One of a handful of small films Peter Sellers made between higher-profile turns such as Dr. Strangelove and Being There, 1968's The Party is a light comedy best remembered for two notable elements. The first is Sellers' nimble performance as a bumbling actor from India who is accidentally invited to a big Hollywood party, innocently wreaking havoc everywhere from the bathroom to the swimming pool to the forehead of his favorite cowboy star. The second is the co-starring presence of French pop chanteuse Claudine Longet waifish, cute as a button, and famous eight years later for shooting her lover, professional skier Vladimir "Spider" Sabich, to death with a Luger.
Did I say "best remembered"? For the film's fans and line-quoting devotees now decades later, make that "adored," "beloved," or just plain "endlessly rewatched." Back in '68 it rippled hardly at all at the box office. (Premiering on the day of Martin Luther King's assassination sure didn't help.) Since then, however, The Party has become one of those little "cult" movies that generates such bonhomie among its fans that online dating services ought to use it as a compatibility test.
The Party was directed by Blake Edwards, making it the only Edwards-Sellers vehicle that wasn't an Inspector Clouseau movie. Although during production the working relationship between Edwards and the neuroses-laden Sellers was strained to breaking, there are plenty of memorable, laugh-out-loud moments ("birdy num-nums" being a universal favorite). If after a while you wonder if they're making it up as they go along, you're onto something. The Party's slapstick situations were largely improvised from a script only half normal length. Some gags, such as Steve Franken's soused butler, remain just funny enough as they hang on beyond their natural lifespan, and by the time they bring in the party-hardy teenagers, the balalaika-playing Russians, the painted elephant, and the houseful of suds, it feels like Edwards is throwing everything in the swimming pool wondering what will float to the top.
All the same, this is a sweet-natured, enjoyable trifle. Peter Sellers was one of the screen's finest comic actors, and here he may remind aficionados of Jacques Tati. Any opportunity to see him work is a good thing, even if only a fraction of his talents are on display and his portrayal of Hrundi V. Bakshi isn't what we'd today call "culturally sensitive." Look for a number of recognizable character actors, such as Gavin McLeod as a predatory producer. Henry Mancini provided the ersatz groovy music, including the sitar-based opening theme and Longet's breathy solo number.
* * *
MGM's 2001 DVD of The Party is your basic no-frills release, with the theatrical trailer as the only extra. It does, though, present a fine transfer from a slightly speckly but otherwise very good print (2.35:1, anamorphic). The DD 2.0 monaural audio is clean and sharp. Language and subtitle tracks in English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese. Keep-case.