The death of Blake Edwards at the end of 2010, more than fifteen years after his last film work, was a reminder of a gaudy and maddening career which had been in a state of collapse for over a decade before it finished; and also of an undoubted auteur who needed to be rescued from his admirers. Edwards was never a great director; there is far too much mediocrity in his filmography (and from its earliest days) for him to be regarded as the major figure of his devotees’ wild claims. But he was occasionally such a good one that one can’t but wonder quite why he floundered so often, especially as his failures are mostly quite as clearly signed as his successes.
This consistency of authorship, coupled with such baffling inconsistency of quality, led to a most curious situation, whereby Edwards’s defenders showed a marked tendency to praise him for his defects as much as his virtues, even saying they were the same thing, and not merely to praise quite minor films in extravagant terms, but even to suggest that the reasons why so many of his films were trivial were the very reasons why we should admire them the more. At the same time, his best films were often undervalued. It was a preposterous situation. Perhaps now it can be challenged.
Why should we admire Edwards? Well, according to Andrew Sarris in The American Cinema, it’s because of the inherent nastiness of his flamboyance (Edwards “has got some of his biggest laughs out of jokes that are too gruesome for most horror films”) and because “the world he celebrates is cold, heartless and inhuman, but the people in it manage to preserve a marginal integrity and individuality.” Hmm… But why should any artist celebrate cold, heartless inhumanity? Sarris is quoted by perhaps the most vociferous of Edwards’s champions, William Luhr and Peter Lehman, not only in a lengthy article in The Velvet Light Trap in 1974, but later in a full-length book. They also define Edwards’s worldview, as they see it: “Concepts of justice simply have no relevance. Those with charm and skill succeed; those without do not, and frequently suffer grossly. ”