The Party (Blake Edwards / U.S., 1968):

The joke is that the party is the same one from La Notte, only with a decade's alienation being allowed to spill over in a transcendent slapstick deluge. Blake Edwards's preamble introduces Peter Sellers as Hrundi V. Bakshi in a brownface commentary that reaches back to Gunga Din's last stand. The Indian thespian detonates a movie set, then gravely plays the sitar over the opening credits to adduce the noble Clouseau dilemma: Is the man out of whack, or is the world? The studio honcho meant to blacklist him accidentally adds him to the guest's list at his soiree, so Sellers shows up at the swanky mansion for the most lucid statement of Edwards's view of life as a widescreen minefield of gags that must be crossed gallantly. The protagonist's muddy shoe escapes down a stream and finds its way to the hors d'oeuvres tray, a marble cherub whizzes on a matron, a painting gets smudgier the more you try to wipe it -- Tati prophesized about such modernist moments, Edwards pays tribute in the dinner table sequence with swinging kitchen door and ridiculously low chair. The Jerry Lewis influence is similarly noted via Buddy Lester and his bar counter scowls, the rest is Edwards pure and free from the adroit choreography of the servant (Steve Franken) who gulps down the drinks the guests turn down to the lawn sprinklers that thwart the quest for the toilet while the ingénue (Claudine Longet) coos her song. "Who's that foreigner," somebody asks of the visitor, whose inner stillness provides him with enough integrity to distinguish him from the lounging mannequins, and also enough of Sellers's disruptive spark to shoot a cowboy movie-star on the forehead with a plastic dart. The precise and relaxed snowballing of silent-comedy idioms becomes, beautifully, what a '68 uprising demands -- the Age of Aquarius rides in on a painted elephant, strictures wash away in lyrical chaos. With Denny Miller, J. Edward McKinley, and Gavin MacLeod.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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