Blake Edwards / US / 1968 / 99mins
Available on Blu-Ray from Mon 16 Oct 2017
TV’s Little Britain regularly took sidelong pot-shots at the elderly, clinically obese, disabled, and trans and gay community (who can forget “the only gay in the village?” Who wants to remember?). The category not spoofed was race (if you ignore the mixed-race marriage of the man and his Thai wife). Since Little Britain hit the airwaves 15 years ago the world has changed. Body-shaming is now virtually verboten. It wasn’t always thus, although “blackface” has regularly made many people uncomfortable.
In The Party arch mimic Peter Sellers plays a hapless Indian actor named Hrundi V Bakshi. He is responsible for accidentally blowing up the set of the Raj-era epic he is appearing in and his name is accidentally (there’s a lot of accidents and contrivances in the movie) added to the guest list of the film producer’s party. His home is a Beverly Hills extravaganza with a split-level area, a real flame fire in the middle of the room, and a fishpond. And an increasingly drunk waiter.
The house is the perfect obstacle course for the accident-prone Bakshi. A naïf, the Indian actor is out of place among the Dunhill blazered executives and their Pucci catsuited wives. Losing his shoe in the house’s indoor water feature does not make a good first impression. Inevitably things get worse. If Bakshi can put his (stocking-soled) foot in it he does. This leads to a crescendo involving a baby elephant and the invention of the foam party. It’s all utterly hilarious slapstick, a homage to Chaplin and Keaton. With such good humour and Sellers’ winning performance it’s easy to forgive the blackface. Who hasn’t gone to a party or event and felt little like Bakshi?
Much of the dialogue and action was improvised – which may account for the quick-pace, and anarchic nature of the movie. In The Party director Edwards and his team pioneered the video assist technology that later became industry standard in moviemaking. There’s a groovy Henry Mancini score. Oh, and you may never be able to think of bird feed in quite the same way after accepting an invitation to this shindig.