14 June 2008

What a world

I just the other day watched The World of Henry Orient for the first time in over 40 years. It's weird to revisit a movie after such a long time. Two 14 year old private school girls in New York City become obsessed with and literally follow around a womanizing concert pianist, Henry Orient, played by Peter Sellers. This was a transitional role, an odd one at that, for Sellers coming as it did between Dr. Strangelove and Shot in the Dark.
This is not a Sellars movie, it belongs to the two teens. I think this explains why he didn't have his heart in the role. He played a Brooklyn native who affected a faux Continental European accent but his switches between the two accents were often so quick and subtle that they were devoid of the sort of comic timing that was a Sellars trademark.
Watching the movie today I remembered having a crush on one of the two girls as a kid, Val the brunette. I don't blame my younger self. She was not a great beauty but cute and obviously bright, eccentric and seemingly accessible to an ordinary Joe. I'm much prouder of that crush than the one I had on Haley Mills. Val's mother doesn't show up until half way through the film and who's this? Why its Angela Lansbury, two decades before Murder, She Wrote playing a character more akin to the diabolical Mrs. Iselin from the original Manchurian Candidate. The role of her cuckold husband went to Tom Bosley, best known for the avuncular father in Happy Days.
This was number three of only 13 movies directed by George Roy Hill, the two most famous of which starred Paul Newman and Robert Redford.
Filmed and set in 1964, The World of Henry Orient is an interesting time capsule. It was an America on the cusp of the massive sea change brought on by the Beatles and the ensuing cultural revolution. Women still wore gloves and youthful rebellion was innocent and fun and not about "changing the system." Parents were either loving, supportive and indulgent or like Lansbury's somewhat one dimensional character, just the rare rotten apple. Adults do not represent a broken political system.
It's interesting to note that according to their imdb bios, the brunette teen played by Tippy Walker, had a short acting career and went on to be what used to be called a Bohemian artist. The blonde Merrie Spaeth also had an abbreviated acting career but she subsequently gained fame by helping coordinate the notorius Willie Horton ads and then the whole Swift Boat Veterans for truth (is THAT what they wanted?) campaign. In other words she became a complete tool.
The movie also featured Paula Prentiss is one of Orient's love interests. To me Prentiss is one of the iconic women of '60's film and TV. She was sexy and funny in an odd way that is best replicated today by Cameron Diaz. Prentiss had that weird voice that always made her sound half drunk. She seemed vulnerable yet intelligent. Prentiss has been married to Richard Benjamin for 47 years, its hard to imagine a couple more deserving of each other.
Seeing The World of Henry Orient again wasn't just about watching a mildly entertaining movie, it was also about a recalling a time period, recalling my own youth and seeing what odd turns acting careers can take. This is one of the great benefits of film, they can recall a time in a way not necessarily intended and they can recall who we were and what we were like when we first saw it. Every time I see The Great Escape I am reminded of the young me who was so entranced by Steve McQueen and the movie as a whole. Seeing Henry Orient recalled an early crush and a glimpse at the curious minds of that other gender that I was just starting to become interested n.

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