Writer-director Blake Edwards, who died yesterday at the age of 88, was known chiefly as a director of comedies, including Breakfast at Tiffany's and The Pink Panther series. But he also produced some outstanding dramatic fare over the course of his career. We take a look back at some of his best.
Blake Edwards got his start in radio, collaborating with Orson Welles in his infamous War of the Worlds broadcast before being hired to write scripts for hardboiled detective shows. The character Peter Gunn – a hip, jazz-loving private detective working in a nameless waterfront city – was adapted from his own radio program Richard Diamond, Private Detective, which starred Dick Powell. Peter Gunn was a big success, with 114 episodes running on ABC between 1958 and 1961. The show represented his first of many collaborations with composer Henry Mancini, whose jazzy, Grammy-winning theme song has become of the most recognizable tunes in TV history and a kind of musical shorthand for the urban underbelly of cops, criminals and private dicks.
Experiment in Terror
Fresh off the success of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Edwards wanted to return to his noir roots and do a smaller, darker film. The result was this taut 1962 thriller starring Lee Remick as a San Francisco teller who is coerced by asthmatic psychopath “Red” Lynch (Ross Martin) into stealing $100,000 from her bank, and threatened with the death of her teenage sister (Stefanie Powers) should she go to the police. Under Edwards’ direction, Martin turned in a chilling performance as the villain, earning the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor. Experiment in Terror also boasts one of Mancini’s best scores, a moody, menacing piece driven by reverb drenched guitars anchoring minor key orchestration, a combination composer Angelo Badalamenti would later use to eerie effect in his collaborations with David Lynch.
The Days of Wine and Roses
Adapted from a 1958 Playhouse 90 TV episode written by JP Miller, Edwards’ Days of Wine and Roses was one of the first films to give serious treatment to alcoholism rather than play drunks for cheap laughs. Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick give gut-wrenching performances as a downward-spiraling couple who succumb to their addictions at the expense of everything else in their lives. Both Lemmon and Remick were nominated for Academy Awards for their work, and, ironically, both would later seek treatment for alcoholism, as would Edwards. In fact, Edwards said he and Lemmon spent many nights during the production imbibing heavily, and a year after the film's completion, Edwards sought treatment for his drinking. Alcohol abuse would play a role in his future films 10, Blind Date and Skin Deep.
The Wild Rovers
After the success he’d had in the early 1960s in both comedy and drama, the early 1970s weren’t kind to Edwards. No project gave him more trouble than The Wild Rovers, a Western he considered his most personal film at the time. A bleak, revisionist epic Western many compared to Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch, the film starred William Holden and Ryan O’Neal as two cowhands turned reluctant bank robbers. But the film was wrested from Edwards' control by MGM President Jack Aubrey, who recut the picture to make it half an hour shorter and give it a happy ending. “It was my best film,” Edwards said, “and he butchered it.” Edwards would go on to have his revenge, after a fashion. Following MGM’s manhandling, he took a new film project, 10, across town to Warner Bros., where it would become a big hit. The Wild Rovers was later released in director's cut on VHS, but is currently unavailable on DVD.