A good barometer as to how you’ll feel about Blake Edwards’ The Party (1968) is how you like the first four minutes of the film. If watching Peter Sellers as some kind of Gunga Din character on a movie set as he performs an extended dying scene that literally makes no sense (unless the actors shooting at him are firing live rounds) has you rolling in the aisles, then you’re probably going to love this aimless, shapeless movie. If you sit through it stone-faced, you’re in for a less than swell time. I fall into the latter category. The idea for the movie is that Sellers is doing the “oh, my goodness gosh” Indian schtick, which he perfected on radio’s The Goon Show back in the 1950s, while largely improvising the physical comedy. For some, this concept is immediately funny. That’s a matter of taste, but then so are most of Blake Edwards’ movies. Edwards always strikes me as a 1950s director stuck in the wrong decade, and that’s certainly the case here. (When you see the parade of clean-cut Ivy Leaguers show up as respresentative of 1968 counterculture you’ll know what I mean. They look like refugees from Edwards’ 1960 crew-cut college comedy High Time.) The other idea at work here seems to be that Peter Sellers is heir apparent to iconic French comedic actor Jacques Tati. He’s been given a 1930s Morgan three-wheeler sports car (seriously modified) à la Tati’s comedic vehicle from M. Hulot’s Holiday (1953), and then been set loose in a modern house to wreak havoc à la Tati in Mon Oncle (1958). The problem is that Peter Sellers is a first-rate Peter Sellers, but a second-rate Tati. The improvised slapstick here tends to fall flat—or at least it does for me. I know there are those who think The Party is hysterical. They can have it.
The Hendersonville Film Society will show The Party at 2 p.m. on Sunday, March 18, in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community (behind Epic Cinemas), 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville.