My never-ending search for cool cinematic trash has led me, perhaps inevitably, to Blake Edwards’ “10”.
Some people may object that 10 cannot possibly be a cult movie. It was a major studio release and was a huge mainstream box-office hit in 1979. It was a multiplex movie, not a drive-in or a grind-house or an art-house movie. But times change. Blake Edwards is no longer fashionable, Dudley Moore has passed away, Bo Derek is forgotten. And 10 is not the sort of movie that the film school crowd is ever going to hail as a neglected masterpiece from the past. That leaves the movie to the cult movie fans.
This is actually a very strange mixture of a movie, which is in some ways typical of Blake Edwards. He spent much of his career making very commercial movies, but he always had ambitions to do more interesting things, and his filmography is littered with odd quirky movies that were hated by both the critics and the cinema-going public but that are often strangely rewarding (films like Darling Lili). His problem seems to have been that his more offbeat projects were done in a style that was too glossy and commercial to satisfy the art-film crowd but they were too disturbingly subversive of the conventions of mainstream cinema to please mainstream audiences.
“10” is typical of these more personal projects. It’s a mid-life crisis sex comedy. Dudley Moore is George Webber, a rich and famous composer with a classy girlfriend (a successful singer played by Blake Edwards’ real-life wife Julie Andrews). He has everything anyone could want, but there’s one fly in the ointment. He’s just hit middle age, and he’s not dealing with it at all. He should be settling down with his equally middle-aged girlfriend, but he lives in LA, and LA is full of hot young women. And he wants those hot young women. He’s obsessed by them.
One of his hobbies is using his telescope. But he doesn’t use it to study heavenly bodies. Or rather he does use it to study heavenly bodies, but not the kind you find in the sky. He’s more interested in the heavenly bodies who all seem to be having sex with his neighbour. How does this rather nerdy neighbour get so many hot young women? This is a question with which he is increasingly obsessed.
It all comes to a head one day when he pulls up at a stop sign next to a wedding limousine, and spots the most gorgeous woman he has ever seen (Jenny, played by Bo Derek). He is accustomed to rating the women he sees on the streets in a scale of 1 to 10, and as he tells his psychiatrist, this woman is definitely an 11! But she’s on her way to get married.
George becomes obsessed, and follows this woman on her honeymoon to Mexico. While in Mexico he does something completely out of character. He saves the life of this mysterious woman’s husband. While the husband is recovering in hospital he takes the wife out to dinner. After dinner she tells him she really likes to make love while listening to Ravel’s Bolero. And just in case he hadn’t got the hint yet, she immediately puts Ravel’s Bolero on the turntable. Now he has what he so desperately wanted - he has this gorgeous woman in bed with him, and she’s keen to make love. At this moment it suddenly occurs to him - is this really what he wanted after all? He realises he’s about to make love to a woman with whom he he has nothing in common, and apart from his sexual obsession with her he doesn’t even even really like her.
This is a movie that has definite elements of 1970s camp. It has some undeniably trashy moments. But despite all that, it doesn’t qualify as a so-bad-it’s-good movie. It’s a movie that tries to combine comedy with some serious look at relationships and sex, and despite a few crass moments it mostly succeeds. It’s also a movie that tries to be a sex comedy with a serious edge, and again it rather surprisingly succeeds. It grapples with grownup subject matter, from voyeurism to impotence, and it does so with a unexpected degree of intelligence and sensitivity.
The movie’s biggest asset is, surprisingly, Dudley Moore. He gives a subtle and a very sympathetic performance. He’s clownish without being annoying, and he handles the more serious emotional moments remarkably well. You have to feel sorry for Julie Andrews. She tried so hard to break away from her Mary Poppins image, but found herself in a succession of box-office bombs. Then when she finally had a lead role in a bona fide box-office smash hit (in this film) it was Bo Derek who got all the attention, even though Julie Andrews was rely the female lead. And she’s actually pretty good. As for Bo Derek, while it’s not an especially demanding role she does reasonably well. Brian Dennehy is very good in a minor role as the bartender at the Mexican resort hotel.
Since the movie is basically a comedy, the crucial question is - is it actually funny? The answer to that question is a resounding yes. What’s even more pleasing is that the humour is mostly very good-natured. While the hour is an odd mix of the juvenile and the sophisticated, it’s never gratuitously cruel.
As a cult movie “10”’s problem is perhaps that it’s not actually a bad movie. Despite some campy trashy moments it’s a disturbingly honest look at the male mid-life crisis. But it’s been steadfastly ignored by the film school brigade, and it’s a movie that has an undeniable charm. It’s a much better movie than its reputation would suggest, and it’s certainly worth a look.