Palatable: The Party

The Party (1968)
Directed by Blake Edwards
Written by Blake Edwards, Tom Waldman, Frank Waldman
Produced by Blake Edwards, Ken Wales, Walter Mirisch
Starring Peter Sellers, Claudine Longet, Gavin MacLeod, J. Edward McKinley, Denny Miller, Steve Franken, Fay McKenzie, Kathe Green, Allen Jung, Danielle De Metz, Linda Gaye Scott, Herbert Ellis, Sharron Kimberly, Frances Davis, Timothy Scott, Jean Carson
Tati meets the Marx Brothers meets Mad Magazine, then bombs after its opening night, which concurred with Martin Luther King’s assassination! Between Pink Panthers, Edwards and Sellers contrived this experimental extravaganza starring the comic genius in brownface as a cordial, calamitously clumsy Indian actor inadvertently invited to a soiree at the swankily hideous mansion of a studio executive (McKinley) whose war epic he’s accidentally wrecked, where he repeatedly makes an ass of himself and a shambles of nearly everything he touches. Goofy revelry and mishaps ensue his encounters with the stuffy harbinger and his wife (McKenzie), a progressively drunken cater waiter (Franken), one friendly, French actress (Longet) accompanying a lecherous producer (MacLeod), a raucous star of Westerns (Miller) flirting with a juicy Italian actress (De Metz), and a painted elephant adopted by the hosts’ sprightly daughter (Green), whose clamorous coterie further enlivens the party, as does a jazz band and a rumbustious, Russian ballet troupe. In wide static shots and drifting pans, slapstick stupidities partially improvised from Edwards’ and the Waldmans’ skeletal screenplay bump, bumble, stagger, stumble and crash in plotless luxury, as the gentle, inelegant Hindu and deliberately disorderly guests carouse with rising ruction to a riotously, redundantly sudsy culmination. Sensible viewers can safely ignore ludicrous leftists who liken Sellers’ silly yet sensitive creation of his lovably mansuete goofball to minstrel shows. A victim of critical misevaluation and unfortunate coincidence, this commercial washout deserves reappraisal as a tarnished comedic gem of late Old Hollywood and Edwards’ and Sellers’ most daring collaboration, shot observationally with understated craft on a stupendous set populated by character actors who don’t miss a beat. For such quality, and its commentary on the predatory predispositions of Tinseltown’s loathsome elites and the culture shock that redounds to half of its protagonists’ follies, this farce is a few cuts above.

Recommended for a double feature paired with A Shot in the Dark or Playtime.