“The World of Henry Orient” (1964): A Delightful Comic Delight

A definite charming classic. Recommended if you want to see what New York (complete with moody Central Park scenes) was like in 1964 before The Beatles arrived. Also for its old-fashioned take on two early sixties girls coming of age with their romantic fantasies and overactive imaginations. The two leads played by one-shot wonders Tippy Walker (as rich, flighty grade 8 girl in analysis) and Merrie Spaeth (as Gil, a plain, level-headed, loyal buddy of Val) are both bona-fide hoots.

Other reasons to check this film out: fine performances, too, by Peter Sellers as Orient, a lustful aging concert pianist, Paula Prentiss at her dizziest best as an unfaithful wife foiling Sellers’ seduction plans, Angela Lansbury as an unfaithful wife and ‘evil’ stepmother, Tom Bosley as the ideal father who comes to prioritize his daughter, Phyllis Thaxter as the ideal mother of Gil (Merrie Spaeth).

There are many funny scenes involving Sellers, Prentiss, Lansbury, and the girls. The music by Elmer Bernstein is very catchy (the main theme of the girls) and underscores most of the film’s episodes; the concert performance featuring atonal classical music at its height in ’64 is wonderfully accurate. And all the characters get their just deserts in the wish-fulfilment ending of this romantic comedy; Sellers being booed by disenchanted fans as he leaves the concert hall is exactly what he deserves, and the truth behind his so-called musical talent.

Director George Roy Hill (of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting fame) has a remarkably memorable handle on all the shenanigans, masks, and deceits of World. He takes what is an adolescent novel and more than satisfyingly realizes it with liveliness and humor from beginning to end.

I was particularly impressed by how the innocent adolescent comedy aimed at teenage girls morphs more broadly and transitions seamlessly into the conflictful adult world with its lies and adult problems including analysis, divorce, affairs, broken homes, lies, disloyalty, betrayal, manipulation, and personal agendas with realism and positiveness. What a refreshingly different take on these topics!

In short, The World of Henry Orient is a wonderful, thoroughly entertaining film classic and a must-see which accurately portrays North American teen, family, and societal life in 1964.

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