Category Archives: Western

Blu-ray reissue: One-Eyed Jacks ***1/2

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on December 10, 2016)

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One-Eyed Jacks –The Criterion Collection Blu-ray

 Marlon Brando only directed one film…but it’s a doozey. A “western” with numerous beach scenes and artful shots of crashing surf? That’s only a sampling of the unique touches in this off-beat 1961 drama (which began as a Stanley Kubrick project). It was widely panned, but has come to be anointed as a near-classic. It shares more commonalities with film noir than John Ford; not only in mood and atmosphere, but in its narrative (adapted by Guy Trosper and Calder Willingham from Charles Nieder’s novel), which is a brooding tale of crime, obsession and revenge (which puts it in league with western noirs like Johnny Guitar and Day of the Outlaw).

Brando plays a suave bank robber who (unwittingly) takes the fall for his partner-in-crime/mentor (Karl Malden) after a botched heist. After doing hard time, Brando sets off in search of his old “friend”. The relationship between the two men is decidedly Oedipal (the Malden character is even given the helpful surname “Dad”). It’s one of Brando’s most charismatic performances (naturally, he gives himself plenty of choice close-ups), with some excellent support from Malden, Katy Jurado, Ben Johnson, and Slim Pickens.

Criterion’s edition is a godsend for fans of the film, as it represents the first proper (and fully sanctioned) video transfer for home consumption. The film had fallen into the dreaded “public domain” for a number of years, resulting in a number of dubious DVD and Blu-ray editions all basically working with the same washed-out print. But now, with a restored print and beautiful 4K transfer, you can clearly see why DP Charles Lang’s work earned the film an Academy Award nomination (if not a win) for Best Cinematography. Extras include a Martin Scorsese introduction and several film essays.

Blu-ray reissue: McCabe and Mrs. Miller ****

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on December 10, 2016)

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McCabe and Mrs. Miller – The Criterion Collection Blu-ray

 Some have called this 1971 Robert Altman gem an “anti-western”, but I’ve always thought of it as more of a “northwestern”. The setting is a turn-of-the-century Pacific Northwest mining town called Presbyterian Church. To call this burg “rustic” is an understatement; there’s definitely some room for urban improvement. All it takes is an entrepreneurial visionary, like gambler John McCabe (Warren Beatty) who rides into town one blustery day to find his fortune.

He quickly gleans that the most assured way to profit off the motley (and mostly male) locals would be to set up a brothel. The only thing he lacks is business acumen, which (lucky for him) soon arrives in the person of an experienced madam (Julie Christie). Once the two cement a (mostly) professional partnership, their enterprise really takes off…until evil corporate bastards intervene, in the form of a ruthless and powerful mining company.

As he had done with the war movie genre with his 1970 hit M*A*S*H, Altman likewise turned the western on its ear with this entry. Thanks to the great cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, the film is imbued with an immersive naturalism that wasn’t replicated until…well, Zsigmond (!) photographed Michael Cimino’s western Heaven’s Gate nearly 10 years later. Interestingly, Cimino’s film shares a similar “little guy vs. the Big Corporation” theme (sadly, we lost both Zsigmond and Cimino in 2016…both were giant talents).

Altman’s use of Leonard Cohen’s music remains one of the most wonderfully symbiotic marriages of sound and vision in American film (even more poignant now with Cohen’s recent passing). The new 4K transfer is stunning. Extras include a new making-of doc, and an Altman commentary track recorded in 2002.

Wolves, bison & bears…oh my: The Revenant ***1/2

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on January 16, 2016)

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“Nah, man…I gotta remember: NEVER get outta the boat!”

-from Apocalypse Now

If there’s one thing I’ve learned reading Jack London and Joseph Conrad and watching countless adventure movies over the years, it’s this: never get out of the goddamn boat. Remember what happened in Apocalypse Now, when they got out of the boat? Aguirre, the Wrath of God? The 7th Voyage of Sinbad? Uh, Deliverance? It very rarely ends well.

Latest case in point: Alejandro Inarritu’s sprawling survivalist epic, The Revenant. Once “they” get out of the boat, everything goes to hell in a hand basket; in this case, an authentic, hand-woven hand basket crafted by authentic First Nation peoples, in an authentic rustic setting. Inarritu’s film is not only steeped in gritty and authentic Old West verisimilitude, but tells its tale in real time. OK, I’m exaggerating-it’s only 3 hours.

The story is set in the early 19th Century, “somewhere” in the Rocky Mountain region of the Louisiana Purchase (I assume, as there are Frenchmen wearing fur hats lurking about). Leo DiCaprio stars as a crackerjack woodsman named Hugh. He and his half-Native American son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) have hired on as guides for a pelt-hunting expedition.

After the party is ambushed by Indians, Hugh leads the survivors into the deep woods. While temporarily separated from the party, Hugh is severely mauled by an actual “grizzly mom” (it is the film’s most harrowing scene, which is really saying a lot).

His compatriots find him, barely alive, and begin to carry him along. However, they soon find the terrain too daunting to navigate with a stretcher. Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), one of the more mercenary members of the party, suggests putting Hugh out of his misery so they can make tracks.

The party’s Captain (Domhnall Gleeson, son of Brendan) briefly considers the option, but decides to leave Hugh in the care of Hawk and a young volunteer named Jim Bridger (Will Poulter…playing who I can only assume is the Jim Bridger of legend, since the screenwriters take no pains to elucidate). One more man is needed, but the Captain has to first sweeten the pot with the offer of a reward. Guess who steps up? If you guessed our mercenary friend with dubious motivations, you are correct.

What ensues earns what I like to call my “3G” rating (Grueling, Grinding, and Gruesome). It’s a quasi-biblical, “to hell and back” tale of betrayal, suffering, fortitude and (drum roll please)…redemption. It’s also a bit of the aforementioned for the viewer, as he or she is required to channel the patience of Job while awaiting the redemption part.

Which reminds me of a funny story. Around halfway through, I had to excuse myself for a few minutes (hey-let’s see you try making it through a 3 hour flick with a 59 year-old prostate…and fellow sufferers be warned that the sights and sounds of babbling brooks, surging rivers and roiling rapids abound throughout).

Anyway, as I left the auditorium, I noted that the recovering but not yet fully ambulatory Leo was slowly, painfully, crawling through brambles. I go do my thing; when I return to my seat several minutes later, I note Leo is still slowly, painfully crawling through brambles. I whispered to my friend, “So I take it I didn’t miss anything?” He confirmed that my intuition was spot on.

While I stand by my conviction that the film would not have suffered from judicious trimming, it still has much to recommend it, particularly for fans of adventures like Black Robe, The New World, The Last of the Mohicans, Dances with Wolves, Never Cry Wolf, or The Naked Prey.

In context of its striking visual poetry, there is one film that must have inspired Inarritu and/or his cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, and that is Letter Never Sent, Mikhail Kalatozov’s tale about a squartet of Russian geologists who become trapped by a wildfire while diamond-hunting in Siberia. The 1960 film was breathtakingly photographed by Sergey Urusevskiy, also renowned for his work on Kalatozov’s The Cranes Are Flying and I Am Cuba (my review).

Like Urusevskiy, Lubezki fuses natural light wide-angle photography with classically composed long shots and audacious hand-held takes that make you scratch your head and wonder “how in the hell did the camera operator shoot that without running into a tree?!”

The director and screenwriter Mark L. Smith co-adapted their screenplay from Michael Punke’s 2002 book The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge. I didn’t realize until doing a little research after seeing the film that Hugh Glass was a real-life trapper and frontiersman (how I know who Jim Bridger is, yet have never heard of this guy…is one of life’s mysteries).

I also learned this is not the first film based on Glass’ exploits; that honor goes to a 1971 western called Man in the Wilderness, directed by Richard C. Sarfian (how I know and love Sarfian’s 1971 classic Vanishing Point, yet have never heard of his other 1971 film…is another of life’s mysteries).

What isn’t such a mystery are the 12 Oscar nominations, which include Best Actor and Supporting Actor for DiCaprio and Hardy. DiCaprio earns his statue for the al fresco dining alone (you’ll know when you see it). Hardy is perfect playing a character who could be an ancestor for those mountain men in Deliverance. And I can’t emphasize this enough: Never, never get outta the boat.

Gulch fiction: The Hateful Eight ***

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on January 2, 2016)

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*** OVERTURE***

(Hum your favorite Morricone song for 7 minutes…or check your email and come back)

Chapter One:

8 down, 2 to go.

Quentin Tarantino was the guest on a recent episode of AXS TV’s The Big Interview with Dan Rather. It was actually one of the more engaging and genuinely interesting interviews that I’ve seen to date with the iconoclastic writer-director (who is not shy about granting them and/or talking about himself ad nauseam-with minimal prompting).

One thing I learned was that Tarantino plans to make 10 films, and then he’s out. Apparently, this has been his plan all along; but it was news to me. Maybe he’s modeling himself after Kubrick? Then again, it’s likely that Mr. Kubrick didn’t plan to stop at 13 films; he had to stop there because he sort of…died. I’m sure it’s more along the lines of “going out on top”, which is understandable (especially if you’ve already made a bundle).

Q.T. also told Rather that once he is so sated, he wouldn’t necessarily retire from the creative arts altogether. More specifically, he expressed interest in writing for the stage. This would be a good move, I think, because he has a particular genius for penning great dialog; in fact I think it trumps his other filmmaking skills (formidable as they may be). He could handily become his generation’s David Mamet; he shares a similar gift for giddily profane pentameter (pair up Glengarry Glen Ross with Pulp Fiction sometime).

Chapter Two:

But for now

Which brings us to The Hateful Eight, which is (as the director helpfully annotates in the opening titles) “The 8th Film by Quentin Tarantino” (just in case we nod off during the Overture and are suddenly awakened in startled confusion by the first of many gunshots).

The director remains encamped in 19th Century America, moving a decade or so past the antebellum South tableau he employed in Django Unchained. The setting is a wintry Wyoming. A horseless, snow-bound bounty hunter named Major Marquis Warren (Samuel Jackson) flags down a stagecoach, chartered by another bounty hunter, who goes by the charming nickname of “The Hangman” (Kurt Russell, affecting an unabashed John Wayne impression throughout). Russell is transporting alleged murderess and bank robber Daisy Domergue (a scenery-chewing Jennifer Jason Leigh) to Red Rock. Russell warily takes the stranded Jackson aboard (along with his baggage-three outlaw corpses).

After picking up an additional straggler (Walton Goggins) down the trail a piece, a man claiming to be heading to Red Rock to assume duties as the new sheriff, the expanded party pulls into Minnie’s Haberdashery (sort of an old west Motel 6) to wait out a blizzard. Here they find a Whitman’s Sampler of western movie archetypes (Demian Bichir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen and Bruce Dern) who may or may not be there to simply round off the “8”. I can say no more except…the mystery is afoot (if it’s an inch).

***INTERMISSION***

(You can go pee now. What remains of this sophomoric review will be here, waiting.)

Chapter Three:

In conclusion

As usual, Tarantino does a cinematic mash-up, evoking (to name a few) Day of the Outlaw, Stagecoach, Rio Bravo (again),  Lifeboat, And Then There Were None, Green for Danger, The Petrified Forest, Ice Station Zebra and John Carpenter’s The Thing (if you see it, you’ll see it).

You may have heard the film was shot in 70mm. Veteran DP Robert Richardson (in his 5th collaboration with Tarantino) does a yeoman job with the format; but this expansive scope is an odd choice considering that most of the action is in a finite space, using claustrophobic staging (and the bulk of the exterior shots are of a blinding snowstorm!).

There’s a terrific 90-minute chamber piece buried somewhere in here, screaming to get out of this epic-length film (175 minutes, if you see the “roadshow” 70mm version replete with Overture, Intermission and Exit Music). In fact, it’s that patented snappy Tarantino patter I mentioned earlier that saves the day here; otherwise the film has that “déjà vu all over again” vibe that has unfortunately taken root since Inglourious Basterds.

Q.T.-you’ve done revenge. Here’s hoping 9 and 10 are less hateful and more thoughtful.

***EXIT MUSIC***

Blu-ray reissue: Day of Anger ***1/2

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on December 5, 2015)

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Day of Anger – Arrow Video Blu-ray

Just when I thought I had seen all the noteworthy spaghetti westerns…this obscurity came a hootin’ and a hollerin’ into my saloon recently (even self-proclaimed cineastes like myself miss a few). I’m not sure what was distracting me when this film came out in 1967 (aside from being 11 years old) but it’s quite the buried treasure, from director Tonio Valerii. Genre icon Lee Van Cleef stars as a cold-blooded gunfighter (what else?) who becomes a mentor to a street cleaner (Giuliano Gemma) Then what happens is, well, the best I can do for you is: Charly meets Shane. This is one blown western, baby! But it’s much smarter than you expect it to be. If you dig Leone, you’ll love it. Arrow Video’s Blu-ray features restored prints of both the Italian and (shorter) International versions. Extras include a 2008 interview with Valerii, and new interviews with his biographer Roberto Curti, as well as Day of Anger screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi.

Circle Q raunch: A Million Ways to Die in the West **1/2

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on June  7, 2014)

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Wild and woolly:  Seth MacFarlane in A Million Ways to Die in the West

In his new comedy, director-writer-producer-star Seth MacFarlane seems bound and determined to prove that not only are there (as its title suggests), A Million Ways to Die in the West, but that there are also at least a million ways to tell a dick joke. Not that there isn’t an appropriate time and a place to tell dick jokes; speaking as someone who used to get paid to tell dick jokes to hostile drunks, I won’t cast the first stone. And as a believer in the credo that “nothing is sacred” in comedy, I’d be the first to defend MacFarlane’s right to sacrifice good taste for the sake of a quick yuk. That being said, you should be forewarned: This is a film with something to offend everybody.

Setting his story in 1882 Arizona, MacFarlane casts himself as a neurotic sheep farmer named Albert, who is having relationship problems. After suffering the public humiliation of watching her man worm his way out of a gunfight with a rival rancher, Albert’s beloved Louise (Amanda Seyfried) has no choice but to break up with him (after all, “this is the American West in 1882”, as Albert reminds the audience throughout the film). So while Louise sets off to “work on herself”, Albert shares his romantic woes with his sympathetic friends Edward (Giovanni Ribisi), a dim-witted cobbler, and his fiancée Ruth (Sarah Silverman), a hooker who is “saving herself” for marriage (“After all, we’re devout Christians,” Ruth tells her frustrated beau).

It wouldn’t be a self-respecting Western parody if a Bad Guy Wearing Black didn’t show up right about now. Enter evil sidewinder Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson) and his gang. We know he’s a bad hombre, because he shoots a doddering prospector on “2”, after announcing that the draw will be on the count of “3” for dibs on the poor old feller’s gold (which he was going to steal anyway). Leatherwood’s beautiful wife Anna (Charlize Theron), while also a member of the gang, hints to be of a more compassionate nature, first showing obvious disgust at what has just happened and then rescuing the prospector’s dog before her trigger-happy husband plugs it too. Yes, Theron is an Outlaw with a Heart of Gold, expressly cast to become Albert’s new love interest (MacFarlane may stoop to any level of adolescent silliness to get laughs…but he’s not stupid).

While the film is far from a genre classic (especially when compared to its obvious touchstone, Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles) MacFarlane’s strategy of “let’s keep throwing gags against the wall and see how many  stick” hits the mark just enough times to keep it entertaining  (you’ll laugh, but you’ll hate yourself in the morning). Like the aforementioned Brooks film, MacFarlane assigns his characters anachronistic dialog and attitudes to imbibe it with detached irony.

This is how he “gets away” with some of the more P.C.-challenged gags, like a shooting gallery game called “Runaway Slave” (“Oh, that doesn’t seem right,” Albert says with a grimace…before taking aim). Or Anna’s tale of being forced into marriage with her husband at age 9 (“It’s OK. I didn’t want to be one of those 15 year-old spinsters.”). MacFarlane isn’t below pilfering from Harold and Kumar’s playbook, with a hilarious peyote trip sequence. He even borrows that franchise’s secret weapon, Neil Patrick Harris (stealing every scene as Albert’s romantic rival). As far as Western parodies go? I’ve seen worse. And there’s something inherently funny about sheep. Baa.

Blu-ray reissue: Red River ****

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on December 6, 2014)

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Red River– Criterion Collection Blu-ray (box set)

John Wayne and Montgomery Clift couldn’t have been more disparate in their respective approaches to acting, but it is precisely this “oil and water” dynamic that makes the relationship between their characters so compelling in Howard Hawks’ classic western. Wayne is perfect as a hard ass cattle rancher at loggerheads with his adopted son (Clift), who he feels is too “soft” and high-minded to be worthy of his legacy. It all comes to a head during a grueling, “make it or break it” cattle drive from Texas to Missouri, which turns into a sort of epic, land-locked version of Mutiny on the Bounty.

Outstanding direction, a smart script (by Borden Chase and Charles Schnee) and fabulous supporting performances from Walter Brennan, Coleen Gray and John Ireland (Ireland and Clift share a scene fraught with a surprising degree of homo-eroticism, especially considering that this was 1948). Criterion’s Blu-ray edition features the rarely seen original theatrical release (Hawks’ preferred cut). Oddly enough, it turns out that the version we’ve seen on home video and cable all these years was the preview version (also included), which runs several minutes longer due to sporadic inter-titles, which are replaced by Walter Brennan’s narration in the theatrical cut. Image quality is superb.

Deadwood meets Torchwood: Cowboys and Aliens **1/2

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on July 30, 2011)

Ah, summer. The high season of high concept films, pitched to the Hollywood higher-ups by people who are really, really, high. Hey now! Consider Cowboys and Aliens, the newest film from Iron Man director Jon “Vegas, baby, Vegas” Favreau. The title is the pitch. “Cowboys. Aliens. Daniel Craig. Harrison Ford.” And, BAM! Green-lighted. Done deal. It’s almost eloquent, in its masterful conceptual brevity.

In actuality, there have been precedents (mashing up the Old West with science-fiction).

The Valley of Gwangi is one film that springs to mind-a guilty pleasure from 1969 that featured cowpokes wranglin’ a purple stop-motion T. Rex (Barney with teeth!) for a Mexican circus. Gene Autry’s Phantom Empire movie serial dates all the way back to the 1930s, which has the Singing Cowboy mixing it up with robots and denizens hailing from the underground city of ‘Murania’ (Queen Tika!). Back to the Future, Part III would fit in that theme park. Westworld and The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension sort of count.

The film opens, appropriately enough, with a Mystery. Actually, it opens kind of like Hangover 3. A rangy 1870s gunslinger (Daniel Craig) wakes up in the middle of the Arizona desert with a cauterized wound, an empty holster, a non-removable, anachronistic hi-tech device affixed to his wrist…and amnesia. An absence of empty tequila bottles in the immediate vicinity would appear to indicate that there could be an interesting story behind all this.

He isn’t given much time to ponder, as he (Jake, we’ll call him) is soon set upon by some gamey ruffians with human scalps hanging from their saddles. Sizing up his wound and assuming his bracelet is a kind of shackle, the boys figure Jake might be worth reward money (not only do these fellers spout authentic Western gibberish, but they ain’t none too bright). Imagine their surprise when he instinctively springs into action and expertly takes ‘em all out, Jason Bourne style. So we (and Jake) have discovered one thing-he’s a badass.

Cut to the requisite “Man with No Name rides into dusty cow town” Leone homage scene (you thought they’d forgotten?). Meet our crusty yet benign saloon keeper (Sam Rockwell). Say “hey” to our crusty yet benign town sheriff (Keith Carradine…again). And I want to give a special shout out for the preacher man who ain’t afeared to handle a shootin’ iron (Clancy Brown, with his huge Lurch head). And no 1870s cow town would be complete without its resident posse of drunken asshole bullies, a whoopin’ and a hollerin’ and recklessly shootin’ up the place, led by the spoiled, arrogant son (Paul Dano) of the local cattle baron (Harrison Ford) who “owns” the town.

Daddy’s little angel makes a scene terrorizing the good townsfolk until Jake decides to take him down a notch. The situation escalates to a point where the sheriff has no choice but to arrest them both. Junior petulantly warns all that his Daddy will be very cross-and he’ll make ‘em all pay. Daddy does eventually ride in, and the whole powder keg is set to explode, when everyone gets sidetracked by an alien invasion (just in time, too-because the attack occurs as they are on the verge of runnin’ plumb out of wild West film clichés).

Despite the fact that I just saw the movie last night, I’ve already forgotten a lot of it. But I don’t think it really matters. I do remember lots of explosions and gooey strands of alien viscera hanging off the cacti like tinsel on a Christmas tree. Oh, and there’s something about a magic ring, and the end of the world (no, not really, I’m just checking to see if you’re still paying attention to this ridiculous film review).

If you really must pry (“I must! I must!”), I’ll say that what does ensue is basically a remake of The Searchers, with Harrison Ford’s character standing in for John Wayne, and alien abductors substituting for the Native American kidnappers in John Ford’s film. And there is the lovely Olivia Wilde, who plays the one person who could help Jake “remember” how he got into that bizarre state in the first place.

Is it worth seeing? That depends. If you’re a sci-fi “purist” you probably want to steer clear (too many potential tirade-inducing logic holes in the narrative). If you demand coherent story lines in your movies…you might not want to bother either (the film has six credited writers-‘nuff said). But if you’re in a popcorn mood, and ready for big, dumb, loud fun, with lots of action, serviceable special effects and a few decent chuckles-then you may want to take a peek (even if you don’t remember any of it the next day). Cowboys. Aliens. Daniel Craig. Harrison Ford…what more do you want?

Blu-ray reissue: Once Upon a Time in the West ****

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on July 2, 2011)

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Once Upon a Time in the West – Paramount Blu-ray

Although it is chockablock with classic “western” tropes, director Sergio Leone somehow manages to honor, parody, and transcend the genre all at once with this 1968 masterpiece. This is a textbook example of pure cinema, distilled to a crystalline perfection of mood, atmosphere and narrative.

At its heart, it’s a simple revenge tale, involving a headstrong widow (Claudia Cardinale) and an enigmatic “harmonica man” (Charles Bronson) who both have a bone to pick with a sociopathic gun for hire (Henry Fonda, cast against type as one of the most execrable villains in screen history). But there are bigger doings afoot-like building a railroad and winning the (mythic) American West. Also on board: Jason Robards, Jack Elam, Woody Strode and Keenan Wynn.

Dario Argento and Bernardo Bertolucci helped develop the story, and it wouldn’t be classic Leone without a rousing soundtrack by his longtime musical collaborator, Ennio Morricone (be advised you won’t be able to get the “Harmonica Man Theme” out of your head).

It goes without saying that the film is breathtaking in HD. Paramount’s Blu-ray includes both the theatrical and fully restored versions, and carries over all extras from the previous DVD edition.

In a rit of fealous jage: A tribute to Blake Edwards

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on December 18, 2010)

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When I heard that director Blake Edwards had died earlier this week, at 88, I felt like I had lost an old friend. I grew up watching his films. He dabbled in many genres, and was proficient in all, but especially adept at comedy. He was one of a handful of filmmakers who could sell me on slapstick; he had a knack for choreographing sequences of pratfalls (executed with balletic precision) that became funnier and funnier the longer they ran on. He was a superb screenwriter as well. Here are my top ten picks from the Blake Edwards oeuvre (37 feature films from 1955-1995), alphabetically:

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Breakfast at Tiffany’s-Edwards turned Truman Capote’s novel about a farm girl who moves to the Big Apple and reinvents herself as a Manhattan socialite into a damn near perfect film (Mickey Rooney’s unfortunate role as a  racial stereotype aside). Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard (both at the peak of their attractiveness) are a stunning screen couple. A funny, sophisticated, and bittersweet story, wonderfully directed, acted, written (George Axelrod adapted) and set to a great Henry Mancini score (it wasn’t the first time Edwards collaborated with the composer, and certainly not the last-they worked together on close to 30 films over several decades).

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Days of Wine and Roses-This shattering drama was jarring for its time (apparently prompting a rash of opening-week walkouts by Jack Lemmon fans expecting another comic role). The film still packs a wallop in its depiction of a couple (Lemmon and Lee Remick) and their descent into a co-dependent alcoholic hell. Lemmon and the frequently underrated Remick deliver their finest performances.

Everyone remembers the  “greenhouse scene”, but for me the most memorable moment arrives in the “padded room” scene, with a sweating, screaming, strait-jacketed Lemmon writhing in withdrawal. Call it “method” or whatever, but it remains one of the top examples of an actor completely “in the moment” ever captured on film. Henry Mancini won an Oscar for the lovely theme song.

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The Great Race– While this 1965 Edwards comedy-adventure about a turn-of-the-century New York to Paris auto race begins to overstay its welcome about 2/3 of the way through, after revisiting it recently, I have to say that the laughs have held up quite well. Clocking in at a whopping 160 minutes, it was released at a time when overblown, big-budgeted comedies with huge international casts were in vogue (especially in the wake of the mega-hit It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World in 1963). But what a cast-Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, Natalie Wood, Peter Falk and Keenan Wynn  (to name a few).

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The Party-Director Edwards and mercurial acting genius Peter Sellers paired up many times, but I think this 1968 gem is not only their best collaboration, but frame-for-frame, one of the all-time great screen comedies.

Sellers is Hrundi V. Bakshi, an Indian actor with a bit part in a Hollywood war epic who somehow manages to ruin an expensive day of shooting by (riotously) overplaying his death scene. The exasperated director calls for the actor’s head, and Bakshi’s name ends up on a studio exec’s hurriedly scribbled “to do” list. Through a comedy of errors, Bakshi’s name is instead added to a guest list for a party being organized by the executive’s wife. The bumbling (if well-meaning) Bakshi proceeds to make a riotous shambles of the event.

Sellers’ knack for physical comedy is right up there with the best of Chaplin and Keaton. A guitar-wielding Claudine Longet is also on board as the love interest, and purrs a jazzy number in one scene.

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S.O.B.-Whereas The Party was a relatively benign poke at Tinseltown, this 1981 dramedy offers a  more jaundiced view of the Hollywood machine, which has chewed up and spit out a producer (Richard Mulligan). He flips out after his latest film, a high-budget, G-rated musical starring his singer-actress wife (Julie Andrews) tanks with critics and flops at the box office.  Desperate to salvage it, he comes up with an idea to buy the film back from the studio, and “sex it up” by convincing his wife to re-shoot her part, including nude scenes, which would turn her “wholesome” image on its head.

Edwards’ screenplay is supposedly laced with autobiographical touches (as you may well  know, Edwards was married to a certain singer-actress…whose name rhymes with “Julie Andrews”). It’s Edwards’ most cynical film, but also quite funny. The great cast includes William Holden (sadly, his final role), Robert Vaughn, Robert Webber, Larry Hagman, Loretta Swit, and Shelly Winters. Robert Preston is priceless as a “Dr. Feelgood” MD. It’s worth the price of admission to hear a ‘luded-up Andrews utter her immortal line: “Oh…Hi, Polly! Come to see my boobies?”

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A Shot in the Dark-This second outing in the “Pink Panther” series is my favorite entry. The fact that the lovely Elke Sommer is in this film has no bearing on my appraisal. I wanted to make that clear. Okay, maybe it has a little bearing. Sommer is Maria Gambrelli, the maid who might have “dunnit”. That is, shot her rich employer’s limo driver. Or did she? It’s up to Inspector Jacques Clouseau (Peter Sellers) to figure that out, as more victims start dropping like flies.

There are so many great gags and classic exchanges in this one, including a memorable sequence in a nudist colony. Herbert Lom (who had previously co-starred with Sellers in several classic Ealing Studios comedies) introduces the character of Chief Inspector Dreyfus, who would become a fixture in subsequent sequels.

I feel this is the best one of the series because it strikes a perfect middle ground between the first film (which actually played it more sophisticated and fairly straight, as did Sellers) and the later films, which, while quite entertaining, became more and more far-fetched and cartoon-like as the franchise found more box office success.

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The Tamarind Seed-A largely forgotten, but absorbing and worthwhile Edwards film from 1974, this was his nod to cold war spy thrillers like From Russia With Love, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, The Deadly Affair and Hitchcock’s Torn Curtain (the latter film which, interestingly, also featured Julie Andrews). Andrews co-stars here with Omar Sharif. She is a British civil servant, he is a Russian spy, and, well, you can guess what happens next. And yes, it does create “conflicts of interest” for the lovers, which makes for intrigue and suspense, with a sultry Caribbean backdrop. Edwards adapted the screenplay from the novel by Evelyn Anthony. Unfortunately, there is no Region 1 DVD release; perhaps there will be now?

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10– Talk about a “perfect” storm-Blake Edwards’ writing and directing skills, Dudley Moore’s impeccable comic timing, and Bo Derek’s, erm, well…Bo Derek-ness. Moore is a 40-something L.A. songwriter with a devoted girlfriend (Julie Andrews) and a long time friend/songwriting partner (Robert Webber) who both dutifully warn him that they can see signs of a looming mid-life crisis. After spotting  a beautiful young woman (Derek), he becomes obsessed with her. Temporarily insane with unrequited lust, he decides to follow her (and her boyfriend) to Mexico, where they are headed for a holiday. Much middle aged craziness (and hilarity) ensues.

Moore is so dead-on funny that you don’t really stop to consider that his character can be seen as a creepy stalker at times. The narrative does take an interesting about-face about 2/3 of the way through, turning into an introspective and melancholic morality tale. It is vastly entertaining, however, with excellent performances by all. Brian Dennehy is a standout as a philosophical bartender.

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Victor/Victoria-A fluffy but entertaining rom-com starring (wait for it) Julie Andrews, who plays an underemployed, classically-trained soprano scraping by in 1930s Paris. She befriends another unemployed singer (Robert Preston), who was recently booted from his gig at a cabaret. He cooks up a scheme that he is convinced will get them both out of the poorhouse: He will be her manager, and she will pose as a “he”, who impersonates a “she” onstage. Get it? Genius! Are there complications? Of course there are-and that’s when the fun starts. James Garner and Lesley Ann Warren are wonderful. Henry Mancini is on board again with a great musical score. Triple-threat Andrews sings, acts and dances with her usual aplomb.

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Wild Rovers-Blake Edwards made a western? Yes, he did, and not a half-bad one at that. A world-weary cowhand (William Holden) convinces a younger (and somewhat dim) co-worker (Ryan O’Neal) that since it’s obvious that they’ll never really get ahead in their present profession, they should give bank robbery a shot. They get away with it, but then find themselves on the run, oddly, not so much from the law, but from their former employer (Karl Malden), who is mightily offended that anyone who worked for him would do such a thing. Episodic and leisurely paced, but ambles along quite agreeably, thanks to the charms of the two leads, and the beautiful, expansive photography by Philip Lathrop. Ripe for rediscovery.

10 more to explore: Operation Petticoat, Experiment in Terror, The Pink Panther, What Did You Do in the War, Daddy?, The Carey Treatment, The Return of the Pink Panther, The Pink Panther Strikes Again, Micki + Maude, Blind Date, Switch.