Wednesday, November 24, 2010

10 (1979)

Directed by Blake Edwards
Starring Dudley Moore, Julie Andrews, Bo Derek
Rated R

In 1979, this poster -- and the buzz surrounding the film it advertised -- fairly mesmerized moviegoers catching a glimpse of it in the theater hallway on their way to or from other features. Especially if you happen to be around the age of its title, as was the case for your humble reviewer.

It was a time when “Rated R” meant something, promising all sorts of then-forbidden delights -- most particularly to those of us not yet old enough to be permitted without parent or guardian. Ubiquitous ads featuring the soon-to-be-iconic image of model-turned-actress Bo Derek’s slo-mo beach run only added to the intrigue.

When I did eventually see the Blake Edwards-directed comedy a couple of years later (on VHS, natch), I was still many years away from its middle-aged target audience. Nevertheless, I was able to follow the film’s somewhat simple message that reality never quite lives up to our dreams.

Such is the lesson learned by the film’s central protagonist, George Webber (Dudley Moore). And probably by most of those in the audience, too, many of whom probably felt afterwards like they had been suckered in a little by that poster.

The story opens on George’s well-attended surprise birthday party. We soon learn he’s a very successful and famous songwriter with a number of Broadway productions to his credit. He’s in a relationship with Samantha Taylor (Julie Andrews), a singer-performer who has recorded songs penned by George and his gay songwriting partner, Hugh (Robert Webber).

George, we learn, has just turned 42 (a couple of years older than Sam). A brief, semi-drunken, kinda-clichéd conversation with her reveals that despite possessing fame, fortune, and her affection, George is nonetheless deeply mired in a midlife-crisis-type funk.

The next morning, George and Hugh work on a song, then George heads back to his mansion in his fancy, cream-colored Rolls Royce while listening to his girlfriend on the car’s 8-track. Anybody else remember those?

As he drives, George is further distracted by ladies jogging in the California sun. Then, in a scene lifted from American Graffiti, at a stoplight George catches a fleeting glimpse of a goddess in a neighboring vehicle. It’s a bride, on her way to her wedding, and we recognize her from the ads as the beautiful Bo.

She locks eyes with George for a moment...

...which causes George impetuously to follow her car to the church where her wedding is about to take place.

That he manages in his distracted state to wreck the Rolls is hardly surprising. The fact that he smashes head-on with a police car only adds to the fun, the first of numerous stapstick-like moments in the movie that remind us of director Edwards’ Pink Panther pedigree.

After being ticketed, George parks it and goes to eavesdrop on the wedding between the girl -- Jenny -- and David (Sam Jones, soon to become better known as the star of the following year’s Flash Gordon). While watching from afar, a bee tries to nest in George’s schnoz, causing the scene to end loudly and painfully for him.

As Jim Ether might say, it looks as though we've gotten ourselves involved in a bee-movie here. (Rim shot.)

At dinner that night, Sam believes George’s story that a bee flew in the car, causing the accident. But she can tell something is wrong, and asks him to explain the “strange vibrations” he’s giving off. He remains non-communicative, however, preferring instead to use his telescope to spy on the nonstop orgy happening over at his swinging neighbor’s pad.

George and Sam end up having a heated conversation about George's peeping at his neighbor's impressive "stable" of "broads" (as George describes them). Their debate devolves into an academic -- and more than a little tedious -- argument over the term "broad" during which George even gets out a dictionary.

You know things aren’t going well in your movie about girls when characters start reading from dictionaries. Unless it's House on Bare Mountain we're talking about, which contains some of the best dictionary-reading scenes in cinematic history.

The truth is, the movie really seems more like a play than a film, here. Not only is it very talky, but it is hard not to watch without thinking of Moore and Andrews -- both obviously capable, talented actors -- as “Acting” (with a capital “A”), rather than the characters really arguing/interacting/living.

In other words, it’s become clear it might be awhile before we get to see Bo running on the beach like in the ads. But we persevere.

Their squabble ends with Sam leaving in a huff. Their conflict goes unresolved over the next lengthy stretch thanks to a more-ponderous-than-humorous game of phone tag between the two. Meanwhile, George acts curmudgeonly with Hugh, then goes to see his psychiatrist.

George tries to tell his shrink about what he felt upon seeing the girl -- Jenny -- not just a perfect “10,” but an “11,” according to George.

“You're becoming obsessed with the ugliness of old age" says the shrink, somewhat judgmentally.

The shrink could be right. In any case, it is certain George is also obsessed with Jenny, and so goes back to the church and meets the preacher who performed the ceremony in an effort to find out more about her.

He gets her full name, but not until after having to endure a sorta-funny scene that includes the reverend (Max Showalter) forcing the famous songwriter to hear one of his compositions. There’s also an elderly housekeeper in there who has uncontrollable flatulence.

Again, the goofy stuff kinda comes and goes, which mitigates the tedium somewhat although tends to make the whole film seem uneven.

George also learns from the preacher that Jenny’s father is a dentist and so he schedules an appointment.

From the dentist George eventually learns of Jenny's honeymoon destination in Mexico. More silly novocaine-painkiller-and-booze-related hijinks ensue, culminating in George finally getting to party down a little at his neighbors’.

Unfortunately for George -- as he sees to his horror through his neighbor's telescope -- Sam spies him in the middle of his good time.

The divide between the two deepens, further encouraging George to continue down this reckless path. He moves headlong into a full-blown drunken bender -- Moore is kind of prepping for 1981’s Arthur here, it seems -- which ultimately carries him all of the way to Mexico in search of the lovely Jenny.

We’re over an hour into the sucker when George arrives in Mexico where he soon develops a sloppy friendship with the hotel’s bartender, Don (Brian Dennehy). George ends up talking to Sam via phone at the bar, when Jenny and her new hubby, David, arrive.

That conversation ends with Sam telling George to “piss off.” In response, George gets further pissed. Eventually he meets another woman, Mary (Dee Wallace), and they end up back in his room. When George has trouble closing the deal with Mary, it only increases both characters’ self-loathing.

Finally... finally... George goes to the beach, donning an unbecoming, uncomfortable gray sweatsuit. There he steals looks at the dizzying spectacle that is Jenny...

Here is where George also has the daydream from which comes the iconic image of Derek running on the beach, a scene subsequently spoofed many times over, though which itself is pretty funny with the dumpy George filling the role of romantic hero -- a spoof in its own right of other From Here to Eternity-type scenes of beach romance.

However -- somewhat improbably -- George does turn “hero” when he rescues Jenny’s husband after he falls asleep on his surfboard and dangerously drifts out to sea. This in turn leads to George actually, incredibly succeeding in his quest to meet and get closer to Jenny.

Will leave further details aside, other than to say that while we do get to see more of Derek, it’s up for debate whether or not it was worth the wait. And to note that what follows would aggressively insert Ravel’s “Bolero” into pop culture’s collective consciousness right along with Derek’s beaded cornrows.

As I say above, even as a younger viewer the movie’s not-too-subtle message about reality never quite matching fantasy was clear enough. Indeed, a line near the end by George’s swinging neighbor (played by Don Calfa) seems to suggest that Edwards had an idea that his audience might be feeling similarly let down after two hours of this. Looking through his telescope at George, his neighbor complains that he’s “been providing X-rated entertainment” for a long time, while George has only “been providing PG! It’s an iniquitous arrangement!”

For youngsters in the late ’70s, then, 10 hardly lived up to the promise of forbidden delights as delivered via posters, ads, or videocassette boxes.

Such would again prove the case with Tarzan, the Ape Man (1981) and Bolero (1984), a couple of other popular (and R-rated) teaser-titles starring Derek.

As an older viewer, I still can’t really say I enjoy 10 all that much, even if certain critics insist on championing the film as one of Edwards’ best.

Putting aside its general failure to stimulate in other ways, intellectually-speaking I can’t help but find the movie's messages too obvious and the whole production too scattered to be consistently enjoyable. And as far as George goes, while it made sense for me not to have been able to identify with him back when I first saw the film, I still can’t really relate that much to the Rolls Royce-driving bumbler today either, despite now being closer to the character’s age.

Still a good poster, though.

- Triple S

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