World of Henry Orient
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Director George Roy Hill’s The World of Henry Orient (1964), adapted from Nora Johnson’s novel by Johnson and her father, Hollywood veteran Nunnally Johnson (The Grapes of Wrath), is an utterly original comic drama about two Manhattan schoolgirls (fabulous newcomers Tippy Walker and Merrie Spaeth), both from broken/ breaking homes, who conceive mad crushes on a pompous, ridiculous, deplorably bad pianist, the titular Orient (played with magnificent aplomb by Peter Sellers). As they trail him, with enviable freedom, from one New York haunt to another, they somehow bust up his every romantic intrigue, even as they embark on their own painful growing up. Also starring Angela Lansbury, Paula Prentiss, Tom Bosley, Phyllis Thaxter and Bibi Osterwald, and featuring a superb Elmer Bernstein score, available here as an isolated track.
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I'm so glad this movie was made at the right time (1964), when cinema still relied on a good story, well told. I firmly believe this film couldn't, or wouldn't, be made today. Hollywood, with a few outstanding exceptions, now seems content to churn out major productions built on wow-me special effects, formulaic plots, infantile characters, and sophomoric dialogue. But that wasn't the case in 1964, and it certainly wasn't the case with "The World of Henry Orient."
Every aspect of this film is exceptional: The cinematography, with its innovative camera angles, beautifully depicts the special world of the two adolescent girls, who are the film's main characters, and also gives us a lovely panorama of New York City before its decay. You can watch "The World of Henry Orient" for its scenic selections and camera work alone, and learn more than in most modern movies.
Not only are the scenic selections used to show the passage of time, they are also carefully correlated with what is happening emotionally in the script.
Listen to the movie's musical score: There is a lovely primary melody depicting the youthful spirit of the two girls. When the movie becomes darker, more solemn orchestration overlays the primary score, but it is never abandoned. It lurks beneath the surface, ready, like the inherent optimism and resilience of youth, to break out.
The script, based on Nora Johnson's excellent book, wonderfully communicates a lovely picture of the emotions and innocent fantasies of the two girls' adolescent world, and then shows what happens when that world is intruded upon by the petty and sordid behavior of some of the adults in the movie. The masterful blending of these opposing elements creates a light, airy comedy that is also a poignant drama. It is very rare for one movie to combine so many of the elements a great film should have, but "The World of Henry Orient" does.
You won't find better acting than in "The World of Henry Orient." Mr. Hill allows Tippy Walker and Merrie Spaeth the freedom to create their charming characters, and they do so magnificently. These two young actors almost steal the show from some of the finest performers of our time. It is a credit to Mr. Hill that each character in the movie is perfectly drawn and marvelously performed.
Thank you, Angela Lansbury, for beautifully playing what must have been a hideous role to perform. Bravo, Tom Bosley, for perfectly portraying a father who has aquired everything but the wisdom to receive his daughter's love.
I will forever smile when I think of the wonderfully phony Peter Sellers, and I will always treasure the most lovely Paula Prentiss' halarious performance of a neurotic on steroids. Thank you Phyllis Thaxter, Bibi Osterwald, John Fielder, Al Lewis, Peter Duchan, and many others for your fine acting. Oh, when you watch the film, look for the cameo appearance by Jack Benny; he is one of the members of the ochestra.
"The World of Henry Orient" will always hold a most special place in my heart. The girls will always be young. Peter Sellers will never cease pursuing the beguiling Paula Prentiss, and Tom Bosley will forever just have learned how to be a father to his child.
What I really want to say in this review is thanks to all of you who gave us this treasure. You did an outstanding job, and you can be very proud of what you created. And you did it in 1964.
Some reviews here complain that though Peter Sellers is the above-the-marquee name, he's not really the subject of the movie. They're right, those angry reviewers. This is Tippy Walker's movie, and it's the attentiveness she brings to the role and the rapt attention the movie gives to her character, her every expression, that gives the picture its peculiar élan, its frisson of joy. Some other reviews remark that the camera almost leers at these young girls, particularly in the jumping and "splitsing" scene. I don't really agree, or at least it doesn't bother me. Ms Walker has written movingly about how she and the director, George Roy Hill, fell in love during the making of this movie, something which has had an impact upon her for the rest of her life; however, unlike, say, Godard and Anna Karina, Hill's camera doesn't seem to want to possess or overwhelm his subject. It just delights in her liveliness. She had something special. You can see it in this film.
The Amazon stream was bright and seemingly in HD; New York seems like a fairy tale.