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A Hollywood movie studio has the bright idea of importing a stage actor from New Delhi to lend some authenticity to their production of Son of Gunga Din. Their chosen lead, Hrundi V. Bakshi (Peter Sellers), turns out to be a walking disaster, bungling his scenes and inadvertently destroying one of the most expensive sets in the film. Although he is promptly fired, Bakshi continues to create further mayhem at the home of the outraged studio head, Fred Clutterbuck, when he receives a party invitation by accident.
Essentially a string of jokes and sight gags inspired by Peter Sellers' gift for mimicry, The Party (1968) is one of Blake Edwards' most unconventional films. The script, barely sixty-five pages, was about half the length of the normal Hollywood screenplay and at least a fourth of the film had no dialogue, just sound effects and incidental music. Truly a concept film, The Party bears favorable comparison to the comedies of Buster Keaton and Laurel and Hardy in the way that Bakshi retains his innocence and naiveté in the face of recurring disaster. There are also similarities to the films of French comedian Jacques Tati and his fascination with gadgets and inanimate objects. This is particularly true of the scenes at the movie executive's home where Bakshi manages to turn a fountain into a geyser, a roast chicken into a woman's headwear, and a public address system into an ear-splitting broadcast of muzak.
Curiously enough, Sellers was no stranger to playing docile Indians. In The Millionairess (1960), opposite Sophia Loren, he played Dr. Ahmed el Kabir, a general practitioner with a slum-district office. He also turned up in a cameo appearance as yet another Indian doctor in The Road to Hong Kong (1962), the last of the Bing Crosby-Bob Hope 'road' comedies. In fact, internationally acclaimed director Satyajit Ray of The Apu Trilogy was so impressed by Sellers' impersonation in The Millionairess that he wrote a screenplay specifically for him entitled The Alien. In it, Sellers' character was a self-promoting businessman who tries to exploit his association with a space visitor and claim credit for the latter's miraculous deeds. Either Sellers was put off by the unflattering portrayal or he was more interested in playing romantic comedy leads in films like The Bobo (1967) because he abandoned the project. Nevertheless, Ray came to visit Sellers on the set of The Party but felt that the actor's impersonation of a New Delhi native was evolving into a course caricature. Some critics agreed as well but many also admired Edwards' homage to the silent slapstick comedies, including Film Comment writer Richard Combs who called The Party "both classic farce and trenchant satire, a self-sufficient fantasy about the fantasy of Hollywood life."
Director/Producer: Blake Edwards
Screenplay: Blake Edwards, Frank Waldman, Tom Waldman
Cinematography: Lucien Ballard
Editor: Ralph E. Winters
Production Design: Fernando Carrere
Music: Henry Mancini
Cast: Peter Sellers (Hrundi V. Bakshi), Claudine Longet (Michelle Monet), Marge Champion (Rosalind Dunphy), J. Edward McKinley (Fred Clutterbuck), Buddy Lester (Davey Kane), Gavin MacLeod (C. S. Divot), Jean Carson (Nanny).
by Jeff Stafford