The World of Henry Orient – George Roy Hill (1964)

http://blogs.orlandoweekly.com/index.php/2011/11/underrated-the-world-of-henry-orient-george-roy-hill-1964/

I’m an absolute sucker for a good stalker comedy. Whether it be AmeliePunch Drunk Love or Hana and Alice, there is just something so wonderfully off about them that it makes me happy. Just knowing that the stalkers are harmless and generally good-natured takes entirely all of the creepiness out of what, in reality, is a pretty despicable act. And The World of Henry Orient may actually be the best of the genre.

It stars Tippy Walker and Merrie Spaeth as Val and Gil, a pair of mischievous high school loners who meet, hit it off and along the way accidentally ruin Henry Orient’s (Peter Sellers) liaison with a married woman while playacting in Central Park. And then again. But when they ruin a second liaison between Henry and the woman, something happens to Val: she falls madly in love with him, buys all of his records and, with Gil, creates the Henry Orient Bible, a handmade diary full of press clippings and photographs and a fake love letter that Val keeps meaning to reply to.

The object of Val’s love, Henry Orient, is a middling-to-bad pianist and ladies man, the top billing who has to escape the concert hall through a posse of refund seekers, so bad are his avant garde stylings. He doesn’t practice enough, says Val, who, before meeting Gil, was all alone and practiced too much.

We never see films like this anymore, films that prize sweetness and mischievousness over cynicism and edginess. Cynicism and edginess absolutely have their great points, but have been so done over and over again that a film like Henry Orient is a breath of fresh air, a cup of cold water in the face and a joy to watch. If you don’t have a grin stuck on your face for almost the entire film, then I don’t know what is wrong with you.

So what is it about The World of Henry Orient? Is it sunshine and roses, a tale of rich girl Eloise-types running around Manhattan in a bulletproof bubble or privilege?

Hmm, yes and no. There is an air of privilege, and neither girl is about to starve to death. But their stories told in bullet point wouldn’t be terribly different from a youth film that would be made today. Both girls come from broken or breaking homes, chase an older man, screw with authority, and eventually, dabble in the early stages of sex. Yet it remains light and fun.

Val’s father (Tom Bosley) spends all his time traveling for work, and her mother (Angela Lansbury) spends all her time going behind his back with piano players. She is left alone in an apartment with a maid/babysitter and essentially left to own devices. Her shrink sees more of her than her parents.

Gil, too, has family issues. Her parents divorced when she was a baby, and she now lives on the Upper West Side with her mother (Phyllis Thaxter) and her mother’s “friend”, Boothy (Bibi Osterwald). Even though she is happy living with her mother and Boothy, and loves them both, she longs for a normal family life, where father comes home at 6:30 and greets her and her mother.

Things get somewhat serious, though, when Val’s mother snoops through her room and finds the Henry Orient Bible. She demands to know what it is all about, but her mind is already decided what it is about and she has no interest in listening to the answer Val and Gil try to give her.

Towards the end of the film, there is a line by Val that really perfectly sums the film up. It is “awfully happy in a sad sorta way”. The act of coming of age is a sorta sad one, after all. Gone are the days of braces and pig tails and hair ribbons (or pet frogs and racing bikes, if you will), replaced with makeup and boys and the desperate race to grow up too fast. You only miss the younger days later though, and then you feel terribly nostalgic for them, because they didn’t last nearly as long as they should have, and the prize for winning the race to grow up isn’t as nice and shiny as it looked from the starting line. And so The World of Henry Orient stands as a great document of fun, of mischievousness, and a time when film was allowed to reflect the underlying spirit of the world instead of the ugly, bloody image of the world.

Kiss Me, Stupid – Billy Wilder (1964)

http://blogs.orlandoweekly.com/index.php/2011/09/underrated-kiss-me-stupid-billy-wilder-1964/

Out of Billy Wilder’s entire filmography, Kiss Me, Stupid is the one that really stuck in his craw. Lambasted by critics and censors alike for being too crude for its time, it was seemingly doomed from the get-go, when Jack Lemmon, fresh off of back-to-back-to-back hits with Wilder (Some Like it HotThe Apartment and Irma La Douce) had to pass.

The film stars Dean Martin in a playful parody of himself as the charmingly drunk, eternally handsome nightclub singer and actor named, cleverly, Dino. He has just closed his run at the Sands in Las Vegas (treating us to a really wonderful rendition of ‘S Wonderful by the Gershwins, who also provide new songs to the production). Travelling to LA for an engagement, he is stopped in the podunk town of Climax, Nevada, where he is Shanghaied by two song writers, hoping that Dino will take on their compositions, Orville (Ray Walston)  and Barney (Cliff Osmond). But it’s not songs that Dino is interested in, it’s girls. So like any normal fellas would, Orville and Barney hatch a plan to chase away Orville’s wife, Zelda (Felicia Farr), and hire a hooker with a heart of gold, Polly (Kim Novak), to seduce Dino so he’ll be more inclined to buy the songs. Hijinks and switcheroos ensue.

It’s a plot that could easily play these days in a black sex comedy, but for 1964 was too risque for mass audiences, even as the Hays Production Code was slowly fading into obscurity. Such blatant, open adultery was still a tough sell, even though it worked like gangbusters in The Apartment. But it was a softer form of adultery in The Apartment, where the adulterer, CC Baxter’s boss Shelldrake, was the film’s heavy, not the film’s hero, a small-town piano teacher like Orville.

Orville, too, was a problem. It is a lead role that was so clearly written for and tailored to Lemmon’s personality and sense of style that it was almost unfair to expect anything but a long reach from Ray Walston. Walston, to his credit, is amiable in the role as the slightly dense but skilled composed and tries hard to hit the story’s finer notes, but he just doesn’t fit the bill. The film is intended to be raunchy in a really lovable way — almost a New York apartment film, like an Odd Couple or a Two for the See Saw, but with a little more “gee, whiz” to it than savvy Greenwich Village intellectualism.

But outside of that, there is a lot to like here. Much of the raunchiness still works, or perhaps works even better now, and Dean Martin and Felicia Farr are both excellent in their roles. Martin’s parody of himself is second only to the long-running gag act of Tony Clifton, and Felicia Farr even steals the film a little bit in her short scenes after she’s run away from Orville.

Billy Wilder, along with his co-writers Charles Brackett and Izzy Diamond, had one of the best runs of any filmmaker in the history of film, and even though the wheels were coming off of the train by the time he got around to Kiss Me, Stupid, you can still see the Wilder of old at work. If Kiss Me, Stupid can be said to not work on the whole, you would at least have to admit that it works in pieces, and that some of those pieces are pretty great. There is a slightly absurd touch to the whole thing, especially the ending, but it’s no less absurd than the end of Sabrina or Some Like it Hot.