Peter Sellers and Blake Edwards were a partnership that worked. When every other collaborator who fell across Sellers’ chaotic, paranoid, brilliant career path fell by the wayside, whether cast aside by the actor or simply exhausted by his odd behaviour and demands, Edwards stayed the course. Together they produced some of the most memorable and groundbreaking comedies of the 20th Century. But despite a shared CV that ran from the start of production on the first Pink Panther film in 1962 to a planned sixth Panther collaboration at the time of Sellers early death in 1980, Edwards had just as much cause to despair at Sellers’ antics as anyone else.
We can be glad Edwards forced himself to bury the hatchet after their first major falling out on A Shot in the Dark, because The Party - a passion project paying rich homage to the beloved silent comedies of Edwards’ childhood - is the very best of their films together. And who better than Sellers to play the bumbling Indian actor Hrundi V. Bakshi, the definitive idiot savant who we first encounter destroying a full-size film location set - a feat which gets him fired and banned by every Hollywood studio. But a mistake by a studio secretary sees Bakshi accidently invited to a super-deluxe party at the home of the Producer of the movie he’s just messed up. The stage is set for Bakshi to continue his guileless destruction.
The script is essentially a framework for a series of semi-improvised, dialogue-light scenes with distinctive moods cued by Seller’s superb central performance - from nervous, polite chit-chat upon arrival to hysterical enjoyment by the end. We’re drawn along on the journey, willing him to bring ever greater chaos to proceedings – be it by dumping his fellow guests in the pool while playing around with the slide-away floor control panel (the house set is a hi-tech marvel, constructed over a studio water-tank), getting drunk against his religion and smashing up the bathroom or filling the entire house with fire-damping foam. With wonderful retro-‘60s design and fashions to the fore, things go with a swing until Sellers’ finally drives away, Buster Keaton-style in his little 3-wheeled car just as the cops turn up.
Extras on this rather lovely print of the film from Eureka are largely ported from the earlier DVD and date back to 2004 but are still worth a watch. A documentary on the ‘pioneering’ use of video assist on the film is interesting (they’d obviously never heard of Gerry Anderson’s British studio in Hollywood) but is bettered by a 25-minute talking-head look back at the production which gets excellent mileage from the late, great Blake Edwards.
Even in bad films (and he made quite a few) Peter Sellers couldn’t help being good. But this is up there with his very best, which makes it damn near unmissable.
THE PARTY / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: BLAKE EDWARDS / SCREENLAY: BLAKE EDWARDS, TOM WALDMAN, FRANK WALDMAN / STARRING: PETER SELLERS, CLAUDINE LONGET, JEAN CARSON / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW