Uncle Bardie’s Movie of the Week: Two Teenagers and a Pianist

Once a week on Monday, Uncle Bardie shares a movie with his Readers he gives a big two thumbs up. It will simply be a short excerpt or a trailer. Uncle Bardie might even throw in a reflection on the movie. If so, it will make an appearance below the video. So pop some popcorn and give yourself a treat. This week’s movie is “The World of Henry Orient” (1964).

Before “A Shot in the Dark”, before “The Party”, before “The Magic Christian”, before “Being There”, there was 1964. It was the year that was, the year that made Peter Sellers. Before that year, he was peter sellers. After that year, he was Peter Sellers. In 1964, he defined himself with three movies: “The Pink Panther”, “Doctor Strangelove” and “The World of Henry Orient”.

If you are a director, looking for a comic genius to play Henry Orient, it is obvious you get Peter Sellers for the job. That’s exactly what director George Roy Hill did. Henry is a womanizing New York City concert pianist who can’t keep his hands off of Paula Prentiss. Being Peter Sellers, Henry Orient brings a panache to his womanizing. Oh heck, let’s just say it. Peter Sellers’ panaching panaches.

It’s 1964, the Year the Beatles conquers the United States. There are Beatlemaniacs everywhere, but nary a one anywhere in this movie. Henry Orient has his fans too. Two teenage girls from well-off families. And they dream of nothing else but Henry Orient.  At least, Val does. Gil not so much. Just the mention of his name makes Val swoon.

For the girls, George Roy Hill chose newcomers, Merrie Spaeth as Gil and Tippy Walker as Val. Their characters are the kind of teenagers who put the fan in fanatic. And Val really knows how to swoon. Elvis would be proud to have such fans.They have some of the best dialogue in any movie around. At least for teenagers. It’s crisp. It is intelligent. It is funny. Val is the witty one, Gil the smart one.

Upon their first meeting, they discover they are the newbies at their private school. Val is the one who was thrown out of her last school for being “unmanageable”. Since Saturdays are good for adventuring, they agree to meet in Central Park. They discover Henry Orient making out with Paula Prentiss in the Park. Paula is a married woman who wants two things: not to get caught and to continue her friendship with Henry Orient. Henry Orient wants one thing.

The rest of the day the girls continue their adventuring through the streets of New York, having a good old time as only teenage girls can have, performing their shenanigans, getting themselves into jams. But not jams they can’t get themselves out of.

The next we see Henry Orient he is having his hair trimmed. His manager reminds Henry that he is not Van Cliburn. He has to rehearse. He keeps missing the rehearsals for a very good reason: Paula Prentiss.

The cross cutting from the girls’ world to Henry Orient, then back to the girls, then back to Henry builds the story.  Val runs smack dab into Henry Orient as he is getting out of a cab. He is trying to persuade Paula to come up to his apartment. Val ruins everything. This is twice in one day that the girls run into Henry Orient. To Henry, this is becoming a fate worse than death.

The girls attend a classical concert. Guess who’s performing? Henry Orient playing really bad avant garde classical music. The women in the audience think it’s genius they’re hearing. The men, for lack of a better word, know it stinks. You can just hear the wives telling their husbands, “It’s good for you.”

Val is transformed by the music. When Gil suggests that the pianist needs practice, Val says, “Of course, he needs practice. Especially on the scales. But this is love.”

With love this deep, Val must show how much she loves her “Oriental Henry”. Of course, Gil is going to help. This is serious, so serious the two girls make a blood pact and take a solemn oath.

Poor Henry, he hasn’t got a chance. This could be considered a search for the Holy Grail movie. Val’s Holy Grail is Henry Orient. Henry’s Holy Grail is Paula Prentiss. Both Holy Grails elude their pursuers. Unfortunately for the pursuers, the Holy Grails don’t want to be caught. You know what they say in show business? “That’s comedy.”

With “The World of Henry Orient”, the viewer gets two for the price of one. The brilliant comedy of Peter Sellers. Nobody gets out of town as fast as Peter Sellers. Most of all, this is the story of two adolescent girls transforming into young women.

Peter Sellers, Paula Prentiss, the girls, the script, Elmer Bernstein’s score all add up to a minor classic. The whip cream and cherry on top of the shake are Tom Bosley and Angela Landsbury as Val’s parents. When they say they don’t make them like they used to, they, of course, are referring to “The World of Henry Orient”.