Monday, July 23, 2012


NIGHT WIND, the latest film from producer Felix Farmer (Richard Mulligan) has flopped. Badly. As an array of Hollywood players rally to recover their losses, Felix descends into suicidal gloom. But when Felix falls (literally) into an orgy that is happening in his home, he is revitalized by an epiphany: NIGHT WIND can be saved with the inclusion of graphic sex scenes. Now if he can convince his wife/leading lady/squeaky clean icon Sally Miles (Julie Andrews) to bare her breasts for it...

This film was a staple in the early days of HBO, and 11-year-old me watched it many, many times. It had achieved some notoriety as "that movie where we see Julie Andrews' breasts" which certainly wasn't lost on me, but as a nascent cinephile there was much to enjoy here. I was starting to understand what moviemakers did, and so I was always going to be interested in a movie ABOUT moviemaking. Especially when the moviemaker hero at its center was as crazy and fun to watch as Mulligan was.

Revisiting it now, for the first time in decades (thanks, Warner Archive), I wonder if I took the film's anger to heart. It's very much a vent (and a pointed stick) from writer/director Blake Edwards, and is both charged with wish fulfillment and fuelled by the kind of spite and specificity that only an insider could bring to bear. Though I did eventually get a degree in theatre and have since pursued storytelling in one way or another, I never, ever had any desire to make it big in Hollywood, and this film illustrates many of the reasons why. (The final scene, in which many of the film's players continue to network during a funeral, is insanely true to my recent experiences of Hollywood.)

But it's interesting as a transition from one decade to the next, evident mainly, but not solely, in its two takes on NIGHT WIND's dream sequence. The film is populated with veteran actors, many of them old hands (and Edwards mainstays) whom one suspects know exactly what real-life counterparts they're playing (Mulligan is clearly an id-unleashed stand-in for Edwards, and the parallels between Andrews and Miles are clear; Robert Vaughn recently admitted that his ruthless exec was modeled on Robert Evans). Among these veterans are young faces who would go on to fame later in the decade (I recognized Joe Penny, didn't recognize Roseanna Arquette, didn't even see Corbin Bernsen). As (charmingly gently) 80s-raunchy as the action often gets, there's a refreshing and intriguing old-school vibe to the thing, from Henry Mancini's score to the joyous third-act counterattack perpetrated by these three Musketeers:

But the transitions spoken of in this film carried to real life. William Holden (above left) died shortly after the film was completed. Roberts Preston (center) and Webber (right) continued to work (quite visibly in Preston's case, in VICTOR/VICTORIA and THE LAST STARFIGHTER), but neither of them would survive the decade. Until I watched the film recently my abiding memory of the film was always just these three guys sitting around, getting lit with Sinatra on the jukebox, rallying for one final hurrah. Even now they stand together as the film's conscience, and collectively make its most joyfully indelible impression. Here's to the old school.

1 comment:

  1. like you, I saw this on HBO in the early eighties, and walked away from it with a newly-articulated appreciation for the "tortured artist syndrome", if you will...and was moved by the gesture of the three gents at the bar - and can't help drawing parallels to the Gram Parsons Joshua Tree incident in my head.

    I think Richard Mulligan was one of the great comic actors of our time, even if there was a thread that ran through all his characters, whether here, on SOAP, or in Teachers or any number of other comedy roles he took on.

    thanks for your appreciation of one of my all time, top five favorite movies. :)