GEORGE (Dudley Moore) is a very successful composer of popular songs, the kind that a member of the Pepsi generation calls “elevator music,” though they’ve made him rich. He has a long-standing, apparently happy relationship with a good, intelligent woman named Sam (Julie Andrews), who has her own career as a singer. He lives in a lovely hilltop house in Los Angeles, lacks nothing, and is thoroughly miserable. George is 42 years old, and in Southern California you don’t even have to be old to be ancient. Everything is too easy out there.
Blake Edwards’s frequently hilarious new film, “10,” is the story of George’s desperate efforts to come to terms with life in Southern California even though he knows he’s inadequate. Everywhere he goes he sees youth, beauty and health. He drives casually down a street and feels assaulted by the sight of joggers. Nobody seems to drive anymore. They don’t even walk. Everybody runs. It’s as if their lives were on fire.
The movie “10,” a reference to the scale by which George rates beautiful women, is almost as much a celebration of the comedy talents of Dudley Moore as “Darling Lili” was a celebration of Mr. Edwards’s admiration for his wife, Miss Andrews.
Mr. Edwards, though deeply romantic, never lets that get in the way of comedy. Like George, he just can’t help himself.This is the biggest, fattest role Mr. Moore has yet had in American films. Though he’s already delighted us in “Foul Play” and “Bedazzled,” and on the stage in “Beyond the Fringe” and, more recently, in “Good Evening,” the revue with Peter Cook, he’s never done such a relatively straight role in a film before. He’s not entirely comfortable as a romantic leading man, but then “10” doesn’t play its romance straight very much of the time.
The frame of the film is George’s pursuit of a phantom, a beautiful young woman he spots one day as her limousine pulls alongside his Rolls-Royce at a stoplight. The young woman, whom George rates conservatively as an “11,” is dressed in a bridal gown and veil and is on her way to the church, which doesn’t inhibit George. He sneaks into the ceremony, hides among the flowers and, just as the couple are exchanging vows, gets stung on the nose by a bee.
In Mr. Edwards’s comic world, noses are meant to be stung, heads to have hangovers, and beautiful women to be pursued at any cost.Learning that the young woman’s father is, as someone says importantly, “the most exclusive dentist in Beverly Hills,” George allows himself to have eight teeth filled at one sitting to find out more about his mysterious, temporarily lost love.
When the usually understanding Sam loses her temper at his unstable ways, George goes on an epic bender and follows the honeymoon couple to their Mexican resort, an overpoweringly picturesque place with a beach too hot to walk barefoot on, rum drinks that look like fancy garbage cans and rope bridges that aren’t easily navigated by someone who’s been drinking brandy and is loaded with painkillers.George, who is short in stature compared to the rest of the population of Southern California, is most funny when most in peril, which is psychological as often as it’s physical. His principal failing is to embark on an endeavor that, for one reason or another, he cannot complete.
Success through failure, though, is the way comedies like “10” operate.The movie belongs very much to Mr. Moore, who manages to be funny without ever having to appear stupid. Miss Andrews is on screen for what seems like no time at all, though her no-nonsense presence is essential to much of the comedy, even when she doesn’t participate in it. She is the light at the end of the tunnel of George’s midlife crisis.
A truly magnificent looking young woman named Bo Derek appears as George’s phantom-mistress, and she turns out to be almost as funny as Mr. Moore, partly because the character she plays is the only person in the movie who has no doubts about herself.The excellent supporting cast includes Robert Webber as George’s song-writing partner, Dee Wallace as a lonely woman who tries to pick up George at the Mexican resort, Max Showalter as the pastor of a fancy Beverly Hills Protestant church and a beautiful blonde named Deborah Rush, who plays the kind of assistant one might expect in the office of the most exclusive dentist in Beverly Hills. She doesn’t handle the instruments or prepare the anesthetics. She just sits by the patient’s chair and keeps up a running stream of sympathetic moans and winces as the dentist operates.
Mr. Edwards’s comic gifts haven’t been blunted by his recent series of “Pink Panther” hits with Peter Sellers. The film “10” is loaded with odd surprises. It also contains a routine about a nearly blind old lady serving tea, a variation on a routine that Mr. Moore did in his Broadway show with Mr. Cook. It’s classically funny no matter who does it.