Henry Orient is a madly egocentric and overly amorous avant-garde concert pianist who is hilariously pursued all around New York City by two 14-year-old fans. The girls, Val and Gil chase a harassed Henry all over the city, thwarting his afternoon liaisons with a married woman and leaving utter chaos behind them - until Val's sexually promiscuous mother appears on the scene to put a stop to the girls' shenanigans. Written by
A few points. Elmer Bernstein's musical score is as whimsical as the young girls themselves. George Roy Hill, the director, was sensitive to the musical moods of his films. He had originally intended to be a musician and had a bachelor's in music from Yale. The photographer, Boris Kaufman, has done a splendid job of capturing New York City in the late fall and in mid winter. (He was equally perceptive in getting wintry Hoboken on film in "On the Waterfront.")
The acting is fine, surprisingly, from all the principles. Peter Sellers usually steals every scene he's in, and he does pretty much that here. When he's trying to seduce Paula Prentiss his voice has an accent that sounds somewhere between Italian and Slovenian. He throws in Italian clichés but sometimes gets mixed up -- "Garcon! Due martinis, per favore." One of his funniest moments is when he's performing a terrible piano concerto. He's skipped the last two rehearsals so he's a bit lost. At one point he rolls dramatically into the upper registers (while the rest of the orchestra play checkers) and ends on a trill. He glances at the conductor who slowly shakes his head in digust. The wrong key. Unperturbed Sellers starts the roll over again and looks to the conductor, who shakes his head again. After the third failure to find the right key, the conductor shakes his head and mouths -- very clearly and silently -- "B Flat." Satisfied, Sellers plunges ahead.
Paula Prentiss doesn't have a very large role but she's delicious both in looks and in her performance. She's so nervous, so flattered by the attention of Seller's phony pianist that she gulps and staggers slightly from time to time. When Sellers finally gets her to his apartment and begins to woo her with a paean to her "burnished shoulders" and "twin poems," she wavers while sitting on the couch and caresses her body parts as he lauds them. She never appears less than half gassed.
Angela Lansbury is in her bitchy mode here, along the lines of her mother in "The Manchurian Candidate." She never seems to go wrong, regardless of the part. Her husband, Tom Bosley, is kind of a good-natured schlub. Phyllis Thaxter looks just fine, considering that she first appeared in "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo" more than twenty years earlier. Her sweetness might be cloying except that it seems ingrained in her real personality.
The most surprising thing in the performances are the two 14-year-old girls, neither of whom went on to a respectable movie career. They're plain charming, both goofy and funny, but smart and perceptive as well. "Gilbert" (Spaeth) comes from a warm middle-class family. We can tell because on Christmas we see them preparing a turkey and having friends over for dinner. Spaeth went on in real life to become a strong George W. Bush supporter and helped torpedo John Kerry with the Swiftboat Ads in 2004, for what it's worth.
"Valerie Campbell Boyd" (Walker) is a neurotic genius from a dysfunctional rich family. (That name is a great WASP cognomen, by the way). They're two cute kids, believe it or not, especially Tippy Walker who brings a molestable element to her role. Hill seems to recognize this and gives the PREverts in the audience a couple of slow-motion upskirt shots as the two jump over fire hydrants and dance on park benches. But it's all pretty unstressed and one would be hard put to think of a better image for two pleasant and happy kids living in a world of fantasy than to have them laughing and leaping in the air. Where do they find kids who can act so well? Walker has a way of flipping her hair back and gawkily hunching her shoulders that spells Preppiness.
The film has its serious moments but most of it is low-key humorous. I saw it in a drive-in in Riverhead, Long Island. You probably won't regret watching it.
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