Blake Edwards movies: Best known for slapstick fare, but at his best handling polished comedies and dramas
The Pink Panther and its sequels are the movies most closely associated with screenwriter-director-producer Blake Edwards, whose film and television career spanned more than half a century. But unless you’re a fan of Keystone Kops-style slapstick, they’re the filmmaker’s least interesting efforts.
In fact, Edwards (born William Blake Crump in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on July 26, 1922) was at his best (co-)writing and/or directing polished comedies (e.g., Operation Petticoat, Victor Victoria) and, less frequently, dramas (Days of Wine and Roses, the romantic comedy-drama Breakfast at Tiffany’s).
The article below and follow-up posts offer a brief look at some of Blake Edwards’ non-Pink Panther comedies, with particular emphasis on those on which he collaborated with wife Julie Andrews.
‘Operation Petticoat’: Non-‘Pink Panther’ blockbuster
Blake Edwards’ first directing job was on the 1953 episode “Knockout” of the television anthology series Four Star Playhouse; 1949 Best Actor Oscar winner Broderick Crawford (All the King’s Men) starred as a boxing promoter. Two years later, Edwards made his directorial big-screen debut with the minor Frankie Laine musical-comedy Bring Your Smile Along.
Following two highly successful Pink Panther movies, by the mid-1960s Edwards’ comedies had become generally known for their broad, unsubtle humor. Yet on occasion he did display a more restrained touch.
Relatively early in his filmmaking career, that finer comic flair is in evidence in the entertaining, even if a tad overlong, Operation Petticoat (1959).
The movie that turned Edwards into a box office darling, this World War II-set comedy-adventure starred Cary Grant and Tony Curtis – both in top form – as two navy officers hosting a group of female army nurses (among them the recently deceased Dina Merrill) aboard a decrepit pink submarine sailing from the Philippines to Australia.
Released in December, Operation Petticoat ultimately netted Universal $9.3 million in the domestic market – thus becoming Cary Grant’s top moneymaker (not adjusted for inflation) and one of the studio’s biggest hits ever.
‘The Great Race’: Overelaborate homage to silent film comedies
At the other end of the scale, Blake Edwards’ heavier comic hand is in evidence in another of his comedy-adventure blockbusters, The Great Race (1965), a great-looking but overblown attempt to:
a) outdo Stanley Kramer’s 1963 all-star comedy hit It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World.
b) directly emulate silent era comedies – pie-throwing melee and all – but with a budget just about large enough (reportedly $12 million, or approx. $85 million today) to cover the production costs of all film comedies made from the dawn of the 20th century to the dawn of the sound era.
Dedicated to Stan Laurel (who had died in Feb. 1965) and Oliver Hardy (d. Aug. 1957), The Great Race toplined Some Like It Hot actors Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon, plus Natalie Wood. As a charming photojournalist/auto racer/suffragette, Wood effortlessly steals the show from her two male co-stars; Lemmon’s poorly calibrated performance, in particular, comes across as a cartoonish caricature of silent film acting.
‘The Party’: Precursor of sorts to ‘S.O.B.’ & ‘Being There’
Watching Peter Sellers’ Inspector Clouseau fumble his way while in pursuit of evildoers in the Pink Panther movies can be an exercise in annoyance. A less well known but more amusing Blake Edwards-Peter Sellers collaboration is The Party (1968), a critical and box office misfire released three years after The Great Race.
A sort of precursor to Edwards’ edgier S.O.B. (1981), as both comedies offer a less-than-flattering look at film people, The Party stars Sellers as an accident-prone Indian bit player inadvertently invited to a posh Hollywood bash.
In all fairness, the film’s comic moments don’t always work, as some unnecessary Clouseau-esque slapstick gets in the way of the more pointed jabs at the lifestyles of the rich and famous in late 1960s Los Angeles. Besides, the party itself, much like its Indian guest, does overstay its welcome.
Even so, The Party features a number of humorous bits, chiefly thanks to Sellers’ politically incorrect but amiable portrayal of the clueless extra Hrundi V. Bakshi – reminiscent not only of the “foreign-accented” Inspector Clouseau but also of Jacques Tati’s M. Hulot and Sellers’ equally clueless Chance the Gardener in Hal Ashby’s political classic Being There.
Unfortunately, The Party turned out to be Blake Edwards and Peter Sellers’ only non-Pink Panther effort.
‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’
Before delving into the Blake Edwards-Julie Andrews films – their first collaboration, Darling Lili, came out in 1970 – three other notable Edwards movies of the 1960s should be mentioned, even though only one of them could be considered – to some extent – a “comedy”: Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Days of Wine and Roses, and Experiment in Terror.
Curiously, the most iconic non-Pink Panther Blake Edwards effort, the 1961 comedy-drama Breakfast at Tiffany’s, had been originally intended for somebody else: television director John Frankenheimer. With Edwards at the helm, the film became a decidedly romanticized but pleasant and, here and there, moving version of Truman Capote’s 1958 novella about Texan hick turned New York City call girl Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn).
Whereas in the book Holly leaves the U.S. and disappears from view, in the movie – screenplay credited to George Axelrod – she gets to sing Henry Mancini’s plaintive “Moon River,” and eventually finds both romance (in the person of all-American blond hunk George Peppard) and her missing/evicted, scene-stealing cat.
Delivering a highly stylized performance, quirkily elegant Audrey Hepburn received a Best Actress Oscar nomination for the role Capote had intended for the earthier – and more appropriate – Marilyn Monroe.
Two heavy dramas: ‘Days of Wine and Roses’ & ‘Experiment in Terror’
Although the title Days of Wine and Roses makes this 1962 release sound like a comedy, it’s actually a dead serious – and surprisingly effective – drama about alcohol addiction.
Academy Award nominees Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick star as a married couple whose drinking habits spiral out of control, turning Days of Wine and Roses, in the words of the New York Times’ Bosley Crowther, into “a grim, graphic, heart-rending account of the agony of these two people in the clutch of booze.”
Indeed, the year 1962 was an unusually serious one for Blake Edwards. In addition to tackling chronic alcoholism in Days of Wine and Roses, he expertly handled the (somewhat absurd) woman-in-distress – or rather, women-in-distress – suspense thriller Experiment in Terror, in which Lee Remick and sister Stefanie Powers are terrorized over the phone by an unknown asthmatic madman. Glenn Ford co-starred as an FBI officer.
Blake Edwards follow-up post to be published in the near future.
‘The Pink Panther’ movies
 There were a total of eight big-screen Pink Panther movies co-written and directed by Blake Edwards, most of them starring Peter Sellers – even after his death in 1980. Edwards was also one of the producers of every (direct) Pink Panther sequel, from A Shot in the Dark to Curse of the Pink Panther.
Despite its iconic lead character, the last three movies in the Pink Panther franchise were box office bombs. Two of these, The Trail of the Pink Panther and Curse of the Pink Panther, were co-written by Edwards’ son, Geoffrey Edwards.
- The Pink Panther (1963).
Cast: Peter Sellers. David Niven. Capucine. Claudia Cardinale. Robert Wagner. Brenda de Banzie. Colin Gordon. John Le Mesurier.
- A Shot in the Dark (1964).
Cast: Peter Sellers. Elke Sommer. George Sanders. Herbert Lom. Tracy Reed. Graham Stark.
- The Return of the Pink Panther (1975).
Cast: Peter Sellers. Christopher Plummer. Catherine Schell. Herbert Lom. Peter Arne.
- The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976).
Cast: Peter Sellers. Herbert Lom. Lesley Anne-Down. Burt Kwouk. Colin Blakely.
- Revenge of the Pink Panther (1978).
Cast: Peter Sellers. Herbert Lom. Burt Kwouk. Dyan Cannon. Robert Webber. Robert Loggia. Paul Stewart.
- Trail of the Pink Panther (1982).
Cast: Peter Sellers (archive footage). David Niven. Herbert Lom. Joanna Lumley. Capucine. Robert Loggia.
- Curse of the Pink Panther (1983).
Cast: David Niven. Robert Wagner. Herbert Lom. Joanna Lumley. Capucine. Robert Loggia. Harvey Korman. Roger Moore.
- Son of the Pink Panther (1993).
Cast: Roberto Benigni. Herbert Lom. Claudia Cardinale. Shabana Azmi.
‘The Pink Panther’ offshoots & reboots
Additionally, Bud Yorkin directed Inspector Clouseau (1968), with Alan Arkin in the title role. The screenplay was credited to Tom and Frank Waldan, who also helped to write Blake Edwards’ The Party that same year and, more than a decade later, The Trail of the Pink Panther.
Shawn Levy’s 2006 The Pink Panther reboot starred Steve Martin as Inspector Clouseau. It was successful enough to warrant its own sequel, the $70 million-budgeted flop The Pink Panther 2 (2009), directed by Harald Zwart.
Actor Blake Edwards
 With the assistance of his stepfather, Jack McEdward*, at the time an assistant director at 20th Century Fox (Under Two Flags, Stanley and Livingstone), Blake Edwards began his Hollywood career – as an actor – in the early 1940s.
In case the IMDb info is accurate, he had bits – almost invariably as youthful military types – in about 25 films, including:
- Henry Hathaway’s Ten Gentlemen from West Point (1942).
Cast: George Montgomery. Maureen O’Hara. John Sutton. Laird Cregar.
- Victor Fleming’s A Guy Named Joe (1943).
Cast: Spencer Tracy. Irene Dunne. Van Johnson. Lionel Barrymore. Esther Williams.
- Otto Preminger’s In the Meantime, Darling (1944).
Cast: Jeanne Crain. Frank Latimore. Eugene Pallette. Mary Nash.
- John Ford’s They Were Expendable (1945).
Cast: Robert Montgomery. John Wayne. Donna Reed. Jack Holt.
- William Wyler’s Best Picture Oscar winner The Best Years of Our Lives (1946).
Cast: Fredric March. Myrna Loy. Dana Andrews. Teresa Wright. Virginia Mayo. Harold Russell. Cathy O’Donnell.
Blake Edwards’ film acting career came to a halt in 1948, with supporting roles in two B releases:
- Lesley Selander’s Western Panhandle, which earned Edwards his first screenwriting and producing credits. Rod Cameron starred.
- William Asher and Richard Quine’s boxing drama Leather Gloves, with Cameron Mitchell, Virginia Grey, and Jane Nigh.
Jack McEdward & J. Gordon Edwards
* Jack McEdward was the son of silent era director J. Gordon Edwards, whose film career reached its peak in the late 1910s and early 1920s, when he helmed opulent period pieces for the Fox Film Corporation.
Among J. Gordon Edwards’ credits, most of which are now lost, are the Theda Bara star vehicles Cleopatra, Salome, Camille, and Madame Du Barry; the 1920 version of If I Were King, starring popular leading man William Farnum; and the lavish The Queen of Sheba, with a scantily clad Betty Blythe in the title role.
TV credits during that period include a handful more Four Star Playhouse episodes; one episode of another anthology series, Jane Wyman Presents The Fireside Theatre; and numerous episodes of the hit crime series Peter Gunn (1958–1959), created by Edwards and starring Craig Stevens in the title role.
Peter Gunn would also mark the beginning of Edwards’ decades-long association – encompassing nearly 30 feature films – with composer Henry Mancini (e.g., Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Days of Wine and Roses, The Pink Panther, Darling Lili, 10, Victor Victoria, That’s Life!).
Also during the 1950s, Edwards created, whether solo or in collaboration, the TV series The Mickey Rooney Show; Richard Diamond, Private Detective, starring David Janssen; and Mr. Lucky, toplining John Vivyan in the title role.
From the 1960s on, Blake Edwards would mostly stay away from TV work, though he did return to the medium every now and then. That includes directing a couple of episodes of the 1992 flop sitcom Julie, starring Julie Andrews.
‘Operation Petticoat’ box office
Author Marc Eliot lists Operation Petticoat as Cary Grant’s biggest box office hit in Cary Grant: A Biography.
Applying the 50 percent exhibitor/distributor rule-of-thumb split to 1959/1960, $9.3 million in domestic rentals would represent a box office gross somewhere around $18.5 million – or, adjusting for inflation, about $270 million in 2017.
Bear in mind that inflation-adjusted box office estimates are based on the National Association of Theater Owners’ “average” domestic ticket prices. As they may not accurately reflect the key source(s) of a film’s box office gross – e.g., costly first-run houses vs. cheap neighborhood theaters – they should always be taken as, at best, unverified approximations.
Blake Edwards & Tony Curtis
- The underworld drama Mister Cory (1957), with Curtis as an ambitious Chicago slum resident/gambler involved with upper-class gal Martha Hyer.
- The comedy The Perfect Furlough (1958), with Curtis as a sex-starved soldier spending time in Paris with conscientious army psychiatrist Janet Leigh (Curtis’ real-life wife at the time).
Stanley Shapiro wrote The Perfect Furlough and co-wrote (with Maurice Richlin) Operation Petticoat (from a story by Joseph Stone and Paul King). Shapiro’s film credits also include the popular Doris Day comedies Pillow Talk (1959), Lover Come Back (1961), and That Touch of Mink (1962).
Blake Edwards movies as director
Below is partial cast information of director Blake Edwards’ non-Pink Panther movies mentioned in this post.
Bring Your Smile Along (1955).
Cast: Frankie Laine. Keefe Brasselle. Constance Towers. Lucy Marlow. William Leslie.
Mister Cory (1957).
Cast: Tony Curtis. Martha Hyer. Charles Bickford. Kathryn Grant. William Reynolds.
The Perfect Furlough (1958).
Cast: Tony Curtis. Janet Leigh. Keenan Wynn. Linda Cristal. Elaine Stritch. Marcel Dalio. Troy Donahue.
Operation Petticoat (1959).
Cast: Cary Grant. Tony Curtis. Joan O’Brien. Dina Merrill. Gene Evans. Dick Sargent. Virginia Gregg.
Days of Wine and Roses (1962).
Cast: Jack Lemmon. Lee Remick. Charles Bickford. Jack Klugman.
Experiment in Terror (1962).
Cast: Glenn Ford. Lee Remick. Stefanie Powers. Roy Poole. Anita Loo. Ross Martin.
The Party (1968).
Cast: Peter Sellers. Claudine Longet. Marge Champion.
Blake Edwards’ Breakfast at Tiffany’s trailer with Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard: Paramount Pictures.
Image of Peter Sellers in Blake Edwards’ The Pink Panther: United Artists.
Peter Sellers The Party image: United Artists.
Image of Tony Curtis in Blake Edwards’ blockbuster Operation Petticoat: Universal Pictures.