Tired of reading about new DVD/Blu-ray releases that are being released in other parts of the world but are not viewable here because they are produced in a different broadcast format? (The U.S. standard is NTSC; PAL is common in Europe and the U.K. and SECAM is prevalent in China and the USSR). If so, why not consider the purchase of an all-region Blu-Ray player. They are relatively inexpensive and will allow you to finally purchase and view films you’ve always wanted to see or dreamed about revisiting. To give you some idea of what you’re missing, especially if you are an anglophile, I point to BFI Flipside, a classy underdog in the world of DVD/Blu-Ray distribution, who launched this label in 2009 with the following explanation on all of their box art: “The Flipside: rescuing weird and wonderful British films from obscurity and presenting them in new high-quality editions.”
Earlier releases have included Bill Forsyth’s debut feature That Sinking Feeling (1979), a comedy about a quartet of working class lads with a dubious black market scheme, Gerry O’Mara’s The Pleasure Girls (1965) a Swinging London soap opera starring Francesca Annis, Suzanna Leigh, Ian McShane and Klaus Kinski, and Don Levy’s Herostratus (1967), an avant-garde curio with a surprising cameo by a young, undressed Helen Mirren, who has never been one to complain about nude scenes. One of my favorite releases from BFI Flipside is The Party’s Over (1965), a stylish and edgy study of some bohemian Londoners during the mod sixties with a scene-stealing performance by Oliver Reed and enough disturbing elements to make the censors froth at the mouth. In fact, their negative reactions, prevented the film, which was filmed in 1962, from receiving a theatrical release until 1965. During the interim, the film was subjected to numerous rounds of cuts and revisions before finally being slapped with a ‘X’ certificate – a rating that spelled box-office poison for exhibitors.
Unlike other youth-oriented films of the period which exploited the then popular Beatnik culture with all the cliches on display in such movies as Beat Girl (1959, aka Wild for Kicks) and Expresso Bongo (1959), The Party’s Over appears to be more heavily influenced by the mood and style of European art cinema. The young protagonists with their disaffected, alienated demeanor could have wandered out of Antonioni’s L’avventura (1960) and the opening and closing shots of the movie as well as several nighttime street scenes have a picaresque Fellini quality that recalls Variety Lights (1950) or I Vitelloni (1953). At the same time, the characters in those two latter films are dreamers compared to the cynical hipsters in The Party’s Over with their nihilistic worldview.
The film, which was directed by Guy Hamilton, begins as Melina (Louise Sorel), a rich American girl who hangs out with a wild crowd, receives word that her fiancee is coming from the U.S. to join her. The news is not well received and once Carson (Clifford David) arrives, Melina spends the rest of the movie avoiding him. As he trails after her from party to coffeehouse to artist’s loft to her apartment to a further series of parties, Carson always remains one step behind Melina and when he finally catches up with her, their reunion is not only a shock to him, but to the audience. To reveal any more about the actual plot would spoil the unusual twists and turns of this unpretentious and completely engaging little melodrama which borrows a Rashomon-like flashback structure to depict different characters’ versions of what happened at a fateful party-out-of-bounds.
Initially, The Party’s Over was conceived as an independent movie to be shot on the streets of Chelsea in London with no studio involvement. The backers of this low budget effort were Peter O’Toole, Jack Hawkins and Guy Hamilton and, despite their lack of funds, Anthony Perry, the line producer, was able to secure composer John Barry and vocalist Annie Ross (of the jazz trio Lambert, Hendricks & Ross) for the soundtrack score and cinematographer Larry Pizer [Morgan! (1966), Isadora, 1968].
Nudity, drunkenness, promiscuous sex, suicide and even a hint of necrophilia seem perfectly natural in the amoral universe revealed in The Party’s Over and completely believable in the context of the storyline. These ingredients are not played up in a sensationalistic manner but the censors felt otherwise and battle lines were drawn between them and the film’s producer Perry and director Hamilton. According to Hamilton in BFI’s DVD liner notes, “…we went to war with Trevelyan. Threats escalated: ‘The film will never be released.’ Since we had no money in it, the only losers would be the financiers the Rank Organization and the National Film Finance Corporation. This attracted the attention of Penelope Gilliat and Gwyneth Dunwoody MP. They duly battled our side but to no avail. By a strange quirk we owned the copyright and as we would not budge the film disappeared into some dusty film vault. We lost all interest, dissolved the company and went our separate ways….I always feel that we fought a worthwhile battle, and that the brouhaha with Trevelyan played a small part in the British Board of Film Censors’ subsequent move to a more adult approach to censorship.”
After the long wrangling over content and edits, Hamilton asked for his name to be removed from the credits of the final version of The Party’s Over, which was trimmed of 18 minutes of footage. He had already made a name for himself with Goldfinger (1964), the first of three James Bond films he directed, and he would go on to helm such big budget action films as Battle of Britain (1969) and Force 10 from Navarone (1978). While I’m a big fan of Goldfinger, in particular, I think Hamilton might have been a better filmmaker in his younger days when he was directing smaller scale but taut and engrossing character studies such as An Inspector Calls (1954), The Colditz Story (1955) and The Party’s Over.
I feel the same way about his fellow contemporary Michael Winner who started off doing wonderfully vivid little slices of British life like West 11 (1963) and The Girl-Getters (1964, aka The System) and clever, anti-establishment satires like The Jokers (1967) and I’ll Never Forget What’s ‘isname (1967). Then he became the go-to guy for Charles Bronson genre films. Death Wish (1974) was a huge hit for him but then Winner went off the rails with worse and worse projects: 1976’s Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood, a lifeless remake of The Big Sleep (1978), and Dirty Weekend (1993), with Lia Williams as a female vigilante in a gender twist on Death Wish.
Both Hamilton and Winner, however, had something else in common – they knew how to use Oliver Reed to his best advantage and theirs. Reed exhibits real star charisma as the hustling photographer on the make in Winner’s The Girl-Getters – and he’s the most compelling character in The Party’s Over. As Moise, the mercurial but moody leader of a gang of Chelsea deadbeats, he is always unpredictable in his line deliveries, which can seem improvised or highly stylized as in the sequence where he greets his American rival for Melina at a party. Descending the stairs, Reed goes through a dizzying variety of American accents in his address – from a flat rural hick voice to a Marlon Brando impersonation to one that sounds suspiciously like Truman Capote: “Hello there Carson. Haven’t seen ya for a long time. Reckon you’re a mite late cause that little gal you’re looking for, well, she ain’t here no more….She…uh (snaps fingers)….doesn’t dig you, Monsieur Carson. You come. She goes…Oh Sakimoto, so confusing, eh? Personally, I can’t see how she can resist you, you tall, rangy creature you.” At which point, Reed suddenly strikes an affected dance pose, ending the exchange with “Shall we twist?”
Reed was already well established as a young leading man and had plenty of fan mail from female viewers to prove it, especially after his performance as the romantic, doomed protagonist of The Curse of the Werewolf (1961). Also, at the time he made The Party’s Over, Reed was clearly in danger of being typecast as a dark, brooding Method Actor type, ideal as villains and brutes. He’d already gone this route in Hammer Film productions like The Pirates of Blood River (1962), Paranoiac (1963) and Joseph Losey’s These Are the Damned (1963), in which he plays King, a violent, cane wielding leader of a pack of hoodlums. In some ways, his role as Moise in The Party’s Over is an extension of King though less physically threatening; he still has a smoldering, malicious presence and it’s hard to take your eyes off him when he’s on screen. Reed tried to resist the typecasting but producers and directors definitely saw him as a certain type and it wasn’t the conventionally handsome lead. Reed was aware of his image and even had a sense of humor about it, saying at the time, “I look like a sixties actor, like I fell out of a garbage can. That’s the look for today and that’s why people like me.”
With the exception of Eddie Albert as Melina’s father, who shows up late in The Party’s Over, to bring his daughter back home, the rest of the cast members aren’t as well known. Clifford David, an Ohio native who plays the stolid, straight-arrow Carson, found steady work through 2005, appearing in TV series like Law and Order and films such as Kinsey (2004) and M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs (2002). As the ethereal, unobtainable Melina, New York actress Louise Sorel has a fragile beauty that reminds me of Edith Scob’s haunted heroine in Eyes Without a Face (1960). Her most recent credit is the British TV series, Beacon Hill.
The real standout here is the sultry, beautiful Katharine Woodville as Nina, a flat mate of Melina’s, who ends up helping Carson track down his missing girlfriend. She never really carved out a film career for herself but did find steady work in television. And here’s an interesting bit of trivia – she ended up marrying Eddie Albert’s son, Edward (star of Butterflies Are Free), retired from acting and relocated to Portland, Oregon with her husband. He died in 2006 and Woodville passed in 2013.
Some viewers may recognize the strange looking bald actor who plays Tutzi, Moise’s constant companion, from his appearances on such British cult TV series as The Avengers and Doctor Who – the actor’s name is Maurice Browning.
Another interesting aspect of The Party’s Over is the anti-American bias expressed in subtle and not-so-subtle ways by the Londoners toward Melina, Carson and Melina’s tycoon father. There is a casual contempt toward Melina because she’s a spoiled rich girl who can pick and choose her lovers but remains bored. Carson and Melina’s father, however, represent bigger threats to Moise’s gang. They stand for all the things these social anarchists hate – materialism, conformity and middle class values, embracing marriage, babies and the corporate ladder to success. The film doesn’t take sides with either but clearly the beatnik subculture is more exciting and interesting to contemplate, no matter how self-absorbed it may be.
The BFI Flipside presentation of The Party’s Over sports a sparkling transfer of the pre-release cut which includes much of the footage that was cut from the final theatrical release. While a few of those scenes, which were cut later, are in less than pristine shape, the restoration still matches the quality level of a Criterion or Eclipse presentation. The double disc, which includes the Blu-Ray version and standard DVD version, also comes with a pile of extras including the alternative theatrical release, two short films (The Party, a 1962 movie by R.A. Ostwald, and Emma, a 12 minute short by Anthony Perry), an illustrated and informative booklet and more. Unfortunately, BFI’s edition of The Party’s Over is currently out of print but you can probably find a new or used copy through online distributors. You can also stream a mediocre print of it on Amazon Prime.
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