"Whenever Mrs Kissel breaks wind, we beat the dog."
It may not be the funniest ever line in a movie, but it was so close, it made me spit out my blackcurrant cordial. The sad and often comical mid-life crisis of composer George Webber, directed by Blake Edwards, cemented Dudley Moore as a true Hollywood star, from beginnings that were far less solubrious. Edwards was already a major force in Hollywood and in particular, comedy.
He had been responsible for most of Peter Sellers work in the mid-seventies, with the entire Pink Panther series coming under his direction and enviable scripting skills. He was, of course, married to Julie Andrews (his second wife, who plays the part of George's long suffering girlfriend, Samantha, here) from 1969 until his death in 2010.
10 did not only make an actual star out of the already popular Moore, but newcomer Bo Derek also shot to fame on the back of her performance. The scene in the film where she is running along a beach in a swimsuit has become an iconic moment in cinema and has often been copied and parodied. To call her a newcomer, however, would be a lie, as she had already appeared in two other motion pictures. She starred in husband John Derek's Fantasies in 1973, but credited as Kathleen Collins and Orca in 1977, a project that attempted to take advantage of the popularity of Steven Spielberg's Jaws which had been released a couple of years earlier.
And all of this nearly never happened. Initially, during pre-production, George Segal and Shirley MacLaine were set to play the parts of George and Samantha. When George Segal dropped out, the part was offered to Dudley Moore and Samantha's part was also refitted, casting Julie Andrews. The part of Jenny, that was to become Derek's was initially offered to a young Melanie Griffith, but she turned it down. It was only then that a relative newcomer was decided upon, at which point Derek was cast as the corn rolled, blue-eyed '11' that George Webber becomes so besotted with.
And who could blame poor old George? Lost and disillusioned with his life, mostly single, rich and successful with a house in the Hollywood hills, he has a sporadic on-off relationship with Samantha that he regularly disappoints. He has a telescope, focusing all of its attention on a house over yonder, where his neighbour makes love with the curtains open and has topless parties, expecting George to do the same. You don't often hear the phrase 'ubiquitous arrangement' in a romantic comedy, but Edwards was no slouch when it came to the pen and he knew he was not writing for children, which the '18' certificate testifies to. Still, it's not the lifestyle you would associate with someone so unhappy. You would imagine he would be as happy, in fact. as Larry. Instead, he is mostly drunk and has a habit of falling when inebriated, be it into swimming pools or down the sides of steep grassy slopes etc.
It is during the onset of this mid-life crisis that we first meet George, who spends rather too long staring at women half his age than is acceptable. Pulled up at a stop sign, a limousine moves up into the frame next to George and in the back of it, a vision in white. This is Jenny (Derek) in her wedding dress, on the way to get married. George is completely flabbergasted by her. She looks across at him, just once, and there it is. If it was possible to bottle the moment that you know it will all change, then Edwards caught that moment right there. The men in the audience would be forgiven for squirming uncomfortably in their seats more than once by the end of the film and as a boy of eleven years old, I was almost as transfixed by Derek's unfeasible beauty as George was. Never, in fact, have so many copies of Ravel's Bolero been sold in a single year.
10 is funny in a way that many romantic comedies are not and have not been since that time. Edwards was as smart as a bright thing on clever day and that is borne out in the writing. It works so well because of Moore's brilliant comedy timing. Even with all of George Segal's skills, he would not have been able to pull this off. Plus, of course, Dudley Moore was a diminutive character, and little people making fools of themselves is almost always funny. The observational humour is uppermost, concentrating on it almost exclusively, as it follows the trials and tribulations of George, in his attempts to get close to Jenny. It takes him to Mexico, on an unexpected (for him) holiday, where he spends most of his time in a bar, being served doubles by Donald (Brian Dennehy), the barkeep with an open ear and a philosophical quote for almost every situation.
When, through the apparent benefit of stalking, George has the opportunity to save the life of Jenny's new husband after he falls asleep on an inflatable in the sea, drifting out with the tide, he seizes the chance. What transpires enables him to meet, and take to dinner, the object of his obsessions. Is is then, and only then, that reality starts to hit home and he not only sees his own shortcomings but the destruction of a dream that he foolishly held above everything else. Reality, for George, did indeed bite.