Thursday, October 16, 2008

The World of Henry Orient (1964) Film Review

Plot Summary - Terrific coming-of-age tale which follows the friendship between two mischievous, dreamy fourteen-year old outsiders who meet at an exclusive girl's school then get mixed up in a rich fantasy world of their own as they run about the streets of Manhattan. Blonde, short pig-tailed "Gil" and mop-topped "Val" (normally seen in a long fur coat) find a mutual bond in braces and a hatred for the same teachers. Gil lives with her divorced mom and mom's (implied - or am I reading too much into this?!) female partner Boothy in a New York brownstone - Val, marked "unmanageable" by the schools she's been kicked out of, is left home alone and lonely by her wealthy, jet-setter parents (Angela Lansbury and Tom Bosley) who are rarely in town. The girls decide to meet in Central Park and go "Adventuring", living in a pretend world as they imagine they are someone else (beautiful, white nurses running away from bandits, to be exact), then go for a carefree romp through the park and the city streets as they jump over fire hydrants and small children shouting "Splitzing". While in the park they happen upon a man kissing a woman on a rock - the next day, they run across him again with the same woman. A short time later the girls are taken to a concert where this man happens to be the star attraction - an avant-garde pianist named Henry Orient (Peter Sellers). Val is in love! The two girls decide to make a blood pact devoted to the "study of Henry Orient", then proceed to stalk this guy around town as they talk to each other using the "mysterious language of the Orient" while sporting Chinese bamboo hats. Love-struck Val keeps a secret Henry Orient scrapbook full of clippings, magazine articles, and fake love notes from him. Henry Orient, in reality, is a womanizer who uses a fake European accent and seems to only chase about after married women and lure them to his "lair", that is, his red, white, and black apartment. He tells his latest, she of the frosted eyeshadow (Paula Prentiss), that he's going to set her poem to music (oh brother) but she runs off when she becomes concerned that the two teens are young detectives hired by her husband - heh! When Val's parents come home around the holidays, her rather bitchy mom causes trouble for the girls when she reads the scrapbook and phones Henry Orient!

Review - This film is a wonderful gem that I love, it's one of my favorites. The film has some comedy elements (as when Orient gives his radical concert), but it is also nostalgic and touching. The two actresses who play Val and Gil (Tippy Walker and Merrie Spaeth) are so great in this, they bring such a realness and enthusiastic charm to these characters - they really seem like two real teenage friends: swoony, bubble-gum chewing, getting into jams together. These two are the kind of girls I would have liked to have as friends when I was that age (and I admit I did like getting up to mischief and pranks in my junior high years, just as these two do). The film is rich in on-location scenes of New York City in the sixties, lots of street scenes and shots of a beautiful winter and summer Central Park. The direction is sometimes almost whimsical, as when the girls romp the streets near the beginning of the film and the camera romps with them - slo mo, then fast motion, upside-down and sideways - the Splitzing scene is my favorite scene in the film. The film is highlighted by a great music score done by Elmer Bernstein, with one tune in particular that runs through the film and still runs through my head as I write this - love! A few segments of the music are actually reminiscent of Bernstein's music done in "To Kill a Mockingbird". I can see how, perhaps, this film would not be for everyone - perhaps it may even fall into the category of "chick flick" as the story is totally focused from the perspective of the two girls. But for me - love it! Rating - 10/10 stars

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