From The Warner Archive: Three by Blake Edwards

Later this year writer/director and comedic impresario Blake Edwards would have celebrated his 90th birthday. In celebration of this occasion, the Warner Archive has released three of his later comic gems: 1981’s S.O.B., 1982’s Victor Victoria and 1989’s Skin Deep. While these are all just re-releases and not remasters, the picture quality is wonderful on all three. There’s also great special features and subtitles – something lacking on many of the Warner Archive’s releases.

Before I talk about these three releases, I feel the need to share my love for Edwards’ work. Arguably his most famous film, Breakfast at Tiffany’s,  is a film that I don’t care for all that much. I do, however, love all of his films with Peter Sellers, from The Pink Panther to A Shot in the Dark and all the other sequels to The Party. Also, the films he did with Lee Remick – Days of Wine and Roses and Experiment in Terror – ought to be more well-known then they are. I also quite like his penultimate film, 1991’s Switch with Ellen Barkin. Which brings us to these three films, two of which I watched for the first time this weekend and the other of which I had a must-deserved re-watch.

S.O.B. was a film that upon its initial release was equally praised and trashed; it was nominated both for a WGA award for Best Comedy Screenplay and the Razzie for Worst Screenplay. Watching it some thirty years later, I think people must have missed what Edwards was doing with this film. Yes, it plays out like his 60s farces, but with added post-code sex and nudity. As far as I can tell, that is the point. It’s about the change in the industry and, for me, he combines the two eras wonderfully.

This film was released in July of 1981 and was William Holden’s final screen appearance before his tragically untimely death in November of the same year. I think it was a great film for him to go out on and it’s definitely one of my favorite of his performances. I just really love old Bill Holden. Also giving stellar performances are Robert Preston (who I will talk more about when I get to the next film) and Robert Webber, who gets to delivery the film’s titular line.

Richard Mulligan, brother of director Robert Mulligan (To Kill a Mockingbird), spends the first half of the film depressed, suicidal and/or comatose and the second half of the film running around like a maniac. I read a few comments that said he went too far, but I must disagree. This is the kind of film and the kind of role that broad comedy was made for.

Goddamn is Robert Vaughn attractive or what? I mean, he’s also a great actor. But look at that face. LOOK AT IT. There is a scene late in this film with Vaughn that nearly made me pass out, and which I had to rewind and rewatch a few times because I couldn’t believe my own eyes. I can’t even imagine what it must have been like to see on the big screen.

SPOILER ALERT: Those are Julie Andrews’ boobs. Yep. That is all I really have to say about her role in this film. Not that she’s not great; she is, she really is. But what else can be said once you’ve brought her boobs into the equation?

Lastly, I have to mention Troubles the dog, because y’all know how I feel about dogs in films. I feel like nearly every review I’ve done in this series has had a bit with a dog. Pro-tip: always have a bit with a dog in your movie.

There’s so much to say about this film, I couldn’t possibly write it all out. I love how this film manages to be both sweet and naughty without ever feeling uneven. I’ve never seen the 1933 German film on which this is based, but I’m willing to bet it is probably just as fabulous. I think it is important when you watch this film to remember the era in which it came out. In 1982 homosexuality was still pretty much a taboo topic in Hollywood, with barely a handful of mainstream films daring to tackle it. Yet, this is a film based in the 1930s, a remake in fact of a film from the 1930s. It’s amazing how backwards film went during the Hays code era, and how that, I think, negatively affected society as well.

My only problem with the film is that I don’t think Julie Andrews is quite androgynous enough to pull of being a female impersonator. She’s just too pretty. Regardless, though, the premise makes for a great comedy of errors and misunderstandings as the film progresses and allows for a frank discussion of the fluidity of human sexuality and desire.

Andrews was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in this film, though she lost to Meryl Streep in Sophie’s Choice. I gotta say, whether you buy her as a female impersonator or not, her renditions of Le Hot Jazz and The Shady Dame From Seville are to die for.

Also nominated for an Oscar was Robert Preston, whose performance as Toddy is one of my favorites ever. He is so, so, so funny and bitchy and fabulous. If you haven’t seen the film yet, you are in for a real treat during the finale. Sadly, he lost the award to Louis Gossett Jr. in An Officer and a Gentleman. I still haven’t seen that film, so I guess I can’t really comment, but dammit I don’t see how it could be better than Preston’s flawless performance.

However, the greatest shame is that Lesley Ann Warren lost the Best Supporting Actress award to Jessica Lange in Tootsie. Lange is great in that film (better in Frances, for which she was also up for an Oscar that year, but lost to Streep), but Warren’s performance is truly a one-of-a-kind comic tour-de-force. It’s the kind of constructed, completely immersed performance that only come around once in a blue moon. She reminds me of Marisa Tomei as Mona Lisa Vito in My Cousin Vinny. She is the character. Warren completely disappears into the role and steals every scene she’s in.

I can’t not talk about James Garner, because, well, James Garner. But he doesn’t really get to do much in this film, aside from sport a killer mustache and have really great facial expressions.

Which brings us to Skin Deep, a film I had never seen before and one that made me think of Henri Langlois, who said you should remember the parts of films that are great, regardless of your feelings on the film as a whole. This is a film that has some moments of real genius and others that just don’t work at all. But I think fans of Edwards will love it despite its flaws.

The above screencap pretty much gives you the entire premise of the film: John Ritter plays alcoholic writer Zach Hutton, who can’t seem to keep in it in his pants and thus loses his wife. Over the course of the film Zach has a series of bizarre flings with younger women, most of which end with the woman ending things – violently, all the while still pining for his ex-wife.

Ritter is quite great as Zach, who knows he should know better but can’t manage to make himself act better. Also wonderful is Vincent Gardenia as his go-to bartender and confidant, Barney. I think the writers of the David Duchovny Showtime series Californication must have been big fans of this movie, because there are more than a few similarities between the two.

I love how Ritter manages to be a total prick, yet still bring enough humanity to the character that we can empathize with his plight. Michael Kidd is great as his psychiatrist, whose office Zach frequents about as often as Barney’s bar. I must also mention, that this film is filled with, shall we say, colorful language and there may or may not be scenes of Ritter in the buff. Kind of. You’ll see.

Disclaimer: This review is based on a review discs given to me by the Warner Archive, though the opinions are all my own.

About Marya E. Gates

Cinephile to the max.

Posted on May 7, 2012, in Classic Film, DVDs and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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