Sure, this movie isn’t part of the Pink Panther series. That said, the Pink Panther film franchise is what both director Blake Edwards and actor Peter Sellers are best known for. Their relationship was quite rocky. In fact, there was a point where they vowed never to work with each other again (after A Shot in the Dark), but when they were able to set aside their differences, they were brilliant together. I’m including this in my Pink Panther blog series for two reasons. One, it’s good to leave this review series on a high note. Two, this is the only time they worked together outside of the Pink Panther series.
The Party released roughly one month before Inspector Clouseau. That’s the one Pink Panther movie made during Sellers’ lifetime that didn’t involve him, Edwards, or series composer Henry Mancini. That’s because all three of them were focused on this movie instead. Even getting this movie made proved difficult, as by this point, both director and star were considered liabilities. Blake ruined his reputation after the $12 million he spent on “The Great Race”, which barely made a profit. That near failure gave him the reputation of being a very expensive director. Meanwhile, Sellers was considered to be difficult to work with, mostly due to personal problems that I expanded on in my Revenge of the Pink Panther review.
Between A Shot in the Dark and The Party, the pair reconciled enough to work together again. With both of their careers in freefall, and Inspector Clouseau already in production, they needed a cheap hit. Most of the film would end up getting improvised on set, with its 63-page script being the shortest script Edwards ever shot with. Sellers would play a similar character to Inspector Clouseau, a klutz.
Before getting into the movie itself, it’s worth mentioning that it may be uncomfortable to some to watch. None of this is done with any ill intent, but this is a major case of brownface. Sellers plays an Indian character named Hrundi V. Bakshi. This is actually the third time he’s played an Indian character, the others being 1960’s The Millionairess and 1962’s The Road to Hong Kong. Even in the 60’s this was considered questionable, even if it still happened fairly often. Some critics thought it was to ridicule Indian culture. According to a friend of Indian director Satyajit Ray, he was considering working with Sellers on a project, but lost all interest after seeing The Party. Yet at the same time, Indira Gandhi (who remains the only female president of India), was a fan of the film and very fond of Hrundi’s line, “In India we don’t think who we are, we know who we are.”
This aspect of the film is something I wasn’t aware of before watching it, but I said last week that I’d look at it to conclude this blog series on a high note, and I’m sticking to it. Despite the accusations of racism, it was a well-received film. It’s considered to be a cult classic. 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.” Saul Austerlitz wrote, “Despite the offensiveness of Sellers’s brownface routine, The Party is one of his very best films … 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.”
This is an overall very funny movie, and one that feels truly unique. The plot itself if quite simple. Hrundi is an incompetent extra on a major film. After causing a complete disaster on-set, he’s fired. He’s then mistakenly invited to a party along with a number of major Hollywood stars. At said party, he’s involved with a number of awkward interactions, and his clumsiness progressively causes more and more trouble, which ends up resulting in absolute chaos. He’s not the only one causing problems – there’s also a very drunk waiter who is arguably worse, and the mansion owner’s daughter coming over with her friends … and an elephant painted with hippy messages.
At the same time, Hrundi is a genuinely likeable guy. He’s got a bit of wisdom within his idiocy. Some of his interactions are genuinely charming, especially with aspiring actress Michele Monet (played by Claudine Longet). The movie also touches on a dark subject in a subtle and respectful way. Michele is aggressively “pursued” by producer C.S. Divot (played by Gavin MacLeod), and is dropped from his project when she rejects him. Hrundi and Michele don’t quite fall in love, but they develop a friendship that feels like it could easily go further.
Saying anything else about this movie would spoil the fun. It’s a very creative comedy, and watching clips of it on YouTube just won’t do it justice. How much you’ll enjoy this movie will likely depend on how much you’re willing to look past the Brownface. It’s clearly not done with ill intent, but some will find it offensive. If you can look past that, I would highly recommend this movie.
I still haven’t completely decided what I’m doing next month. It depends on work, which has been chaotic all year. I’ll either look at the entire Home Alone series, or I’ll do 3 or 4 random Christmas movies. Either way, I’m hoping to close out the year with another Adventures in Home Ownership journal.