Thursday, October 21, 2004

Birdie Num Nums

It would be downright cruel not to love The Party, Blake Edwards’s 1968 comedy starring Peter Sellers as Hrundi V. Bakshi, a bumbling but elegant Indian actor accidentally invited to a swanky party thrown by the very mogul who had earlier vowed to have him blacklisted (“He’ll never work in this town again!”) due to his gross incompetence on the set.

It’s one of the most goofy-ass films I’ve seen in a long time and I gotta admit I went in highly skeptical, forgetful of whatever it was I must have read that convinced me I should add it to my Netflix queue. The first few minutes didn’t bode well either, a perfunctory introduction that acts as a simple, obligatory setup for the ensuing mayhem- something that, in retrospect, I can acknowledge as being perfectly suitable if not entirely inspired.

Sellers’s Hrundi is sometimes conscious of the commotion his bumbling creates but entirely incapable of comprehending it as anything but the natural order of things. Tactical obliviousness is key. He’s a bumbling innocent whose actions continuously leave a wake of mayhem that he adapts to as though nothing were amiss. He's constantly trying to cover his trail of destruction which, of course, only leads to more.

There’s a screwball element to The Party, an upsetting of uppity WASP order in the Hollywood Hills. It begins simply enough, with Hrundi arriving to the party, invitation in hand and, much to his chagrin, mud on one of his shoes. In the process of cleaning the shoe it comes off and lands in a pool. While trying to fetch the shoe from the pool it lands on a catering trey making the rounds. Eventually there will be Cornish hens flying through the air, toilets overflowing, an elephant on parade and best of all, the repeated saying of the phrase, “Birdie num nums.” A trot becomes a gallop and order becomes chaos. It’s a finely calibrated trajectory of silliness and I found myself completely swept up in its delirium.

There’s a warm sweetness at its core, too- Sellers’s Hrundi is all good will turned fantastically calamitous. He’s a buffoon both stunned and amused by his actions- so innocent and benign that you’re left with no other option but to empathize with his bumbling ways. (And Sellers was one of the big screens all-time great bumblers.) A love interest, supplied by the adorable French chanteuse Claudine Longet (whose singing of the Henry Mancini penned Nothing To Lose is one of the films highlights) supplies a perfect compliment of tenderness to the sugar rush of zaniness.

The whole thing is slight but enchanted. It’s loose (much of it was improvised) and elegant (Mancini’s score)- unhinged and refined. It’s near perfect but not for everybody. I adored it.

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