Skip to main content

Oh, you got me right in the pantaloons, partner.

The Party
(1968)

(SPOILERS) Blake Edwards’ semi-improvisational reunion with Peter Sellers is now probably best known for – I was going to use an elephant-in-the-room gag, but at least one person already went there – Sellers’ “brown face”. And it isn’t a decision one can really defend, even by citing The Party’s influence on Bollywood. Satyajit Ray had also reportedly been considering working with Sellers… and then he saw the film. One can only assume he’d missed similar performances in The Millionairess and The Road to Hong Kong; in the latter case, entirely understandable, if not advisable. Nevertheless, for all the flagrant stereotyping, Sellers’ bungling Hrundi V Bakshi is a very likeable character, and indeed, it’s the piece’s good-natured, soft centre – his fledgling romance with Claudine Longet’s Michele – that sees The Party through in spite of its patchy, hit-and-miss quality.

Edwards conceived of The Party as a silent movie – very much in the manner of Jacques Tati, to which it owes a considerable debt – but this fell away once Sellers was on board, and the actor realised he would have to speak in order to embrace the character. Edwards and Sellers had previously fallen out while making A Shot in the Dark (Edwards suggests Sellers’ desire to receive serious, Kubrickian acclaim, rather than just adoration for his Clouseau prat falls, was part of the issue; this also led to Alan Arkin playing the signature role in Inspector Clouseau, although ironically, both Sellers and Edwards were working together again on The Party by this point). The decision was made to improvise a 56-page outline, which sounds great in theory, but you only have to look at the deceptively precise comic vignettes of Tati – or even, and I’m not a fan, Mr Bean, who owes a debt to Bakshi – for the readily apparent difference in results.

Simply, The Party can’t sustain itself once Bakshi, instead of being condemned never to work in Hollywood again for messing up a Gunga Din style epic, is mistakenly invited to the self-same producer’s swanky party. And because it has an intentionally haphazard quality, you’re never under the illusion that something truly inspired is occurring, as with Monsieur Hulot. Of course, comedy is the most subjective of genres, but I think Pauline Kael was correct when she suggested “it’s too long for its one-note jokes, and often too obvious to be really funny”. And yet, she identified that it is, nevertheless, “agreeable in tone”.

The house set itself is absurdly impressive, but there’s much in the comic construction that rather goes on, in particular Steve Franken’s frantically mugging and increasingly-inebriated waiter. And, inevitably, Bakshi’s need to use the toilet (which he, also inevitably, destroys). On the other hand, his interactions with Denny Miller’s cowboy star Wyoming Bill Kelso are quite charming, and Longet manages to be both winsome and strike an oddball chemistry with Sellers (although, Longet’s impact on Vladimir Sabich almost a decade later was decidedly more pronounced).

The Party does feature very funny moments – an extended piece of slapstick involving Bakshi’s shoe that manages to swing neatly around to his being served it on a platter, "Birdy Num Nums", Bakshi losing his roast chicken in another guest’s hairpiece – and it’s gratifying that, apart from the producer (Gavin McLeod) and studio head (J Edward McKinley) who had it in for him anyway, Bakshi doesn’t manage to outrage or infuriate the rest of the guests, even if they mostly don’t know what to make of him. But the movie proceeds to climax in a massive foam bath after Clutterbuck’s daughter Molly (Kathe Green) arrives home with a bunch of friends (“I thought you were out protesting” says her reluctant mother Fay McKenzie). Fun as it is, and symbolic of 60s free abandon (a recurrent theme of the middle-aged Sellers’ work around this time) while accompanied by Henry Mancini’s title track The Party, it isn’t exactly ground-breaking (indeed, Norman Wisdom made much more effective use of foam frolics in The Early Bird a couple of years er, earlier).

The Party was a family favourite as a child, mostly for the aforementioned “Birdy Num Nums” scene where Bakshi decides to feed a macaw but manages to drop most of its food on the floor; later, he then happens upon the house intercom and broadcasts the phrase to the guests; it remains a highlight. Sellers is also on great form throughout, embracing the opportunity to go for it with a character (he apparently became addicted to the video assist developed for the picture, constantly returning to it to study his performance). Bakshi’s nationality seems less essential to Sellers than serving as a peg to hang the character on; it is referenced a number of times, but the key is that he’s an outsider. When Bakshi does reference his heritage in a serious manner, though, it concerns the elephant mentioned at the outset.

This baby elephant arrives with Molly and her entourage, daubed with slogans, and Bakshi takes issue with such disrespectful treatment of a symbol of his country; Molly and her friends quickly set to work washing the little fellow down (all of which leads to the foam-based fun). He is soon scrubbed of an assortment of statements, including “Socrates Eats Hemlock”, “Green Power”, “Go Naked”, “Chicken Little Was Right”, “Love Is A Sugar Cube”, “Freak Don’t Fight”, “Turn On Tune In Drop In”, “Boss” on its trunk, and “We’d Rather Banana”. And, most singularly, since it adorns the elephant’s forehead, “The World Is Flat”.

Noel Joshua Hadley suggests that, what with Sellers being something of a lapsed mason – he only really showed up to be inducted, shamelessly used his membership to get ahead, and then had a habit of dropping their secrets in unguarded fashion, all of which are considered big no-nos – the elephant’s most central statement might be something of a message on Sellers’ part, an announcement of one of the core freemasonic tenets. On the other hand, given the combination of non sequiturs and trad hippy slogans appearing elsewhere on the creature, it’s possible that it was intended as just another riff on counter-culture programming.

The Party may be forever damned for its egregious brown-face, but Bakshi represents one of Sellers’ most charming roles, imbued with an innocence he’d return to, to acclaim, in Being There. I really don’t buy the “one of the most radically experimental films in Hollywood history” tag you can find cited on Wiki; The Party is pleasingly done, but still typical of a certain carefree indulgence of many a comedy of that era.




Popular posts from this blog

I’m smarter than a beaver.

Prey (2022) (SPOILERS) If nothing else, I have to respect Dan Trachtenberg’s cynical pragmatism. How do I not only get a project off the ground, but fast-tracked as well? I know, a woke Predator movie! Woke Disney won’t be able to resist! And so, it comes to pass. Luckily for Prey , it gets to bypass cinemas and so the same sorry fate of Lightyear . Less fortunately, it’s a patience-testing snook cocking at historicity (or at least, assumed historicity), in which a young, pint-sized Comanche girl who wishes to hunt and fish – and doubtless shoot to boot – with the big boys gets to take on a Predator and make mincemeat of him. Well, of course , she does. She’s a girl, innit?

I’m the famous comedian, Arnold Braunschweiger.

Last Action Hero (1993) (SPOILERS) Make no mistake, Last Action Hero is a mess. But even as a mess, it might be more interesting than any other movie Arnie made during that decade, perhaps even in his entire career. Hellzapoppin’ (after the 1941 picture, itself based on a Broadway revue) has virtually become an adjective to describe films that comment upon their own artifice, break the fourth wall, and generally disrespect the convention of suspending disbelief in the fictions we see parading across the screen. It was fairly audacious, some would say foolish, of Arnie to attempt something of that nature at this point in his career, which was at its peak, rather than playing it safe. That he stumbled profoundly, emphatically so since he went up against the behemoth that is Jurassic Park (slotted in after the fact to open first), should not blind one to the considerable merits of his ultimate, and final, really, attempt to experiment with the limits of his screen persona.

If you ride like lightning, you're going to crash like thunder.

The Place Beyond the Pines (2012) (SPOILERS) There’s something daringly perverse about the attempt to weave a serious-minded, generation-spanning saga from the hare-brained premise of The Place Beyond the Pines . When he learns he is a daddy, a fairground stunt biker turns bank robber in order to provide for his family. It’s the kind of “only-in-Hollywood” fantasy premise you might expect from a system that unleashed Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man and Point Break on the world. But this is an indie-minded movie from the director of the acclaimed Blue Valentine ; it demands respect and earnest appraisal. Unfortunately it never recovers from the abject silliness of the set-up. The picture is littered with piecemeal characters and scenarios. There’s a hope that maybe the big themes will even out the rocky terrain but in the end it’s because of this overreaching ambition that the film ends up so undernourished. The inspiration for the movie

Everyone creates the thing they dread.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) (SPOILERS) Avengers: Age of Ultron ’s problem isn’t one of lack. It benefits from a solid central plot. It features a host of standout scenes and set pieces. It hands (most of) its characters strong defining moments. It doesn’t even suffer now the “wow” factor of seeing the team together for the first time has subsided. Its problem is that it’s too encumbered. Maybe its asking to much of a director to effectively martial the many different elements required by an ensemble superhero movie such as this, yet Joss Whedon’s predecessor feels positively lean in comparison. Part of this is simply down to the demands of the vaster Marvel franchise machine. Seeds are laid for Captain America: Civil War , Infinity Wars I & II , Black Panther and Thor: Ragnarok . It feels like several spinning plates too many. Such activity occasionally became over-intrusive on previous occasions ( Iron Man II ), but there are points in Age of Ultron whe

Death to Bill and Ted!

Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991) (SPOILERS) The game of how few sequels are actually better than the original is so well worn, it was old when Scream 2 made a major meta thing out of it (and it wasn’t). Bill & Ted Go to Hell , as Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey was originally called, is one such, not that Excellent Adventure is anything to be sneezed at, but this one’s more confident, even more playful, more assured and more smartly stupid. And in Peter Hewitt it has a director with a much more overt and fittingly cartoonish style than the amiably pedestrian Stephen Herrick. Evil Bill : First, we totally kill Bill and Ted. Evil Ted : Then we take over their lives. My recollection of the picture’s general consensus was that it surpassed the sleeper hit original, but Rotten Tomatoes’ review aggregator suggests a less universal response. And, while it didn’t rock any oceans at the box office, Bogus Journey and Point Break did quite nicely for Keanu Reev

This entire edifice you see around you, built on jute.

Jeeves and Wooster 3.3: Cyril and the Broadway Musical  (aka Introduction on Broadway) Well, that’s a relief. After a couple of middling episodes, the third season bounces right back, and that's despite Bertie continuing his transatlantic trip. Clive Exton once again plunders  Carry On, Jeeves  but this time blends it with a tale from  The Inimitable Jeeves  for the brightest spots, as Cyril Basington-Basington (a sublimely drippy Nicholas Hewetson) pursues his stage career against Aunt Agatha's wishes.

I think it’s pretty clear whose side the Lord’s on, Barrington.

Monte Carlo or Bust aka  Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies (1969) (SPOILERS) Ken Annakin’s semi-sequel to Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines tends to be rather maligned, usually compared negatively to its more famous predecessor. Which makes me rather wonder if those expressing said opinion have ever taken the time to scrutinise them side by side. Or watch them back to back (which would be more sensible). Because Monte Carlo or Bust is by far the superior movie. Indeed, for all its imperfections and foibles (not least a performance from Tony Curtis requiring a taste for comic ham), I adore it. It’s probably the best wacky race movie there is, simply because each set of competitors, shamelessly exemplifying a different national stereotype (albeit there are two pairs of Brits, and a damsel in distress), are vibrant and cartoonish in the best sense. Albeit, it has to be admitted that, as far as said stereotypes go, Annakin’s home side win

Poetry in translation is like taking a shower with a raincoat on.

Paterson (2016) (SPOILERS) Spoiling a movie where nothing much happens is difficult, but I tend to put the tag on in a cautionary sense much of the time. Paterson is Jim Jarmusch at his most inert and ambient but also his most rewardingly meditative. Paterson (Adam Driver), a bus driver and modest poet living in Paterson, New Jersey, is a stoic in a fundamental sense, and if he has a character arc of any description, which he doesn’t really, it’s the realisation that is what he is. Jarmusch’s picture is absent major conflict or drama; the most significant episodes feature Paterson’s bus breaking down, the English bull terrier Marvin – whom Paterson doesn’t care for but girlfriend Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) dotes on – destroying his book of poetry, and an altercation at the local bar involving a gun that turns out to be a water pistol. And Paterson takes it all in his stride, genial to the last, even the ruination of his most earnest, devoted work (the only disappoint

Just because you are a character doesn't mean that you have character.

Pulp Fiction (1994) (SPOILERS) From a UK perspective, Pulp Fiction ’s success seemed like a fait accompli; Reservoir Dogs had gone beyond the mere cult item it was Stateside and impacted mainstream culture itself (hard to believe now that it was once banned on home video); it was a case of Tarantino filling a gap in the market no one knew was there until he drew attention to it (and which quickly became over-saturated with pale imitators subsequently). Where his debut was a grower, Pulp Fiction hit the ground running, an instant critical and commercial success (it won the Palme d’Or four months before its release), only made cooler by being robbed of the Best Picture Oscar by Forrest Gump . And unlike some famously-cited should-have-beens, Tarantino’s masterpiece really did deserve it.

Piece by piece, the camel enters the couscous.

The Forgiven (2021) (SPOILERS) By this point, the differences between filmmaker John Michael McDonagh and his younger brother, filmmaker and playwright Martin McDonagh, are fairly clearly established. Both wear badges of irreverence and provocation in their writing, and a willingness to tackle – or take pot-shots – at bigger issues, ones that may find them dangling their toes in hot water. But Martin receives the lion’s share of the critical attention, while John is generally recognised as the slightly lesser light. Sure, some might mistake Seven Psychopaths for a John movie, and Calvary for a Martin one, but there’s a more flagrant sense of attention seeking in John’s work, and concomitantly less substance. The Forgiven is clearly aiming more in the expressly substantial vein of John’s earlier Calvary, but it ultimately bears the same kind of issues in delivery.