The Party (1968 United States)

theparty_titlePeter Sellers plays a hapless actor of East Indian heritage (a white actor blacking up is frowned upon in these p.c. times, though he almost never treats the character in a demeaning way) who makes an unforgivable mistake on a movie set, causing him to be banned from the industry – “You’ll never work in this town again!” as the cliche goes.

Unfortunately, he is accidentally invited to a swanky Hollywood party where he proceeds to inadvertently wreak havoc everywhere he turns! He’s barely in the door before he loses his shoe and that’s only the beginning. Before long, he’s accidentally demolishing glassware, flinging food into the air and destroying original artwork among other “achievements”. Virtually all of this is done in silence with only background music and barely discernible chatter taking place around him.

There is a very limited amount of dialogue in the film, giving it the sort of silent movie quality that distinguished the work of all the greats like Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd and others. Some of Sellers’ misadventures are so expertly handled and so jaw-dropping, no amount of audio is necessary in order to find them hilarious. The film is jam-packed with assorted characters including a tipsy waiter, a boorish Western star, a demanding producer, an uppity matron and a nymph-like singer (Claudine Longet) who catches Sellers’ eye.

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His real co-star here is the awe-inspiring set. The Hollywood mansion to end all mansions has canals of water running through the living areas, a massive circular fireplace, a motorized bar and a spiral staircase leading to a bridge over the pool. Few areas of the estate are left untouched by Sellers’ unintended calamity. Like almost every major studio comedy of the 1960’s, things continue to a point where it’s overkill. The ending is a little ridiculous.

Still, the eye-catching production design and costumes, the low-key direction of Edwards and the compelling persona of Sellers make this a must-see film. Sellers would later reprise his Inspector Clouseau character, but this remains the only testament to the hilarity of Hrundi V. Bakshi. He may be accident-prone, but he’s a much better person than all the Hollywood agents, producers, starlets he meets at the party. Only Claudine Longet is on his wavelength.

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Director Blake Edwards lets the action build gradually,with a great deal of observation. Gags are not thrown at the audience, they are gently dealt out. Take a dinner scene: Edwards lets us hear the idle chatter and for a while we are seduced into this facile world, and might even miss Sellers being given a chair which is far too small for him so you can just see his head, the waiter getting ever more drunk and finally the climax of the scene involving a piece of food.

The Party does require patience,to be sure,but watch closely and there are laughs almost everywhere. Take note also of Henry Mancini’s terrific background music which plays almost constantly and comments subtly on the action. Indeed,there is quite a bit of savage satire at the expense of these people. Except for a very few moments of dullness, this should put a smile on practically any viewer’s face.

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