Wednesday, March 11, 2015

#1,668. The Party (1968)

Directed By: Blake Edwards

Starring: Peter Sellers, Claudine Longet, Natalia Borisova

Tag line: "If you've ever been to a wilder party... you're under arrest"

Trivia: This film was improvised from a 56-page outline. Each scene was shot in sequence, and built upon the previous scene

Having already established himself as one of the cinema’s best funnymen with film like Dr. Strangelove and The Pink Panther, Peter Sellers further solidified his position with Blake Edwards’ 1968 comedy The Party, a movie with the simplest of plotlines that erupts into a chaotic hodgepodge of hilarious sequences.

To play the lead in their new movie (a spinoff of sorts of Gunga Din), a Hollywood studio hires Indian actor Hrundi V. Bakshi (Sellers), only to find that he’s a walking disaster area (the big explosion scene is ruined when Bakshi accidentally sets the blast off before the cameras are rolling). After only a day’s shooting, Bakshi is fired, and studio head Fred R. Clutterbuck (J. Edward McKinley) vows the actor never work in the U.S. again. 

But due to a clerical error, the now-blacklisted Bakshi finds himself mistakenly invited to a dinner party being hosted by Clutterbuck and his wife (Kathe Green), where he rubs elbows with celebrities like cowboy star Wyoming Bill Kelso (Denny Miller), up-and-coming French singer Michele Monet (Claudine Longet), and even a U.S. Congressman (Tom Quine). By sheer coincidence, C.S. Divot (Gavin MacLeod), the producer of the film Bakshi was fired from, also turns up (though he can’t quite place where he’s seen the Indian actor before). Over the course of the evening, Bakshi and the other guests will experience everything from a drunken waiter (Steven Franken) to a baby elephant, making this particular shindig one that Hollywood will never forget!

Originally, Blake Edwards wanted The Party to be a silent movie, and, to be sure, it does contain a number of scenes that would’ve played just as well without sound (when he arrives at the party, Bakshi notices he’s got mud on his shoe, and his attempt to wash it off results in some very clever sight gags). But then, if it was silent, we wouldn’t have what I consider to be one of the film’s most uproarious sequences, which has Bakshi talking into a microphone, concentrating so hard on the bouncing oscillator that he doesn’t realize he’s broadcasting to the entire house. From his character’s first meeting with his idol, Wyoming Bill Kelso, to his interaction with a pet parrot (“Birdie Nom-Noms”), Sellers shows he’s just as adept at delivering witty dialogue as he is at pratfalls (which are also quite plentiful in The Party). And while his “brownface” routine may offend some modern viewers (his accent is also a bit over-the-top), there’s no denying Peter Sellers was an incredible talent who knew how to make people laugh.

Because Blake Edwards’s original script was only 56 pages long, the majority of The Party was made up on the fly (to ensure it flowed smoothly, the movie was shot in chronological order). And thanks to Sellers (with an assist by Steven Franken, whose inebriated waiter has his share of great moments), The Party is one of the funniest experimental films I’ve ever seen.

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