Blake Edwards | Bring Your Smile Along | High Time | The Notorious Landlady | A Shot in the Dark | The Great Race | What Did You Do in the War, Daddy? | The Pink Panther Strikes Again | Switch | Son of the Pink Panther
Classic Film and Television Home Page
The cast of Bring Your Smile Along has considerable appeal. Constance Towers only made a handful of feature films, but two each were with the great directors John Ford and Samuel Fuller. So her career is full of magical moments on film. She also appeared in the above average 1980's TV soap opera Capitol, one of the bouncier soaps of that era. Bring Your Smile Along also has two stars of its period, singer Frankie Laine and Keefe Brasselle. Both were well known in the 1950's, and appeared especially on television, but both are much more obscure today. Their charming performances here could make them much better known, if only this film were shown more.
Bring Your Smile Along opens and closes at a school dance. The academic setting of these scenes anticipates High Time. The two roommates who are the leading men of Bring Your Smile Along, also anticipate Bing Crosby and his roommates in High Time. The two films also share a tone: wholesome, generally realistic, modestly middle class characters and settings in the contemporary USA.
The secretary who is good at massage, anticipates Debbie Reynolds' comic experiments with the same in This Happy Feeling.
Bring Your Smile Along has attitudes towards creativity that are representative of its era. It views composing music, writing lyrics and singing as jobs for skilled, talented professionals. It admires people who can perform these tasks. The three leads are shown working hard at their jobs, and having a positive, constructive attitude towards their work.
The one hero tells the other hero that he loves him. It is expressed in a comic style, and can be read as simply as an expression of friendship. It also can be seen as something gay. Since both men go on to have girlfriends, it is unclear if a gay interpretation is consistently supported by the film.
The heroine of Bring Your Smile Along is having trouble choosing between career and marriage. She also has trouble articulating any of her feelings, thus understandably upsetting and confusing her boyfriends. Later Edwards films will benefit greatly from explicit women's lib and gay lib ideas, giving the characters concrete issues to discuss. The conflicts of the heroine of Bring Your Smile Along are probably real. But neither the heroine nor the film succeeds in explaining exactly what they are.
There are signs of influence here from All That Heaven Allows (Douglas Sirk, 1956). Both films concern middle-aged people who try to develop renewed lives for themselves, over the objections of their grown children. Both characters do the socially unconventional. Both nearly lose their chance for a second marriage due to the machinations of their kids.
Unlike the earlier Sirk film, the machinations here lead to actual social protest. One of the main characters is a student from India, and he leads a massive student protest against the events, that is explicitly tied in the dialogue to Gandhi. These scenes were made long before the anti-Vietnam War rallies led people to associate students and protests. They form an example, along with the suffragette protests in The Great Race, of Edwards' interest in non-violence.
As in other Edwards films, there is much about gender. A male and female college student wear matching his-and-hers sweaters, a visually striking sign of androgyny. Later, the hero will be forced into wearing drag, as part of a fraternity initiation. Both the hero and the heroine cook, in key scenes.
The hero and heroine are often alone in large, gracious spaces: her house, or the plaza where they meet after the summer. By contrast, the dorm room the hero shares with his roommates is often cramped.
Edwards often shoots rooms frontally, especially in their opening shots. This gives a geometric, rectilinear quality to the images. All aspects of the room, their walls, doors, and furniture, and see straight-on, making a series of rectangular regions on the screen. These often make complex, visually pleasing compositions. The various kinds of furniture often have an almost "still life" kind of feel.
A Shot in the Dark (1964) is the film that coalesces all the key ideas of the Pink Panther series. In many ways, it is the genuine start of this comedy series.
Inspector Clouseau here has an assistant, Kato. Such teams are common in Edwards' comedies: see Dr. Fate and his assistant Max in The Great Race, and the James Garner and Alex Karras characters in Victor/Victoria.
Edwards will later include a Cambodian dance troupe in Mickie and Maude (1984). These later scenes have a political dimension. By including this troupe in his film, and presumably giving them a substantial Hollywood fee, Edwards is contributing to the survival of classical Cambodian dance as an art form, after the horrors of the Khmer Rouge. These early scenes in A Shot in the Dark have no such political dimension, and are more purely comic. However, they too are genuine tributes to the beauty of world dance. The Flamenco dance sequence is especially rich. It is one of the best Flamenco scenes on film before Carlos Saura's Flamenco (1995).
By contrast, the mansion in the film is strictly rectilinear in its interior. The spaces wherein action is played out are strongly emphasized by Edwards as part of his visual style. The shot that introduces the characters in the finale is also strongly rectilinear. They are all standing, forming a visually fascinating geometric pattern on screen. Each is either parallel or at a right angle to the main plane of the shot. Soon, Edwards introduces a reverse angle, showing the scene from a 180 degree turn. Here, too, each player is either parallel or perpendicular to the plane of the image. In both shots, Edwards has arranged the actors so that each one is clearly visible, and no one overlaps the others.
Soon, Edwards has everyone sit down. He pans his camera to get a better view of the seated. Here too, the shot makes a beautiful formal pattern. Each seated actor is clearly and distinctly shown, with no overlap. The paths that each character takes from standing to sitting are also an important part of this shot. Later, much of the comedy of this scene will involve Clouseau walking around this region. His path, and the earlier paths of the characters, are all clearly mapped out by Edwards, as part of the visual style of the scene.
The finale of this film parodies scenes where the detective gathers the suspects and recreates the crime. The earliest examples of this known to me occur in Arthur B. Reeve's prose mystery stories, such as The Silent Bullet (1911). Edwards has a field day here burlesquing conventions. These scenes too have an experimental quality: they too make viewers conscious of the mechanisms of story-telling underlying the story. I especially enjoyed the scene where Edwards cuts to each character in turn, making them look suspicious by having them shift their eyes. Such a scene is de rigueur in any 1930's Hollywood whodunit, summarizing all the suspects in the finale. Edwards has exaggerated the eye-rolling mechanism here, just enough so that the audience is in on the gag. Once again, a story-telling mechanism is made explicit, for both comic and avant-garde effect. These scenes anticipate the gleaming teeth and eyes of hero Tony Curtis in The Great Race (1965). The use of cutting is this sequence also exactly echoes the way such scenes always employed cutting between the suspects in traditional mystery movies. A piece of film making grammar is here made explicit for the audience.
One common shot here shows a character in middle view, smack in the center of the widescreen frame. No other characters will be in this shot. Instead, we get a detailed view of the ornate interior of the French chateau. The overall geometry of the scene has been created to give each character an isolated region of space. Only at the very end of the scene will all the characters once more move together, and join in unified shots.
Edwards uses both long take sequences and cutting in his finale. The alternation of the two approaches creates a strange rhythm. The long takes tend to involve sustained bits of comic business: one involves Clouseau and his assistant attempting to synchronize their watches; another a scene where Clouseau upsets the glasses on a tray on the table. Stylistically the most remarkable occurs when the identity of the criminals finally come to light. Edwards had tended up to this point to show the suspects in separate images. Here they all come together in one sustained long shot. The unity of this scene, with the actors united in one long take, seems like a reversal of previous ideas. It unites all the separate shots of before, putting them together into a single entity. It makes an admirable formal climax to the scene. It reminds one of the famous ending of Alain Resnais' Muriel (1963), where the fragmented view of the apartment is united in a sustained moving camera shot for the first time. Edwards achieves a similar formal pattern of film making. Just as in music, certain chords can pull together and resolve the harmonious material that has gone before, so in film can long takes have a similar purely formal effect, summarizing and making one and whole a series of previous shots.
The hero and the heroine have somewhat parallel struggles at the beginning of the film. The hero has to sell his ideas to the automobile company; the heroine has to sell her mission to the newspaper. Both are somewhat outsiders in conventional society, although the hero's pose as a confident man of the world disguises this somewhat.
The scene in which the hero and heroine snuggle under the blanket in the snowstorm recurs, in verbally discussed form, in Son of the Pink Panther. There, it led to the birth of Clouseau's son. There is also the blanket on the bed scene in Return of the Pink Panther.
The alcoholic prince here played by Jack Lemmon, recalls Lemmon's earlier, non-comic turn as an alcoholic in Days of Wine and Roses. These scenes spoof The Prisoner of Zenda. And Ross Martin's villain is his second appearance as a villain in an Edwards film, after Experiment in Terror.
Meanwhile, the villains' mechanical devices are full of traditional phallic symbols: the cannon, the cross-bow, elaborately painted nose cones on the torpedo and railroad car, the conical heating device on the car. The tall hats worn by the villains are also in this tradition.
This film is one of the most vigorous looks at the suffragette movement and woman's rights in the history of the cinema. In fact, it is hard to think of another mainstream movie that takes such an in-depth look at the turn of the century woman's movement. This is consistent with the later feminist elements in such Edwards films as 10.
What Did You Do in the War, Daddy? (1966) is a farce, set in Italy during World War II. It is Blake Edwards' masterpiece. Edwards has made many terrific movies. However, this one is the largest in scale he ever created. It has a hugely complex plot. The story has the forward propulsion of Edwards' previous work, The Great Race (1965), and its richly colorful characters.
The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976) contains many echoes of earlier Edwards films. The comic villain played by Inspector Dreyfuss wears black, has a huge sinister mansion, and plays Bach on the organ, just like the hilarious Dr. Fate in The Great Race. A helicopter shot over the countryside recalls all the aerial scenes with Dr. Fate, as well. The butler in drag is coifed in a style similar to Bing Crosby, when he was in drag for his fraternity initiation in High Time, and he uses the feathered fringe of his gown in a way similar to Dorothy Provine's feather boa humor in The Great Race. The huge fight that breaks out at the Queen of Hearts club recalls the definitive bar room brawl in The Great Race, as well. The scene with the assembled servants at the mansion recalls the finale of A Shot in the Dark, and the whole film's characters and concept are patterned after that movie, being Edwards' first outing with the Pink Panther since that time.
Switch (1991) is Blake Edwards' best film in years. It is his first script as writer, too, in some time. Edwards has done a lot of dramas in recent years, and his dramatic skills are just nowhere as good as his magnificent comic skills. Edwards' dramas make interesting points on sex roles, and also show some good visual style, but on the whole are uninspired. Even in his dramas the best scenes are those of comedy relief. By contrast, Edwards' comedies are real works of art, and make his points with far greater insight, complexity and depth, as well. His best films of the last decade were S.O.B., Victor/Victoria, That's Life!, Blind Date and now Switch. Switch is most similar to Victor/Victoria in that it deals with gender roles.
In their book on Edwards, Returning to the Scene: Blake Edwards (1989), William Luhr and Peter Lehman point out that all of Edwards' recent movies break genre conventions of the movies. Although at first Switch seems like a cross between such standard genres as the "Film Fantasy" and the "Sex Comedy", Switch breaks several conventions of both. For one thing, fantasies usually have no permanent real world consequences to their magic. At the end of Vice Versa (1988), for instance, father and son have changed places back to their normal selves without anyone else being the wiser. They have gained insight into each other's lives, but the structure of reality is restored. Similarly, at the end of Honey I Shrunk the Kids, everyone is normal sized again. This fantasy convention goes back at least to Hawthorne. It has some functions. For one thing, it makes the fantasy seem dream-like. When we wake up after a dream, reality is restored. It is a common human experience, and fantasy films and stories echo it. Secondly, it allows the fantasy to be seen ambiguously as a delusion of the character undergoing it. Did Young Goodman Brown (in Hawthorne's tale) really see the witches in the forest, or did he just have a hallucination that reflects his Puritan character? Virtually all of Hawthorne's tales can be given two meanings in this way, and so can much subsequent fantasy literature and film. (A whole academic industry has grown up around Henry James' ambiguities in "The Turn of the Screw", as if he were the only author who wrote fantasies that could be read two ways. Everybody has, including his master Hawthorne. Get with it, academic critics!) A third, and most disturbing aspect of this restoration of reality convention, is the right wing one. It suggests that although human imagination is powerful, it has no permanent impact on reality. This is an attack on both imagination and the possibility for social change. (One of the few tales that does involve permanent change at the end is one of my favorite comic book stories, Leo Dorfman's "The Amazing Story of Superman-Red and Superman-Blue" (Superman #162, July 1963). Here Superman is split into two people; they work together to effect an Utopian transformation of Earth. This tale shows remarkable imagination and logic). But most fantasy tales accept this convention, and all it so nauseatingly implies about the moral perfection of everything in modern society.
Switch, on the other hand, completely undercuts this is in the most forceful way. The hero is not restored to his male body at the end. The world is permanently affected, too! (I do not want to give away plot details here.) The effect is most unusual, and helps underscore Edwards' moral points.
Edwards also undercuts many of the moral conventions on which sex farce rests. He does not accept the conventional sexual morality traditional in the past, and much of the plot involves his hero/heroine's growth towards new moral and emotional ideals.
Son of the Pink Panther (1993) is Edwards' most recent film. This film is awfully sweet. Anyone with fond memories of Edwards' films will probably enjoy this reunion movie. My favorite scene is the return of Kato. My brother used to hide in our room and jump out at me when I entered, in the tradition of Kato, when we were kids.
Edwards' new film celebrates family. The hero's wonderful mother, played by an ageless Claudia Cardinale, is one of the principal characters in the film. She eventually hooks up with Inspector Dreyfuss, making Clouseau and Dreyfuss related. The family feelings here are very deep and beautiful, and oddly recall that greatest of pro-family movies, The Tree of Wooden Clogs.
Comedy is a matter of personal taste. I always deeply enjoyed both Blake Edwards and Roberto Begnini, and seeing them work together is a treat. A recent TV re-viewing of this film had me giggling uncontrollably. The film is full of delightful slapstick set pieces.