The Party (1968)



THE PARTY (1968, Blake Edwards) 

Peter Sellers, Claudine Longet, Marge Champion, Al Checco, Corinne Cole, Dick Crockett, Frances Davis, Danielle De Metz, Herb Ellis, Paul Ferrara, Steve Franken

A cult classic by the director and star actor of the Pink Panther movies. It was virtually shot without a script to create maximum headroom for Sellers' famous improvisations.

Once again Sellers is a foreigner, but this time he’s not Inspector Clouseau, the clumsy police detective from France, but a bit player from India called Hrundo V. Bakshi, probably the worst actor in the world. He was engaged to play a bit part in a Gunga Din like production, but has ruined this chance of a lifetime by literally blowing up the set. The producer wants to make sure that this idiot will never work in Hollywood again, but due to a misunderstanding, Bakshi is invited for a Hollywood jet set party. Of course the over-polite but extremely clumsy Bakshi has no trouble to do to the party what he did to the movie; from the moment he arrives, everything goes wrong, with increasingly devastating results ...

With the exception of the pre-credit sequence, the film was entirely shot on one gigantic studio set representing a state-of-the art mansion equipped with electronically controlled gimmicks (a floor opening to a swimming pool, retractable bars, a fake garden with imitation garden plants and imitation garden trees, etc). The idea was inspired by the sets created by French comedy genius Jacques Tati for his movie Play Time (1967); Tati was a personal favorite of both Edwards and Sellers and many of the jokes involving inanimate objects and technological devices are modeled after similar jokes in Tati’s movies featuring Monsieur Hulot, notably Mon Oncle (1958). Sellers and Edwards used the video assist system (introduced to film making by Jerry Lewis in The Bell Boy) to adjust the timing of the jokes.

Compared to Tati, whose movies are funny, poetic and philosophical contemplations about modern life, the comedy of The Party may seem rather superficial, but Sellers is in top form, it’s really his show, his movie. Steve Franken is also quite funny as the increasingly inebriated butler. Because of the improvisations, some of the very best scenes are almost ‘silent’, such as the classic toilet scene. Unfortunately the momentum isn’t sustained until the very end; the insanity escalades in the last twenty minutes, with lots of foam and even a baby elephant, but for more than an hour, this is a lovely, often delicately funny comedy.




Note:

* (1) Jerry Lewis is generally credited for inventing a prototype of the VA-system. Scenes were shot simultanuously on film and videotape, which allowed Lewis to check te results of a shot scene immediately and check his timing. Jerry Lewis at work with the video assist system: http://www.jerrylewiscomedy.com/creation_video.htm
For an elaborate description of the video assist system and the use of it by Jerry Lewis and Sellers/Edwards, see: http://web.archive.org/web/20110726164337/http://www.iatse812.org/downloadfiles/Video%20Assist/On%20Set%20With%20Video%20Assist.pdf

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