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Revisiting '10', Dudley Moore's greatest film

Risque and written with great focus on the anatomical posterior of Bo Derek’s bosoms, 10 is not the type of film that could have been written in any decade but the 1970s, when sex was becoming more commonplace in the medium of pop. 10 is even better because it stars Dudley Moore, all ruffled shirts and ingrained frustrations, who would throw away the warmth and safety of a secure marriage for one night of passion. It’s even better because it has Julie Andrews in a supporting role, playing the part of a disgruntled wife, schooling her partner in the mannerisms that infuriate women in all walks of life.

George Webber (Moore), his face a crumpled mask of lost opportunity, has found the perfect woman as he’s turning 42, but she’s betrothed to another, and he winds up crashing a wedding in his efforts to discover where she’s going. He stoutly defends his choice of lust, feeling that Jenny Hanley (Derek) offers him the excitement and bravura his day job no longer holds for him, only for the dream to come crashing down when he realises she’s every bit as human and fallible as everyone he meets. 10 holds some pathos, showcasing the terrors of ageing, particularly in an industry that demands youthfulness and vibrancy from its composers.

Director Blake Edwards has, to some extent, been accused of trivialising the plight of the human condition in his work, pandering to lazy stereotypes that make some of his work – most notably The Party – unfit for modern consumption. But the power of 10 is in its realisation of a man’s mid-life crisis, as he aches to race after the figment of a perfect woman who is only a hand’s grip away, and what grandeur there is from the many montages that showcase the character’s descent into uncertainty and madness.

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Moore is excellent, abandoning the shackles of stand-up comedy for a more nuanced portrait of an artist in the midst of introspection and endurance. It is commonplace to call this form of comedy lo-fi, and the film is refreshingly short of pyrotechnics that might otherwise have robbed the film of some of its raw, guttural power. What we get instead is a vibrant story that centres almost entirely on the three characters who walk in and out of each other’s lives, narrowly missing the chance to engage in an adult, intellectual conversation.

After Webber’s realisation, he returns to his ordinary life filled with ambition and bravado, giving his love scenes quiet potency and passion that is whimsically English. Sex, whether by its absence or presence, plays a central part of the story, particularly in the case of the central lead, who makes the common mistake of placing everything he values about his life on a night of never-ending passion.

Ultimately, he realises that 15 minutes is the perfect length for an act of coitus, giving the action enough time to be lingering, yet exude the appropriate level of passion at the same time. It’s to Andrews’s credit that she works well as the frumpy wife, guiding Webber to a point of realisation (interestingly, Andrews was married to Blake Edwards – that must have made for an interesting dinner time conversation.) Nominally written off as a saintly, sincere performer, Andrews shows that she can really can act, and she transforms Samantha Taylor from clawing to charming over the course of the film, a real coup de cinéma. Fittingly, Andrews starred in Edwards’ next project, S.O.B, where she appeared briefly topless, and then she starred in Victor/Victoria, a sprawling music drama that showed Andrews at her most multi-faceted and diverse.

If Victor/Victoria was Andrews’ finest hour, then 10 is Moore’s. He’d spent the 1960s as the most debonair, sophisticated and handsome of the Footlight actors that had presented the British countercultural movement with a new voice, but age was catching up with him, derailing his career. Rather than combat the threat, he embraced it on 10, fulfilling the excesses of a life spent pursuing the most untenable of delights. Webber shows his instinctive grasp of how to combine sincere promise in a world of material wealth, never losing sight of the spiritual pleasures that can be attained if the audience opens themselves up to the possibilities.

Without 10, we wouldn’t see John Cleese leaving behind the beginnings of a career he has so slavishly pieced together over the years (A Fish Called Wanda), just as we wouldn’t get to witness Barton Fink sink in the moments of creative duress. Moore’s performance showed that talent could withstand the change of time, demonstrating an understanding of the inner workings middle-aged men endure in their daily lives. He took one for the team, and for it, we are truly, truly grateful.

Stream the original trailer for Blake Edwards’ ’10’ below.