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Word From The USA: At Long Last . . . . And Worth The Wait -- A Commendable BFI Release
on 5 September 2014
This is a five-star DVD of a three-and-a-half (well, maybe four) star movie -- and one I've waited decades to see. It should be noted that this review is based SOLELY on the standard DVD disc in the package (I've not made the leap to Blu-Ray yet), but that said, the BFI have done a fine job of restoration, annotation, and packaging on this cinematic curio of the early/middle 1960s, the release (or non-release) history of which may be more interesting than the movie itself -- though the film does contain some fascinating (Oliver Reed) and even fine (Eddie Albert) performances. THE PARTY'S OVER was the "white whale" of Guy Hamilton's filmography, shot in 1963 and unreleased in any form until 1965 -- by which time the filmmaker and the producers had taken their names off of the recut, censored version -- a blank space in terms of accurate information, release history, and official acknowledgement, and even the version here, based on a non-censored pre-release cut of the movie, has to acknowledge the lack of the imprimatur of Hamilton (or the producer). The plot concerns a spoiled American girl (Louise Sorel, in her movie debut) who has fallen in with a pack of British beats -- mostly frustrated middle-class poseurs -- and doesn't want to return to her life in the American mid-west as the daughter of a wealthy industrialist (Eddie Albert, who doesn't show up till the second half of the film); between her dalliances with de facto group leader Oliver Reed and others, as they pursue their lives of non-conformist decadence, she manages to elude the pursuit of her fiance (Clifford David), who has shown up in London to bring her home. The not-so-merry chase on which she leads him ends in her accidental death at a party that quickly descends into a orgiastic ritual, literally over her dead body (the participants don't realize at first that she has succumbed), which leads to further conflict, tragedy, and mayhem, as well as a Rashomon-like series of recollections, all interspersed with more iconoclastic posturing and unwilling soul searching (plus a song done by Annie Ross, the highlight of the John Barry-composed soundtrack), before the truth -- more or less -- is known.
As a production, the movie appears to have been at least partly an outgrowth -- improbable as it might seem -- of David Lean's LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, in that two of the people behind the movie, presumably on the money end, were Jack Hawkins and Peter O'Toole (along with Anthony Perry, all three ultimately uncredited), in a production that was shot in 1962. Perhaps a full account will appear someday concerning their role in the picture's making, and their reactions to its "unmaking," in that it was held back from release for two years. The uncensored film itself might make a great companion feature to WITHNAIL AND I, and I was glad to have finally seen this lost artifact of its era. Oliver Reed's performance is the most compelling in the picture, and he is very mannered and theatrical, but fascinating to watch -- he carries much of the movie, even though it seems like Clifford David gets more screen time, and it is clear that he's the one to watch in this cast, and the most interesting character (he isn't really attracted to the American interloper Melina, and finally indicates a real indifference to her supposed allure -- if the picture had been made and set a little bit later, you could almost imagine the Rolling Stones' "Please Go Home" as a music cue for some of their scenes). Louise Sorel, who later became much better known to soap opera audiences in America (and also to Star Trek fans, as the doomed Rayna Kapek in "Requiem For Methuselah"), is suitably elusive as a callow, selfish American girl who gets in over her head with a much more decadent crowd than she's prepared to handle -- among the others seen in the picture is Alison Seebohm, whose venal hanger-on (stealing the dress and some of the underclothes of the dead girl) is a startling and frightening turn from an actress best remembered as the quietly sexy secretary in the producer's office (into which George Harrison accidentally walks) in A HARD DAY'S NIGHT. Other background players worth noting include Roddy Maude-Roxby, memorable as the somewhat effeminate manager of the run-down building where many of the low-lifes in this bunch seem to live and lay about; and Katherine Woodville (who, a decade later, was married to Eddie Albert's son Edward) as Nina, one of Reed's pack of followers. And those scenes, which open the movie's attenuated credits and get repeated, of this pack of lowlifes and layabouts wandering zombie-like across the Albert Bridges, are etched in my mind already.
The BFI have delivered an excellent transfer of the picture, and supported it with some related short films and an extensively annotated booklet. This might not be quite on the level of a Criterion Collection deluxe special, but for a movie that barely got seen on either side of the Atlantic it's royal treatment, and pretty much deservedly so, even if it isn't an earth-shattering cinematic statement.