US | 1968 | Directed by Blake Edwards
Logline: Instead of being fired a clumsy Indian movie star is accidentally invited to a Hollywood party where he creates havoc.
With two successful Pink Panther movies under their belt director Edwards and star Peter Sellers decided to try something a little different, but the same. Instead of a bumbling police inspector Sellers would play a bumbling foreigner, essentially a Bollywood star let loose in Hollywood, like a bull in a china shop. The result was an instant cult classic, in the vein of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin.
Sellers plays Hrundi V. Bakshi, an Indian star on the set of an elaborate Hollywood production, on a vast desert location. Sellers hardly looks Indian, but that’s not the point. It’s vaguely “blackface” politically-incorrect, but again, that’s not the point. Bakshi is a goon, a buffoon, always putting his foot in it, and sure enough, he haphazardly plants the sole of his sandal square on a detonator, whilst trying to fix the strap.
The enormous fort set on the side of a dune is blown to smithereens … before the director has called “Action!” There is a look of disbelief as the calamity of the situation blankets the production. But this isn’t the first time the Indian actor has caused a disruption, as he has been upstaging the other actors, and generally causing mischief. The destruction of the expensive set is the last straw.
Back in Tinseltown the movie’s executive producer is informed of the catastrophe and the culprit who has been fired. He jots the name down on the nearest bit of paper, which happens to be the bottom of an invite list, unbeknownst to the producer. The list is then sent to the producer’s assistant for invitations to be sent out. And before you can say, “Birdie num num!” Bakshi finds himself spruced up and arriving at the plush Hollywood villa ready to party. Bakshi is essentially goodhearted, but he’s just a clumsy fool. It starts with a lost hush puppy, and ends in a lot of foam, but add a bit of booze to the equation and wahey, it’s everyone for themselves, as the caviar hits the fan!
Edwards fashioned the script with the Waldman brothers, Tom and Frank, based on a very simple 50-page outline, but most of the movie was improvised, with each scene filmed in sequence, especially one the party starts. This daring experiment provided Sellers with all the comedic fuel he needed to cultivate his brilliant creation, and as such, much of the humour, whilst mostly slapstick, is also character-based and cumulative, like the most memorable comedies.
Much of the The Party is free of dialogue, and this gives the movie it’s distinct old Hollywood feel. It also imbues the movie with its wide demographic appeal. The Party has always been a staple of the Christmas period television, where families can enjoy an hilarious escapade-cum-romance and not worry about vulgarity, profanity, or nudity as the butt of jokes. That said, there is something strangely, yet innocuously perverse about The Party, perhaps it’s the Bollywood-in-Hollywood element?
The Party never gets old, with Sellers at the top of his game, whilst the support cast are also very funny, and Henry Mancini provides a playful score. I’m very surprised that the movie hasn’t been remade with a current comedy star, but also very happy that it hasn’t been tampered with. No one could ever deliver with the same subtle brilliance the way Sellers did. The Party is comedy gold.