The Party (1968 film)
The Party is a 1968 American comedy film directed by Blake Edwards, and starring Peter Sellers and Claudine Longet. The film has a very loose structure, and essentially serves as a series of set pieces for Sellers's improvisational comedy talents. Based on a fish-out-of-water premise, the film is about bungling actor from India, Hrundi V. Bakshi (portrayed by Sellers), who accidentally gets invited to a lavish Hollywood dinner party and "makes terrible mistakes based upon ignorance of Western ways".
Theatrical release poster. Illustration by Jack Davis.
|Directed by||Blake Edwards|
|Produced by||Blake Edwards|
|Music by||Henry Mancini|
|Edited by||Ralph E. Winters|
|Distributed by||United Artists|
|Box office||$2.9 million (US rentals)|
The protagonist Hrundi Bakshi was influenced by two of Sellers' earlier characters, the Indian doctor Ahmed el Kabir in The Millionairess (1960) and Inspector Clouseau in The Pink Panther series. In turn, the character Hrundi Bakshi went on to be influential, inspiring several later popular characters, including Amitabh Bachchan's character Arjun Singh in the 1982 Bollywood blockbuster Namak Halaal, Rowan Atkinson's character Mr. Bean in the hit 1990s British sitcom of the same name, and Hank Azaria's character Apu Nahasapeemapetilon in the hit American animated sitcom The Simpsons.
A film crew is making a Gunga Din-style costume epic. Unknown Indian actor Hrundi V. Bakshi (Peter Sellers) plays a bugler, but continues to play after repeatedly being shot and after the director (Herb Ellis) yells "cut." Bakshi accidentally blows up an enormous fort set rigged with explosives. The director fires Bakshi immediately and calls the studio head, General Fred R. Clutterbuck (J. Edward McKinley). Clutterbuck writes down Bakshi's name to blacklist him, but he inadvertently writes it on the guest list of his upcoming dinner party.
Bakshi receives his invitation and drives to the party. Upon parking his car, he steps into mud. Bakshi tries to rinse the mud off his shoe in a pool that flows through the house, but he loses his shoe. After many failures, he is reunited with his shoe served to him on a silver platter by one of the waiters.
Bakshi has awkward interactions with everyone at the party, including Clutterbuck's dog Cookie. He meets famous Western movie actor "Wyoming Bill" Kelso (Denny Miller), who gives Bakshi an autograph. Bakshi later accidentally shoots Kelso with a toy gun, but Kelso does not see who did it. Bakshi feeds a caged macaw food from a container marked "Birdie Num Num" and drops the food on the floor. Bakshi at various times during the film activates a panel of electronics that control the intercom, a replica of the Manneken Pis (soaking a guest), and a retractable bar (while Clutterbuck is sitting at it). After Kelso hurts Bakshi's hand while shaking it ("My goodness, I would have been disappointed if you hadn't crushed my hand"), Bakshi sticks his hand into a bowl of crushed ice containing caviar. While waiting to wash his hand, he meets aspiring actress Michèle Monet (Claudine Longet), who came with producer C.S. Divot (Gavin MacLeod). Bakshi shakes Divot's hand, and Divot then shakes hands with other guests, passing around the fishy odor, and back to Bakshi after he has washed his hand.
At dinner, Bakshi's place setting by the kitchen door has a very low chair that puts his chin near the table. An increasingly drunk waiter, Levinson (Steve Franken), tries to serve dinner and fights with the other staff. During the main course, Bakshi's roast chicken catapults off his fork and becomes impaled on a guest's tiara. Bakshi asks Levinson to retrieve his meal, but the woman's wig comes off along with her tiara, as she obliviously engages in conversation. Levinson ends up brawling with other waiting staff, and dinner is disrupted.
Bakshi apologizes to his hosts; then needs to go to the bathroom. He wanders through the house, opening doors and barging in on various servants and guests in embarrassing situations. He ends up in the backyard, where he accidentally sets off the irrigation sprinklers. At Divot's insistence, Monet gives an impromptu guitar performance of "Nothing to Lose" to impress the guests. Bakshi goes upstairs, where he saves Monet from Divot's unwanted advances by dislodging Divot's toupee. Bakshi finally finds a bathroom, but he breaks the toilet, drops a painting in it, gets toilet paper everywhere, and floods the bathroom. To avoid being discovered Bakshi sneaks onto the roof and falls into the pool. Monet leaps in to save him, but he's then coerced to drink alcohol to warm up. He finds Monet crying in the next room and consoles her. Divot bursts in and demands Monet leave with him. Monet says no, and Divot cancels her screen test the next day. Bakshi convinces her to stay and have a good time with him. They return to the party in borrowed clothes as a Russian dance troupe arrives. The party gets wilder, and Bakshi offers to retract the bar to make room for dancing. Instead, he opens a retractable floor with a pool underneath, causing guests to fall in the pool. Levinson makes more floors retract, and more guests fall in. Clutterbuck's daughter arrives with friends and a baby elephant painted with "THE WORLD IS FLAT" on its forehead and hippie slogans over its body. Bakshi takes offense and asks them to wash the elephant. The entire house is soon filled with soap bubbles.
Back at his home, Divot suddenly realizes that Bakshi is the fired actor who blew up the set, and he races back to the party. As the band plays on, Clutterbuck tries to save his suds-covered paintings. The air conditioning blows suds everywhere as the guests dance to psychedelic music, and Clutterbuck's distraught wife falls into the pool three times. Divot pulls up as the police and fire department personnel work to resolve everything. Bakshi apologizes one last time to Clutterbuck as Divot reveals who Bakshi is, but Clutterbuck accidentally chokes the headwaiter instead of Bakshi. Kelso gives Bakshi an autographed photo and Stetson hat as Bakshi and Monet leave in Bakshi's Morgan three-wheeler car. Outside her apartment, Bakshi and Monet appear on the verge of admitting that they have fallen for each other. Bakshi gives Monet the hat as a keepsake, and says he can come get it any time. Bakshi suggests he could come by next week, and she readily agrees. Bakshi smiles and drives off as his car backfires.
- Peter Sellers as Hrundi V. Bakshi
- Claudine Longet as Michele Monet
- Natalia Borisova as Ballerina
- Jean Carson as Nanny
- Marge Champion as Rosalind Dunphy
- Al Checco as Bernard Stein
- Corinne Cole as Janice Kane
- Dick Crockett as Wells
- Frances Davis as Maid
- Danielle de Metz as Stella D'Angelo
- Herb Ellis as Director
- Paul Ferrara as Ronnie Smith
- Steve Franken as Levinson
- Kathe Green as Molly Clutterbuck
- Allen Jung as Cook
- Sharron Kimberly as Princess Helena
- James Lanphier as Harry
- Buddy Lester as Davey Kane
- Stephen Liss as Geoffrey Clutterbuck
- Gavin MacLeod as C. S. Divot
- Jerry Martin as Bradford
- Fay McKenzie as Alice Clutterbuck
- J. Edward McKinley as Fred Clutterbuck
- Denny Miller as "Wyoming Bill" Kelso
- Elianne Nadeau as Wiggy
- Thomas W. Quine as Congressman Dunphy
- Timothy Scott as Gore Pontoon
- Ken Wales as Assistant Director
- Carol Wayne as June Warren
- Donald R. Frost as Drummer
- Helen Kleeb as Secretary
- George Winters as Cliff Hanger
- Linda Gaye Scott as Starlet
The Party was the only non-Pink Panther collaboration between Sellers and Edwards. Producer Walter Mirisch knew that Sellers and Edwards were considered liabilities; in his autobiography, Mirisch wrote "Blake had achieved a reputation as a very expensive director, particularly after The Great Race."  Sellers had played an Indian man (Dr. Ahmed el Kabir) in his hit film The Millionairess (1960), and another Indian physician in The Road to Hong Kong (1962). He is mostly remembered as a similar klutz as Inspector Clouseau in The Pink Panther series.
The film started shooting in May under the title RSVP.
The film's interiors were shot on a set, at the MGM lot, though this may be a mistake as IMDb lists the Samuel Goldwyn Studios on Formosa as the correct address, likely as other Mirisch Productions, including West Side Story, were shot there as well. The original script was only 63 pages in length. Edwards later said it was the shortest script he ever shot from, and the majority of the content in the film was improvised on set.
The film draws much inspiration from the works of Jacques Tati; Bakshi arrives at the party in a Morgan three-wheeler which may suggest Monsieur Hulot's car in Monsieur Hulot's Holiday. However, it was not the same car (Salmson AL3). The entire film storyline is reminiscent of the Royal Garden restaurant sequence of Playtime, and the comedic interaction with inanimate objects and gadgets parallels several of Tati's films, especially Mon Oncle.
The Party has been criticised as having perpetuated brown stereotypes and using "brownface" to ridicule Indian culture. Shane Danielson wrote that "A comic masterpiece - yet hardly the most enlightened depiction of our subcontinental brothers. Still, propelled by Seller's insane brio, this late display of blackface provided some guilty chuckles, and at least one enduring catchphrase (the immortal "Birdie num-num"). According to a friend of the great Indian director Satyajit Ray, that film-maker was at the time intending to work with Sellers on a project. Then he watched The Party, and the chances of them working together became about as likely as PW Botha collaborating with Stephen Biko. Oh well." Several other journalists and movie critics have analyzed the racial aspects of the film and labelled The Party as a racist comedy.
The score of The Party was composed by Henry Mancini, including the song "Nothing to Lose". Mancini, commenting on audience reactions, noted "That's what I get for writing a nice song for a comedy. Nobody's going to hear a note of it." During a scene later in the film, the band can be heard playing "It Had Better Be Tonight", a song Mancini composed for the first Pink Panther film. The CD originally was released on August 20, 1995 by BMG Victor.
- "The Party" [Vocal] 2:14
- "Brunette in Yellow" 2:56
- "Nothing to Lose [Instrumental]" 3:18
- "Chicken Little Was Right" 2:54
- "Candleleight on Crystal" 3:05
- "Birdie Num-Num" 2:21
- "Nothing to Lose [Vocal]" 2:25
- "The Happy Pipers" 2:17
- "Party Poop" 2:34
- "Elegant" 4:44
- "Wiggy" 3:02
- "The Party [Instrumental]" 3:12
The Party is considered a classic comedic cult film. Edwards biographers Peter Lehman and William Luhr said, "The Party may very well be one of the most radically experimental films in Hollywood history; in fact it may be the single most radical film since D. W. Griffith's style came to dominate the American cinema." Film historian Saul Austerlitz wrote, "Despite the offensiveness of Sellers's brownface routine, The Party is one of his very best films... Taking a page from Tati, this is neorealist comedy, purposefully lacking a director's guiding eye: look here, look there. The screen is crammed full of activity, and the audience's eyes are left to wander where they may."
- "Big Rental Films of 1968", Variety, 8 January 1969, p. 15.
- Champlin, Charles (March 15, 1968). An open invitation to play it off the cuff. Time
- Luhr, William; Lehman, Peter (1981). Blake Edwards. 1. Ohio University Press. p. 140. ISBN 978-0-8214-0605-2.
- "Picture the song: Bring out the eyeshades for 'Jawani Jaanemann' from 'Namak Halaal'". Scroll.in. July 31, 2017. Retrieved September 9, 2019.
- "Want funny? See his movies". Los Angeles Times. July 13, 2003. Retrieved September 8, 2019.
- Azaria, Hank (December 6, 2004). "Fresh Air". National Public Radio (Interview). Interviewed by Terry Gross. Philadelphia: WHYY-FM. Retrieved August 15, 2007.
- Koseluk, Chris (April 16, 2008). The voice of generations. The Hollywood Reporter
- Mirisch, Walter (2008). I Thought We Were Making Movies, Not History. Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press. ISBN 978-0-299-22640-4.
- Champlin, Charles (May 14, 1967). "A Sellers' Market for Comedy: A Sellers' Market for Comedy". Los Angeles Times. p. c1.
- Aushenker, Michael (June 25, 2008). "'The Party' to Remember: Blake Edwards' Cult Classic Turns 40!". Palisadian-Post. Archived from the original on April 9, 2009. Retrieved August 18, 2012.
- Robinson, Tasha (April 19, 2002). The Party (DVD) The A.V. Club
- "In 'The Party', Peter Sellers' Brownface Is the Elephant in the Room". PopMatters. October 27, 2014. Retrieved June 20, 2020.
- "Peter Sellers: 10 essential films". British Film Institute. Retrieved June 20, 2020.
- Staff, Guardian (September 15, 2007). "Shane Danielson on Hollywood's racist caricatures". the Guardian. Retrieved June 20, 2020.
- "The 50 Most Racist Movies". Complex. Retrieved June 20, 2020.
- "Seven totally racist movies your parents love". Salon. February 3, 2018. Retrieved June 20, 2020.
- "Peter Sellers' The Party is the go-to movie for expressing anger over brownface: Is the ire warranted?- Entertainment News, Firstpost". Firstpost. May 9, 2019. Retrieved June 20, 2020.
- Stafford, Jeff. Cult Movies: The Party via Turner Classic Movies
- Wasson, Sam (2009). A Splurch in the Kisser: The Movies of Blake Edwards. Wesleyan University Press. p. 130. ISBN 978-0-8195-6915-8.
- Luhr, William; Lehman, Peter (1989). Returning to the Scene: Blake Edwards. 2. Ohio University Press. ISBN 978-0-8214-0917-6.
- Austerlitz, Saul (2010). Another Fine Mess: A History of American Film Comedy. Chicago Review Press. p. 198. ISBN 978-1-55652-951-1.
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