, though, Edwards was always known for VICTOR, VICTORIA, 10 and BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S which probably does discredit to his more compelling work as evident from your list of his crime and mystery films. The one Peter Sellers film that nearly put me to sleep was THE PARTY. And then there was MICKI & MAUDE though I’ve never been a fan of Dudley Moore. Looking back, Edwards “mixed it up” and mixed it up really well.
Thanks Prashant – I’m a big slapstick fan so I quite enjoyed Micky & Maude actually but Victor Victoria is clearly a superior movie and one of his best, no question for me at all on that.
Yeah, ‘Micky & Maude’ is fun, but ‘Victor Victoria’ is simply great. Re-teaming Julie Andrews and James Garner (another long-time favorite of mine), from ‘The Americanization of Emily’ (1964) was lightning in a bottle.
I’d forgotten about the Arthur Hiller movie – and I’ve got it on a shelf too – time to dig it out though I may watch Victor Victoria again first – just a great, endlessly repeatable movie.
This was great reading! I forgot about The Tamarind Seed and though I did see it years ago I can’t recall a thing about it. The trivia about City Heat (never heard of it – can you believe that?) was enlightening. But I do love Experiment in Terror as I mentioned last week. A fantastic thriller, truly superb. Just added The Notorious Landlady to my Netflix queue and will be seeing –again!– it very soon. I may have to check out Sunset as well.
I do agree about Victor/Victoria (are you surprised?). When my brother and I saw it in the theaters during its first run we stayed after the credits and watched it again almost to the very end until we realized out parents would wonder why were out so late. Highly entertaining and a real feel good movie.
Thank you John, very kind of you that is. There is an occasional coarseness in Edwards but the romantic side of his nature gets a good airing in Tamarind and the wonderfull Victor Victoria (and isn’t that such great news about Tammy Baldwin?)
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Underappreciated, indeed…even when a single given work is slight…I started EXPERIMENT IN TERROR some months ago, and keep meaning to get back to it, on the DVR, to drink in the rest. Genuinely enjoyed DIAMOND on radio, much easier to catch these days, at least while working, than the tv version…
I really like Experiment in Terror , though it is quite heavy going and surprisingly humourless, for lots of non-Edwards reasons too, not least for its setting as I used to spend a lot of time in San Francisco in my youth. I must admit I did watch some of the Diamond TV shows in the 80s on Italian TV (dubbed of course like everything else over there) but not since. The audio quality of the radio show on the internet Archive is in many cases remarkably good which certainly makes it even easier to enjoy
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