Blake Edwards: A fine movie craftsman.
The obituaries of writer/director Blake Edwards talk a lot about his better known and often high grossing films like Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), The Days of Wine and Roses (1962),the 1st Pink Panther (1963), and of course 10 (1972). But no one talks about my favorite Edwards’s film Mister Cory (1957). And that’s understandable. It was early in his career before he became an important name director and has probably not been seen by many. In fact it is hard to find. You seldom see it on regular TV and only occasionally on TCM. Still, I think it’s quite good and deserves a look see if you get the chance. As I said it came early in his career when he was a just a studio hired hand. Universal-International being the Studio. My curiosity about his work was ignited because we shared the same last name, so naturally I was curious about who this Edwards person was and what kind of movies was he making. I saw Mister Cory and was hooked. After that I saw every Blake Edwards film and was hardly ever disappointed with the result. This film stars Tony Curtis who was to play the lead in many of Edwards’ later films. And in it he gives what is to my mind the first of his many terrific dramatic/comic performances. It is an interesting mix that not many actors were able to master but Curtis had it down pat. And so did Blake Edwards. His film has a light touch but it is firmly grounded in reality as well.
It is about a handsome young man (Curtis) from the streets of Chicago who vows to escape his impoverished background anyway he can, legal or illegal. He has his eyes on the main chance in terms of money, romance and social position. Then at a Wisconsin resort where he works as a busboy he discovers that he has a talent for gambling. Complications occur when he romances a rich young woman from across the lake in the guise of a young socialite and the envy he generates among his fellow busboys. The action then moves to Chicago and the glamorous world of illegal gambling and high society. Blake’s direction is smooth, graceful and completely free of some of the eccentricities and quirks that show up in his more important and better known pictures. Here he is just telling his story in the most entertaining way he can. And it is welcome for even at that early stage he was already showing fine craftsmanship. He guided his actors, his camera crew and all the other creative personnel with a sure hand and a clear eye for maximum effect on the audience. This is not a perfect film by any means but it is what you wish most films coming down the studio pole would be, punchy, good looking, unexpected and smart.
Martha Hyer, a studio reliable even at that that young age is on hand to provide romantic support. Character actors Charles Bickford and Henry Daniell in a very amusing performance lend their expertise to the proceeding. But a young Kathryn Grant(later Mrs. Crosby as in Bing)) almost steals the show as a sparkly eyed ingénue. The screenplay by Edwards was based on a story by Leo Rosten. They worked together again in 1963 when Edwards did the adaptation of Rosten’s bestselling novel Captain Newman MD. Curtis was in that one too.
Blake Edwards was a writer turned director and to my mind one of the best. He was a fine film craftsman in the best sense of the term. To me that is high praise in a time when that particular virtue is often sacrificed on the altar of so called personal authorship and ego manifesting cinematic tics. He was prolific and his body of work was mixed. This is true of most filmmakers who had careers as long as Blake but when he was good, he was very, very good indeed. His brand of smart, professional filmmaking will be missed.