The Farewell Party
High drama and lowbrow, morbid humor get stitched together in this successful tragicomedy about terminal patients and assisted suicide. Works better than expected.
Blake Edwards, the man who gave us Inspector Clouseau, breakfast at Tiffany's and a Perfect 10, is dead at 88. A much-loved storyteller and the writer of many of his own films, he was a bit of a performer himself. He directed 37 features and much TV, and was married for the past 41years to Julie Andrews, who was at his side when he died.
Beginning in the late 40s, he rose through the ranks of television and low-budget movies and produced, wrote and directed the "Peter Gunn" series. His first great screen success was "Breakfast at Tiffany's" (1961), featuring Audrey Hepburn in her iconic role as Holly Golightly. The next year, "Days of Wine and Roses" provided Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick with two of their best parts.
In 1963 and 1964 came two enormously successful comedies, "A Shot in the Dark" and "The Pink Panther," beginning his long collaboration with Peter Sellers as the inimitable Clouseau, murderer of the English language. The series had outstayed its welcome by the time Edwards cobbled together the ungainly "Trail of the Pink Panther" (1982) after Sellers' death, using outtakes, doubles and dubbing.
The honeymoon between Edwards and Sellers faded earlier, although the pictures continued to make money. Sellers was lovable in public but enigmatic in private. "He just got bored with the part," Edwards once said. "He became angry, sullen and unprofessional. He wouldn't show up for work."
After the 1979 blockbuster "10," which made Bo Derek an international sex symbol, came "Victor/Victoria" (1982) in which Julie Andrews played a woman playing a man who was forced to become a female impersonator. James Garner falls in love with her, or perhaps him. Edwards was nominated for an academy Award for its screenplay, but the only Oscar he won was his Honorary Award in 2004.
Edward's comedies often embraced farce, perhaps never so boldly as in "Skin Deep" (1989), with an outrageous scene that involved a sort of sword fight taking place in pitch darkness, with dueling glow-in-the-dark condoms.
Edwards and Andrews worked together frequently, bringing "Victor/Victoria" to Broadway in 1995, although their big-budget film musical "Darling Lili" was a notable flop.
In later years they both faced health troubles. Andrews, who was 13 years younger than her husband, had surgery for benign throat nodules in 1997, which affected her singing voice. Edwards had problems after knee surgery last year, and used a wheelchair. His publicist, Gene Schwam, said the death, at St. John's Health Center, was caused by complications of pneumonia.
His life was filled with laughter, its end, shadowed by illness. He remained productive as long as he could. As Inspector Clouseau once observed, in words written by Edwards, "There is a time to laugh and a time not to laugh, and this is not one of them."
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