Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Blake Edwards Treatment

James Coburn--looking hip as always.
What can you say about a movie in which a director sued to have his name removed from the credits? Suffice to say that director Blake Edwards was mighty displeased with the version of The Carey Treatment (1972) that was released to theaters. However, before we discuss what happened behind the scenes, let's take a look at the finished product.

Jennifer O'Neill.
The Carey Treatment stars James Coburn as Dr. Peter Carey, a hip pathologist that accepts a job at a Boston hospital because he'll "make more bread" ($45,000 to be precise or $258,600 in today's economy). Carey never actually performs his hospital duties. Instead, he has an older colleague cover for him as he investigates a potential murder and makes out with an attractive dietitian named Georgia (Jennifer O'Neill in an awful performance).

The murder victim is 15-year-old Karen Randall, the hospital administrator's daughter, who died from what appeared to be a botched abortion. The police arrest Carey's friend Dr. David Tao, who admits to performing illegal abortions but not performing one on Karen. Carey clashes with everyone, including his boss and the police, as he aggressively seeks out what really happened to the dead teenager.

The Carey Treatment was based on the 1968 novel A Case of Need, written by Michael Crichton under a pseudonym while he was a medical student. The film version, though, likely owes more to private eye films such as Harper (1966) and Marlowe (1969). Frankly, it's hard to imagine that Peter Carey is actually an M.D. In one scene, he tries to get Karen's roommate to dish on the murder victim by driving recklessly with the girl in the passenger seat (e.g., he even drives over a drawbridge while the spans are separating!).

James Coburn tries to salvage The Carey Treatment by the sheer force of his personality, glittering smile, and ultra-cool silver hair. However, he is undone by more plot holes than your average slice of Swiss cheese. Why does Karen or her mother implicate Dr. Tao? If Georgia has custody of her young son, why does she seem to spend all her nights with Carey? Someone hires a photographer to take a photo of Carey and Georgia making love, but for what reason?

The answers to these questions may be addressed in the many scenes excised from The Carey Treatment after Blake Edwards turned in his final cut. Frankly, I suspect that Edwards might have never directed The Carey Treatment if not for the fact that his career was at a low point. After enjoying boxoffice success in the 1960s with Breakfast at Tiffany's, The Days of Wine and Roses, and The Pink Panther, Edwards started the next decade with a series of flops. The most notable was Darling Lili (1970), a vanity project for his wife Julie Andrews, that boasted a $25 million budget and earned only $5 million at the theaters.

Blake Edwards subsequently signed a deal with MGM--and then unfortunately ran afoul of budget-minded studio president James Aubrey. The executive, who famously sold Dorothy's ruby slippers because they had "no intrinsic value," tampered with Blake Edwards' Western Wild Rovers (1971) as well as The Carey Treatment. Edwards revived his career in 1975 with The Return of the Pink Panther, but he never forgot his awful MGM experiences and gained his "revenge" with the biting Hollywood satire S.O.B. (1981).

Skye Aubrey.
Interestingly, the cast of The Carey Treatment includes James Aubrey's daughter Skye in a key role. Actually, it was quite a family affair with smaller parts being played by Blake Edwards' daughter Jennifer and Mel Torme's daughter Melissa Torme-March. Look quickly and you might also see Olive Dunbar as one of the doctors. She played the lead role in the disturbing short film The Lottery, which we reviewed earlier this year.


  1. Think you're a wee bit unfair to James "Smiling Cobra" Aubrey. Took over MGM at its worst debt. Doubt Carey Treatment or Wild Rovers would've found an audience in any version. Nor would Peckinpah's Billy The Kid.

    But he did make MGM profitable, even if he had to sell The Ruby Slippers. As CBS head, he'd personally cancelled Judy Garland's variety show.

  2. I've always liked Coburn's "small" movies -- Duffy; Waterhole No. 3; Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round; What Did You Do In The War, Daddy? (another Blake Edwards flick) -- but "Carey" didn't do anything for me.