WORLD OF HENRY ORIENT, THE
(director/writer: George Roy Hill; screenwriter: from the novel by Nora Johnson/Nora Johnson/Nunnally Johnson; cinematographers: Boris Kaufman/Arthur J. Ornitz; editor: Stuart Gilmore; music: Elmer Bernstein; cast: Peter Sellers (Henry Orient), Paula Prentiss (Stella Dunnworthy), Angela Lansbury (Isabel Boyd), Tom Bosley (Frank Boyd), Phyllis Thaxter (Mrs. Avis Gilbert), Bibi Osterwald (Erica ‘Boothy’ Booth), Merrie Spaeth (Marian ‘Gil’ Gilbert), Tippy Walker (Valarie ‘Val’ Campbell Boyd), John Fiedler (Sidney), Peter Duchin (Joe Daniels), Philippa Bevans (Emma), Al Lewis (Storekeeper); Runtime: 106; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producer: Jerome Hellman; # MGM/UA Home Entertainment; 1964)
“An immensely enjoyable film.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Former stage director George Roy Hill (“A Little Romance”/”Toys in the Attic”/”Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”) gets the most out of this brilliantly perceived comedy of manners, which is much like a sitcom but so much more refreshing and original than those formulaic ways of storytelling. Hill made a name for himself by using so many wonderful slow-mo shots and making the Big Apple shine with his razzle-dazzle camerawork. It’s the only film I can recall where someone else–Merrie Spaeth & Tippy Walker–two unknowns, steal the pic from the Brit comedian Peter Sellers (using a strange indescribable American accent for his first American film and basing his vain Lothario character on Oscar Levant). It’s adapted from the autobiographical novel by Nora Johnson, daughter of acclaimed screenwriter Nunnally Johnson. Nora’s alter ego is the imaginative, sophisticated and very bright character played by Tippy Walker (the film hinges on her part, and she’s simply marvelous). Nora’s father bought the screenrights to her story and hit the gold standard getting an immensely enjoyable film and grand performances from everyone to make the film creamy smooth.
Peter Sellers is a hoot as he plays the pretentiously egotistical cultured Henry Orient, a self-centered womanizing bachelor and a mediocre concert pianist living on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Henry is romancing married suburban woman Stella Dunnworthy (Paula Prentiss), but though trying hard has failed to get the nervous attractive woman in the sack. While necking with Stella on a giant rock in Central Park, two frisky 14-year-old rich private schoolgirls, Valerie Boyd (Tippy Walker) and Marian Gilbert (Merrie Spaeth), spot him there and ruin the romantic moment. Later after running away from a prank the more emotionally disturbed Valerie pulled, they bang right into Henry in the street as he’s about to get Stella into his apartment. Again the girls blow things for him, as a panicky Stella runs away. When Valerie discovers Henry is a classical pianist, a subject she’s interested in, she decides she loves him and starts a Henry Orient scrapbook, buys his records and reads about him in the entertainment magazines. Henry becomes convinced the girls, who don Chinese peasant straw hats, thinking Orient is a Chinese name, are detectives hired by Stella’s husband, as they start popping up in Henry’s life just at the wrong moment.
The story comes with poignant moments in between the comedy. The more stable Marian comes from a longtime broken home and lives comfortably with her understanding and kindly divorced mother (Phyllis Thaxter) who provides for a warm home, but the child still yearns for dad who remarried and has another family in Florida. Valerie’s parents, Isabel and Frank (Angela Lansbury & Tom Bosley), are very wealthy, but leave her most of the time under the care of a nanny (Philippa Bevans) as they travel to their business interests in Europe. The unhappy family life makes Valerie feel unwanted and she escapes her reality with wild flights of fancy, but is not doing well in school even though she’s so gifted.
When the overbearing Isabel returns with her nice guy hubby to New York for the Christmas holidays, she discovers Valerie’s scrapbook and misinterprets its meaning. It leads to Valerie running away from home and staying with Marian, while Isabel goes nasty and contacts Henry and succumbs to his corny womanizing charms which the two girls discover when they spy on Henry. It leads to both girls shedding their braces and growing up to a world of reality and privilege and new adjustments to family life.
Elmer Bernstein turns his attention to creating a score for a comedy for the first time, which is a good career move as he goes on from here to become known as one of the best in the field doing scores for comedies. Hill’s rep also grew and he went on to make a number of acclaimed films including his Oscar-winner for Best Picture and Best Director, The Sting (1973).
REVIEWED ON 12/2/2006 GRADE: A