Wednesday 25 November 2015

Movie Review: The Party (1968)

A comedy poking fun at the Hollywood elite through the eyes of an outsider, The Party is a wild laugh fest.

Hrundi Bakshi (Peter Sellers) is an error-prone simpleton of a man, somehow hired as an actor on the grand set of a Hollywood historical adventure epic being filmed on location. Through his bumbling Bakshi manages to repeatedly disrupt filming, and he then mistakenly destroys the entire set. Studio head Fred Clutterbuck (J. Edward McKinley) vows that Bakshi will never again work in the film industry, but the actor's name erroneously ends up on the invite list for Clutterbuck's latest social gathering at his swish house.

From the moment that Bakshi arrives at the party, everything that can possibly go wrong does so. Within the sleek rooms and hallways of Clutterbuck's modern house, Bakshi loses his shoe, inadvertently insults the guests, disrupts the sit-down dinner, and manages to push every wrong button on the complicated electronic home control panel. He endures misadventures with caviar and an exceedingly uncomfortable quest to find a usable bathroom. Also at the party is aspiring starlet Michele Monet (Claudine Longet), who is escorted by boorish producer C.S. Divot (Gavin MacLeod). Feeling like an outsider, Michele is the only person to try and connect with Bakshi, and as the evening progresses from disastrous to catastrophic, they develop an unlikely friendship.

Produced, directed and co-written by Blake Edwards, The Party endures as a classic example of pure farce. The film sets out to place Bakshi in every awkward situation possible, and thanks to Sellers' extraordinary ability to portray a man desperately trying to conceal his physical and emotional discomfort, the laughs keep coming.

The film is a study in effective minimalist comedy built on a single premise. After the opening film-within-a-film scene, almost the entire running time is invested in the one location, with Bakshi as the outsider trying all he knows to fit into a context filled with people he does not know partaking in social norms he knows nothing about. There is minimal dialogue, plenty of background chatter, and a never ending stream of old-fashioned situational comedy.

Some jokes, of course, run too long. The waiter Levinson (Steven Franken) cannot resist a drink and gradually descends into a state of abject drunkenness, and his mishaps occasionally threaten to take the focus away from Bakshi. The search for the bathroom is also dragged beyond its capacity to sustain laughs, although once Bakshi does find an unoccupied bathroom, Edwards hits his stride to deliver an epic sequence of silent disaster.

The highlights are many, and include the entire on-location opening sequence, Edwards bravely staking his territory by extending the introductory laughs to the riotous stage. Later there is a flying chicken during dinner, a Birdie Num Num pet, and finally a young elephant and bucket loads of soap to put an end to the evening.

Embedded in the merriment is Edwards' drive to poke fun at his industry. Bakshi is undoubtedly a dimwitted misfit, but he possesses a pure and honest soul. As the night turns into day, Edwards reveals that some other guests at the party are also morons but in maybe less apparent ways (Divot wants to take advantage of Michele more than he wants to help her), or they may be smart but soulless (Clutterbuck cares more about his paintings and less about his wife).

It takes all kinds to make a bash come to life, and if nothing else, Hrundi Bakshi will go home with the same genuine smile on his face as when he arrived at The Party.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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