Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Blake Edwards: That’s Life!

Cattlemen Karl Malden, Charles Grey and William C. Bryant (rear) go gunning for sheepherders – and maybe a few MGM suits – in Wild Rovers.
Screenwriter/producer/director Blake Edwards, who died December 15 at age 88, was known as much for his battles with studio executives as he was for the movies he made.

His feud with MGM began with the 1971 western Wild Rovers, which photographed scenes at Sedona, Flagstaff, Monument Valley and 46 other Arizona locations. Edwards maintained that he conceived the film as a “classic Greek tragedy,” but after the studio arbitrarily chopped 40 minutes from his cut, it left nothing, he lamented, but a prototypical cowboy movie.

“There was no discussion; an integral part was simply removed” Edwards griped to The New York Times in 1972. “If I take a chair and remove one leg, you still have a chair,” he said to rationalize his anger with the tampering, “but it won’t stand up, will it?”

Blake Edwards
Ten years later, Edwards was still steaming over the way Wild Rovers was manhandled by MGM, telling Playboy magazine in 1982, “I’d survived what was done to Darling Lili, but what happened to Wild Rovers really broke my heart, because that was the first time I began wanting to say something in the same way that 10, S.O.B. and Victor/Victoria would all become personal statements. Up until then, if somebody wanted a TV show about a slick private eye, I’d come up with a Peter Gunn or a Mr. Lucky. And if somebody wanted a movie director whose work had a certain gloss or sophistication, he’d get me to do films such as Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Operation Petticoat. I’d never consciously tried to do anything different until I wrote this tragedy about two cowboys who stick up a bank and are eventually hunted down and shot to death. William Holden and Ryan O’Neal played those roles, and we went out and made a very fine movie –– and then James Aubrey, who’d just become head of MGM, personally destroyed it. Aubrey took about a two-and-a-half-hour film  and cut out something like 40 minutes by changing the ending and a lot of the relationships. The sad part of the whole thing was that we all enjoyed making it, and I’d become convinced I was back on the road to having autonomy on my films and to making good money again.”

But Edwards had the last laugh on MGM. Most of Wild Rovers’ deleted footage was restored for the film’s 1986 home video release, which resulted in a critical reevaluation of the film’s many merits. Unfortunately, Edwards’ cut of Wild Rovers, which can be seen occasionally on Turner Classic Movies, has yet to be released on DVD.––Joe McNeill

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