By Megan Bianco
The average successful Hollywood filmmaker is a middle-aged male. They say write what you know as a starting point for a story. So naturally, there are many, many movies about men in midlife crises.
One of the most famous examples is the romantic comedy 10 in 1979 from writer-director Blake Edwards as a vehicle for comic Dudley Moore. It was a big critical and financial hit for Moore and Edwards, as well as socialite turned actress Bo Derek, whose cornrow braids and yellow swimsuit in the film became an iconic look for the late 1970s. Even more iconic would be Derek’s Playboy photoshoot with the actress donning the character’s braids and swimsuit.
The title of the movie 10 refers to ranking someone’s looks based on a 1-10 scale, although Derek is actually only referred to as an otherworldly ‘11’ by Moore. The story is pretty basic by now: a successful man in a steady relationship suddenly realizes on his 43rd birthday that his youth is never coming back. Moore is George Webber, the songwriter with a crisis; Derek is Jenny Miles, the hot, young newlywed he’s struck by; and Julie Andrews is George’s stage musical performer girlfriend Samantha Taylor.
I didn’t think I would care that much for this movie when I revisited it recently. I watched it once as a teenager when I was going through Andrews’ filmography, and didn’t think much of it. It was a couple decades before my time, and now, how would a 28-year-old woman connect with a 40-something man’s crisis?
But to my surprise, it actually wasn’t just a 1979-dated take on The Seven Year Itch (1955). The biggest surprise was how well written the characters still are, especially the women. Edwards is the same filmmaker who gave us Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) and Victor/Victoria (1982), but both are based on previous source material.
Take Andrews’ Sam, who isn’t as well-remembered as Derek’s Jenny, but has the best scene in the film when she and George debate the definition of the term “broad.” She calls him out on casual chauvinism in her own charming fashion, and also in usual Andrews fashion, she’s given two songs from Henry Mancini on the soundtrack: “He Pleases Me” and “It’s Easy to Say,: the latter a duet with Moore. Dee Wallace even has a memorable appearance as a neurotic acquaintance during the hotel sequences when George follows Jenny to Mexico on her honeymoon.
On the surface one would assume Derek was simply supposed to supply eye candy for the lead and the audience, but evidently she also has a decent amount of character development. During the big seduction scene George is shocked to discover she’s in an open marriage and not as modest as he had imagined, and remembers why he originally was with the more traditional Sam. Rather than be embarrassed or insulted by his reaction, Jenny casually explains they’re just from two different generations. Granted, she is defending a very dated movement (hippie swingers), but at least she’s standing up for herself.
There are some other elements that are of course, stuck in the 1970s. For example, there’s the subplot of George and his sexually liberated neighbor participating in casual, consensual voyeurism with telescopes, or Robert Webber’s character casually referred to as a “fag.” Make no mistake, husband and wife Edwards and Andrews have both made masterpieces before and afterwards together and on their own, and Moore found his signature role in 1981 with Arthur. But 10 is still an intriguing time capsule into a faded era that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and has themes that are still important.
Megan Bianco is a Southern California-based movie reviewer and content writer with a degree from California State University Northridge.