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The Party (1968).

January 7, 2011

The Scoop:
I’ll be honest – Blake Edwards has always left me a little cold. Sure, his films can be funny and his sendups of ’60s and ’70s manners added a polite gentility to the cultural anarchy and rebellion of that period. But his gentle jabs are almost too polite and his humor is so slapsticky that his sensibilities seem like a throwback to an earlier generation, even as he’s celebrating the youth revolution.

But “The Party” is one of his better films, thanks in large part to Peter Sellers, whose fine performance gives an understated serenity to the chaos surrounding him.

Sellers plays Hrundi Bhakshi, a bumbling Indian actor who ruins the set of his latest film and gets fired, only to find himself accidentally invited to a formal dinner party being thrown by his producer’s wife. All that happens in the first 10 minutes of the film, and that’s it for plot, really. The rest of the film just follows Sellers as he bumbles his way through a series of sight gags and misunderstandings with the other guests. Along the way he gets into all kinds of scrapes and also makes a connection a French ingenue looking to get a big break (the lovely Claudine Longet, who gets to sing a song here).

It’s Sellers who really makes “The Party” worthwhile. Edwards had originally conceived the film as a silent movie and scrapped that idea when Sellers got involved. But Sellers keeps that silent comedy aesthetic at the core of his performance, drawing his inspiration from the grace and heart of Charles Chaplin’s best work. This especially comes through in the adorable chemistry he builds with Longet by the end of the film.

In fact, the end of the film is where all the fun is. It starts off pretty slow and tedious as Edwards has Sellers run through a series of fairly predictable gags that elicit polite smiles rather than genuine laughs. But things really pick up in the third act when a group of Russian dancers and a gang of hippies with an elephant all show up to throw the party completely off the rails. This is where the slow buildup pays off, and it’s also where all of Sellers and Longet’s best scenes are. If you can stick it out that long, you’ll find it to be a party worth attending.

Best Bit:
Hrundi’s little car.

Side Note:
The was the first film to use video playback on the set so that the actors and crew could watch the shots as they were being filmed. Edwards decided to use the system as a way to ensure continuity since the film was almost entirely improvised and shot in sequence. Video playback is now an essential feature of film production.

Companion Viewing:
“Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (1963), “The Pink Panther” (1963) and television’s “Laugh-In.”


Take a Look:
The trailer:

“Birdie num num”:

Longet sings “Nothing to Lose”:

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