Wednesday, June 29, 2011

#327. The Wild Party (1975)

Directed By: James Ivory

Starring: James Coco, Raquel Welch, Perry King

Tag line: "Hollywood in the '20s...Gin, Sin and a Night they're still whispering about!"

Trivia:  During the shooting of the film, James Ivory called one of the takes of a scene with Raquel Welch "a bit dull" and asked for a retake. Because of this, Welch walked off the set and refused to return until Ivory apologized to her in front of the entire cast and crew

A title card (quite appropriate for the time period) lets us know the year is 1929. We open in St. Mark's hospital, where James Morrison (David Dukes), a “sometimes poet”, is resting comfortably, “alone with his thoughts”. 

A patient in the hospital, Morrison sits up in bed and, with pencil in hand, starts composing his latest poem. “It was a typical Hollywood party, I guess, except for the way it ended”. Hitting his stride, he continues, “I knew why they'd come, for easy pickings and bootleg rum”. He will act as narrator of The Wild Party, a tale of Hollywood vice, broken dreams and shattered lives. Utilizing his skills as a poet, Morrison will paint as vivid a picture as he can of just what happened that night at the home of Jolly Grimm (James Coco), a silent film star whose career has taken a nosedive in recent years. 

With the help of his live-in girlfriend, Queenie (Raquel Welch), Jolly hosts a party to celebrate the completion of his newest feature film, a comedy about an 18th century monk. Having financed the picture himself, Jolly's now hoping to impress the studio heads he's invited to attend (the “party” is, in fact, the premiere screening of his film) so that they'll buy his movie and get his career back on-track. But things don;t go nearly as well for Jolly as he would have liked. For one, his newest film is a silent, and most of the major studios are looking for sound pictures these days. Then, Queenie catches the eye of a handsome young star (Perry King), who is intent on getting to know her much better. With his comeback in jeopardy and the love of his life with another man, Jolly turns to the bottle, kicking off a series of events that will bring a tragic end to what was once a promising night. 

James Coco gives a boisterous performance as Jolly, a fading star with a larger-than-life personality. At one time considered a comic genius, Jolly isn't feeling very funny these days, and often takes his frustrations out on Queenie (at the breakfast table, as Jolly is reading the trade papers, Queenie creeps up behind and starts reading over his shoulder, only to be doused with Jolly's hot cup of coffee when she gets a little too close). He is a performer on the decline, and he's not taking it gracefully at all. As Queenie, Raquel Welch is solid enough, bringing grace and charm to the role of the “kept woman”, who loves her man in spite of the way he's been treating her. When Jimmy spots a scar on Queenie's cheek, one obviously given to her by Jolly, he asks why she continues to put up with him. She tells Jimmy the story of how Jolly found her working in vaudeville, and how he brought her home and fed her when she was starving. It was years ago, but Queenie remembers, and is still very much in love with Jolly. Yet love doesn't prevent her from standing up to him from time to time. Theirs is a tempestuous relationship, one that's always in danger of crossing the line into broad burlesque, yet Coco and Welch do what they can to make it all seem believable. 

The Wild Party is a throwback to a time when Hollywood was in its infancy, and fame and fortune came a bit too quickly for some to handle (In part, this film was inspired by the Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle scandal. Arbuckle, a silent comedian, was tried for the rape and murder of a young starlet, which supposedly occurred at a wild Hollywood party). Yet despite the drugs, the orgies and the out-of-control egos it so vividly recreates, The Wild Party is, at its heart, a love letter to Hollywood of the past, a time and place that, while opulent and corrupt, could also be quite magical.

1 comment:

tjpieraccini said...

The storming off seems a little unlike Raquel, who always seemed to have things pretty well in perspective - but I guess this was at a stage when she was doing her best to transition from sex-bomb to respected actress, so she was probably feeling a bit in secure and touchy.