Friday, November 7, 2008

The World Of Henry Orient

It’s time for me to open the vault and take out a dusty. Blowing a cloud of cobwebs and dust off of The World of Henry Orient reveals a treasure long hidden in the vault of classic movies. The World of Henry Orient stars a younger Peter Sellers during the timeframe that he filmed his much more popular Pink Panther movie. A cast full of rising stars compliment this film directed by George Roy Hill which was written by Nora and Nunnally Johnson.

The World of Henry Orient is an interestingly innocent story of two teenage girls who meet in 8th Grade in the 1960s. The girls quickly become friends and allow the audience to explore the world through the eyes of two fourteen year old girls. The girls are silly in a fun way, disliking the same teachers and sharing their secrets. When one girl (Valarie Boyd played by Tippy Walker) falls in love with a “Avante Garde” pianist named Henry Orient (Peter Sellers), the two begin following Orient around. Boyd, who is affectionately called Val, shares her secret scrap-booking like album with her newfound friend Gil (Merrie Spaeth). Val and Gil bounce around New York trying to catch a glimpse of Orient, inadvertently spoiling his chances to share his affection with a very attractive and very married woman. When Val’s parents suddenly show up, the carefree fun comes to an end. Val’s mother Isabel (Angela Lansbury) also discovers her scrapbook and ends up taking Val to task over a project that was innocent and fun. Isabel is not a nice woman and the audience is easily swayed to favor Val’s father Frank (Tom Bosley), who ends up running static for his daughter. The story examines the innocence of youth and the tribulations of coming of age. Unlike the coming-of-age movies of today, this film examines the subject from a sheltered and interesting perspective.

One of the things I liked best about this film is that the setting was so different from today. New York in the 1960’s was a different place. There were issues in this film that easily created distinction from the current climate. Two fourteen-year-olds running amok with little supervision may not be a stretch of the imagination. However, the commentary within the dialogue paints a very different picture on society. In one scene, Gil refers to a group of boys that she is forced to dance with on Saturdays as not being as refined as her mother might think. She asks her mother “do you know what those boys were doing while waiting for the school bus?” In todays world, I might answer “flashing gang signs?” Or, “brandishing weapons?” No, they were burping. What a social travesty. The girls also manage to create a bit of trouble here and there, but the comedy has a very innocent feel. Another thing I thoroughly enjoyed in this film was watching actors and actresses I have known later in life performing roles from before I knew them. Tom Bosley is Richie Cunningham’s dad…everyone knows that. Seeing him a bit younger and slimmer was fun. Angela Lansbury is the old lady from Murder She Wrote. Okay, she is not defined by that single role, but it’s the one I associate her with. Seeing her as a sex-kitten is a bit weird. Fun, but weird. It was enjoyable to see such a treasure from a by-gone era.

The writing in this film was spectacular. The Johnsons effectively developed a script that truly had the feel of two mischief prone teenage girls experiencing life in an era that I barely remember. The dialogue was quick and interesting. There are exchanges between the two girls where they create fantasy worlds in their imagination. During the creative process there are ideas being passed back and forth as they build on their common fantasy. The communal fantasy seemed very credible and spontaneous. The characters were well developed with small quirks that made them more appealing. The script was engaging enough to create a bond with the characters and a concern over the outcome. The plot was fairly simple and straightforward, with very little in the way of antagonism. The carefree feel created an atmosphere where a strong plot was not necessarily needed, although enough difficult subject matter evolved to keep things interesting. In a nutshell, the writing created interesting dialogue, strong characters and a tolerable plot.

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