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The sixties became The Sixties around the time of this film, 1964.
There was a time, believe it or not, when kids played grown-up, instead
of the other way around, as is the case today. Two cute girls are
venturing from childhood to youth, in a benign Manhattan. They have a
crush on a pianist-Lothario who happens to be Peter Sellers. You can
imagine the complications - and the hilarity.
What makes this film so appealing is the way it portrays adolescent awakening as a completely unsordid and sweet experience. Yes, there is pathos, when the two discover how adults have turned their world into Henry Orient's world.
Although the cast is sterling all around, Tom Bosley is a standout as father to one of the girls, who helps put things to rights.
If the Kennedy assassination and Vietnam are cultural watersheds, then this film is a refreshing antidote; it gives the lie to the glib put-downs of the era by the current generation.
I first saw this movie when it came out in 1964. I must have been about 8
years old. I loved it then, and have watched it many times since. It is
one of those rare, quiet films that not only succeeds as a comedy, amusing
to both children and adults, but also as a touching drama, with many
The cast is uniformly excellent, with Peter Sellers and Paula Prentiss providing most of the comedy, as they try to have an illicit romance while being pursued all over New York by the love-struck teenagers, played with charming veracity by Merrie Spaeth and Tippy Walker.
I was particularly impressed by the way George Roy Hill was able to convey the thoughts and emotions of the two girls with such nuance and understatement. For example, when the clock strikes 6:00pm and the girls glance at each other we immediately know what they are both thinking. I sorely miss this kind of film-making.
I enjoyed George Roy Hill's later films such as Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid and The Sting, but for my money, this is his masterpiece.
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.
Who writes screenplays like this anymore? The dialogue between the two young, naive and wildly imaginative girls was so apt that my face almost got tired from smiling. Obviously, father and daughter screenwriters Nora and Nunnally Johnson had the time and took care to get it all just right. The direction could hardly have been better, particularly with the two highly-talented young actresses (who seem to have since disappeared from the screen), but above all else, the cinematography was brilliant. The director and cinematographer unleashed an entire arsenal of corny 60's cinematic devices (the camera swivelling upside down, a lyrical romp through the city streets, slow motion and speeded up bits, etc.) but pulled them off so well that corn never tasted so delicious. Also, the frequently unusual camera placement, for instance, bringing the camera almost down to ground level for many of the scenes between the young girls lent an unlikely, but totally convincing perspective to the story. I went to the theater expecting to see a Peter Seller's film, and while he is brilliant in this role, this turned out to be so much more than merely a vehicle for Seller's comedic gifts. So many of the other reviewers in this thread seem to have interpreted this film through the prism of their own experiences. Obviously the story hit home, but they're missing the point - this was film-making at its finest!
I saw this movie at age 8, and it immediately became my favorite movie
-- not just because of the natural acting, engaging cinematography,
enchanting view of NYC, wonderful characterizations, all of which I
didn't know I appreciated until later. Mainly -- AND THIS IS IMPORTANT
IF YOU HAVE A DAUGHTER -- I loved it because it got across the magical,
honest bond of best-friendship between girls.
How often does a girl find a movie that so genuinely AND unsentimentally presents girls as self-reliant and strong (with giddiness that makes them likable, not weak), or that presents the girlfriend bond as something so perfect and fun and full of adventure? In the 1960s, this was the only movie I saw that made me feel privileged to be female. Disney movies in the '60s tried to give girlhood equal time, but they still came from a boy's viewpoint -- as if to say, "Girls can have fun just like boys do." This movie doesn't do that -- it's far more sophisticated culturally and more hip to the truth about parents than any Disney movie ever was, and it's very grounded in how girls really are. George Roy Hill clearly understood what a real buddy movie is made of, regardless of age or gender (remember "The Sting"?).
I showed this film to my daughter when she was 12, and she loved it too. She's 18 now, and yesterday she went out and got the DVD -- because she says she saw it at a friend's house last week and realized that she still loves it. She's watching it as I write this.
A few notes about Merrie Spaeth: First, she became a well-known media consultant and political speechwriter, which is why the film "Wag the Dog" used her name for one of the actresses considered to play the peasant girl in the fake Albanian bombing newsreel. Also, the Spaeth family is a long-standing name among Philadelphia-area Quakers (although I have no idea if Merrie is from this area or is a Quaker)...but I once met a doctor in the area with the same name so I asked if he was related. He was, and he told me that -- in addition to the amazing notes you can read in her IMDb bio -- Merrie used to write for Superman comics. I think that is WAY cooler than writing speeches for Ronald Reagan; she should put Superman and Henry Orient at the top of her resume.
When my wife and I sat down to watch this gem we were completely blown
away. The manic magic of being a young girl with a dizzy, silly
enthusiasm, especially one that is so pretentious on the outside yet
deliciously seamy below the surface.
This movie is all about the thrill of finding a true friend and the adventures you have with someone who you look up to and who likes you, too. The movie captures the bright, magical world of New York City at the height of the glorious early 1960s.
If you loved the book "Harriet The Spy" when you were little, you'll find this movie to be a thrilling experience. Peter Sellers doesn't even matter - he's a cipher, a mere metaphor for the grown up world and it's mysteries and shortcomings.
George Roy Hill is a perhaps neglected name in any 'top ten' list of
great directors we are likely to see, but his filmography speaks for
itself, with a number of quiet classics among a few heavyweight top 100
films--all within a somewhat small oeuvre. Each of these classics shows
to good effect Hill's marvelous aesthetic moods and attention to
detail, combined with absolutely expert casting, obtaining winning
performances from all of the principles, with superior character acting
from the secondaries.
Peter Sellers is actually something of a secondary in this one as the title role, but his portrayal of Henry Orient is so ludicrous and wonderful that he steals the show every time he's on screen. He was really something. Sellers plays it very large here, as a pretentious, NYC-based, avant-garde pianist of meagre talent--a charlatan, egoist, and ersatz Lothario who cultivates a faux-Euro accent but slides back into his 'native' Brooklyn (Sellers is probably the greatest accent-mimic ever) jargon every time he gets rattled, who has Paderewski hair that he continuously primps, and who entices women who've actually fallen for his schtick by hurling continuous salvos of romance-novel drivel at them until they (hopefully) relent.
Oddly, although it is made plain and obvious in the dialogue that Henry Orient is more or less a hack, and although Sellers plays his usual skillful physical shenanigans, I found that the pianist on the soundtrack played the piano quite well, despite the ridiculous material. There's a hilarious, gushing theme that is edited into almost every scene that Henry is in. His mannerisms during the piano concerto and the ostentatious buffoonery from scene to scene show Sellers in his element, and he never misses the chance to exploit the full range of available comedic ingredients in any moment to the utmost. Every time I watch him cross his arms to play two notes four octaves apart at the end of the concerto, and he does the little wiggle of the finger as if he's depressing the string on a violin to get vibrato out of it, I let out a belly laugh. I never get tired of that.
The two protagonists (or rather, Sellers's perceived antagonists) are played with mesmerising enthusiasm by the two adolescent leads. Tippy Walker is particularly radiant in this movie as the talented, attention-starved, sensitive, hyperkinetic Val, who develops a crush on Henry. Her pixie features, infectious retainer-filled smile, and wide-eyed, bubblegummy girlishness shine on, and share honors with Sellers for scene-steal appeal. She plays off the hurt, pouty ingenue angle beautifully too. Her counterpart, Merrie Spaeth, is no slouch either, although she had the disadvantage here of having the 'straight man' role. No matter! They don't compete for space at all (the scene-stealing qualities of Ms Walker notwithstanding),and they get equal attention and equally precocious dialogue, with the simpatico theme being so stressed as to tell us purposely that they are equal partners through and through.
Ultimately the film leaves me feeling bittersweet, partially through nostalgia--Hill's 1963 NYC is beautiful--but also because the movie has that theme of fleeting innocence in the face of oncoming adolescent desire. George Roy Hill's great movies have a sparkle to them, and this qualifies as one of the quieter greats. In any case, as time buries this one, those halcyon days of youth go with it, but the legacies of Sellers and Hill should mark it for at least cult-status immortality, which by proxy should give the girls their deserved legacy too.
This is the first movie I saw as a teenager that adequately captured the
feeling of a first crush on an adult. The friendship between Gil and Val
both sweet and enduring, and I only wished I had been so fortunate.
The ensemble cast is superb and the humor is as funny today as it was then. I wish there were more movies like this!
I wasn't quite prepared for how much I enjoyed this sophisticated (but
certainly not too much so) romp when I caught it during its first-run
release. I thought it so well-executed in every department that I was
delighted to note that it's now available in a DVD edition with its
Panavision widescreen ratio restored. But unfortunately the audio
element is so bad (requiring turning the volume way up to even begin to
hear the dialogue, and a music score that's mangled beyond belief) that
I had to return the disc for a refund. Fortunately Turner Classic
Movies recently showed it and the soundtrack was not a problem, making
possible a fairly decent high-fidelity VHS recording.
The two young actresses who played the very natural but entirely madcap duo who precipitate most of the plot's ins-'n-outs are completely charming and they are supported by an extraordinarily well-chosen cast of top-notch professionals. Angela Lansbury, never an actress to shrink from the somewhat less savory aspects of a character she's playing, strikes just the right note as a socialite whose maternal instincts are close to non-existent. I do remember wishing that Paula Prentiss had been given more to do, but I suppose getting mistaken for Jayne Mansfield (in one of the film's funnier sequences) wasn't something to be sneezed at. As the film's title character, Peter Sellers wasn't permitted by director George Roy Hill to unbalance the proceedings. And it certainly seems that scenarist Nora Johnson had inherited more than a modicum of her father Nunnally's professional good taste. This one is a treat for all but the dyspeptic and the excessively demanding.
The theme of this movie is that adolescence can make girls behave
obsessively about an older man and that parents shouldn't be too concerned
or interfere too much. They'll grow out of it. But thank goodness Nora
Johnson spent her efforts creating and developing the characters. The
viewer is too interested in following these two teenage girls to consider
the plot may have a point. Both new to an exclusive New York City girls
school Val and Gil's friendship grows partly out of needs lacking in their
homelife and partly out of their contrasting and complimenting
personalities. Gil lives with her Mother and her mother's friend Boothie,
both post divorce, strong, middle class values type women. Her Father
lives Florida with his new family. Val's parent are wealthy, travel and
occasionally drop by New York and see their daughter. Val we are told by
another classmate has an extremely high "intelligent quota" and sees a
shrink. Val is also a prankster who brings Gil into her high energy and
overly dramatic make believe world.
Early on, director George Roy Hill pulls together scenes of one afternoon in Central Park spent pretending to be chased by a band of evil cuthroats, leaping over every possible object and their first encounter with Henry Orient. The afternoon ends with Gil explaining how she misses her father particularly at dusk. Val verbalizes her feelings perfectly as she spins a fantasy about Gil's father showing up one evening to return to her mother as his one true love. This is one of several scenes that draw you in and before you know it the emotions have gone from energetic to sentimental seamlessly. That is the strength of this movie that it is so personal and true to life without sacrificing the tension of the plot keeping up interest. It is also a very funny movie, with only a couple of occasions where the humor is not appropriate to the emotion of the situation.
Val develops a crush on Henry Orient, a concert pianist who hides his Brooklyn roots behind a fake accent and hides his mediocre talent behind avant-guarde music. Val and Gil secretly follow him around town unwittingly spoiling his attempts to seduce a certain married woman. The situations are certainly geared towards adults but never condescending to the girls. I'm not surprised the movie was not as successful as other Peter Sellers movies of the time. It doesn't appear to be the type of movie that fans of The Pink Panther would flock to see. Yet it can be appreciated by a wide audience because the makers didn't assume the viewer would understand or sympathize with a couple of crazy teenage girls or their less than perfect parents. They took the time to make them real, and funny. That's why the zaniness and sentiment in the plot works. And Sellers is given plenty of time to make his character the complete buffoon that he his. Plenty of physical stuff. I can't think of anyone who would fail to enjoy this movie.
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