Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Twilight Time - THE WORLD OF HENRY ORIENT and THE BEST OF EVERYTHING on Blu-ray ""

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Twilight Time - THE WORLD OF HENRY ORIENT and THE BEST OF EVERYTHING on Blu-ray


THE WORLD OF HENRY ORIENT (1964; George Roy Hill)
This is one of those movies that has cast a wide net of influence and yet remains relatively obscure. Certainly its primary influencee has got to be Wes Anderson. The coming of age story and narrative point of view in this delightful George Roy Hill film would seem to have directly impacted things like RUSHMORE and MOONSRISE KINGDOM for sure and perhaps some of his other movies as well (THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS perhaps). Further, Terry Zwigoff's film GHOST WORLD not only features the poster for HENRY ORIENT prominently, but also bears more than a passing resemblance in terms if its plot (two young girls become unhealthily obsessed with an older guy). Between those Wes Anderson films and GHOST WORLD, that's quite a significant handful of movies with highly passionate followings that can trace back to this movie. 
Once you've seen THE WORLD OF HENRY ORIENT, you may understand why it is much beloved by these filmmakers. It's one of the better coming of age films basically ever and one of a far-too-tiny group of movies with girls as the main focus. It's the kind of thing that I as the father of six year old girl will be showing her as soon as I think she's be into it. It's the kind of thing that I think could end up being one of her favorites. The girls in the movie are silly and quirky, but decidedly their own people. They inhabit that space between girlhood and puberty when the innocence is far from gone, but some more mature interests begin to slowly creep in. They still have bright and effervescent imaginations and have yet to become concerned with what the way that other people see them. There are many components to this movie that would make it difficult to produce today. First off, you've got two girls basically stalking and older man. That alone isn't too much, but the unsophisticated and unfiltered crush the girls have on Henry Orient would be hard up pull off (and might look a bit creepy). The narrative connection of the "schoolgirl crush" seems to have dissipated a bit over the years. I'm not 100% sure why that is.  Henry Orient as a character is just the right kind of mid-level prima donna that Peter Sellers can knock right out of the park. He's pompous and vain pianist who is even prone to pounding on the piano keys in a Looney-Tunes kinda way when he performs. Even though he fancies himself a ladies man, he is rather ineffectual in that department in the this current squeeze is a married woman (Paul Prentiss) who will only make out with him on secluded rocks in Central Park. Suffice it to say that Henry is a bit insecure and psychologically vulnerable. So vulnerable in fact that he is completely discombobulated by these two girls following him around. It starts to drive him a little nutty and that gets progressively funnier (to a point) throughout. Sellers is just a small piece of the puzzle though. The girls (Merrie Spaeth & Tippie Walker) really make it what it is. Not only is this a movie with two great lead performances by a couple young inexperienced actors  but on top of that it, it is also one of those amiable love letters to New York City as well.
THE WORLD OF HENRY ORIENT is an adorable little movie and one I recommend highly. Think of it as GHOST WORLD meets THE PATTY DUKE SHOW or something along those lines (in fact, it's been said that Patty Duke and Hayley Mills were considered for the leads in the movie). It's a jubilant New York City adventure for two young ladies on the cusp of womanhood.  It is better than I'm making it sound. I should also mention that I find it interesting that director George Roy Hill would go on to make BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID only four years after this. To go from an intimate story of two young girls to one of the more iconic pieces of decidedly male cinema is an interesting turn to say the least. That said, he brings a remarkable energy and exuberance to the proceedings which makes the movie quite unforgettable. 
The transfer here looks good overall and makes me have no qualms about tossing my old MGM DVD.

Special Features:
-This disc includes yet another terrific commentary track by Twilight Time regulars Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman, who are joined by  Film Historian Jeff Bond as well. It is the usual mix of background on all aspects of the production, and its key players. A highly informative and gratifying listen.
-Also included is an isolated score track.

Bonus:
Here's a great little Trailers From Hell commentary from the great screenwriter Larry Karaszewski:



THE BEST OF EVERYTHING (1959; Jean Negulesco)
Here's another tale of an older movie and its influence on a present day creative type. Among the many films that had some kind of impact on Matthew Weiner and in some ways brought about him finally writing the pilot for MAD MEN (THE APARTMENT, VERTIGO and DEAR HEART among them), THE BEST OF EVERYTHING was a significant piece of the puzzle. In an article for Vanity Fair, Weiner said of the movie, 
"A highly stylized and star-studded adaptation of Rona Jaffe’s 1958 best-seller, this film became part of the group mind-set for the pilot. Although I felt that it was a visually glamorized, and extremely melodramatic, I could see that its story was a well-observed representation of working women in New York at the time. The workings of the office, the romantic complications, and the living situations all smacked of the truth. Like many popular films of the time, it helped to inform our characters—they certainly would have seen it, and it would have had an impact on their real expectations."

I've always had a great deal of fondness for the design, architecture, clothing, furniture and general ambience of films that came out in the late 50s and early 60s. This could be based on the real styles and fashions of this time, or I could just be in love with the way Hollywood portrayed it. Another thing I love in films of this era is meaty melodrama. THE BEST EVERYTHING has that in spades. It plays like soap opera in the best possible way. It is a story about three women  who work as secretaries at a publishing firm in Manhattan. The three gals (Hope Lang, Diane Baker and Suzy Parker) share an apartment together in the city and have high hopes about their workplace and living life in the big city. What they don't anticipate is problems with both men and women at their jobs (mostly men though). Joan Crawford plays one of the powerful higher ups to the girls in the steno pool. Classic Crawford here as she plays both a tyrannical boss and a jilted lover (a combination I've seen her play before I think). The supporting male case includes Stephen Boyd, Brett Halsey and Robert Evans (yes, THAT Robert Evans), but the men in this movie are pretty much bad news across the board. I was reminded a bit of Sidney Lumet's THE GROUP whilst rewatching this. Both are tales of women who have a tendency to run afoul of bad fellas.

While THE BEST OF EVERYTHING has no real connection to THE WORLD OF HENRY ORIENT outside of them both sharing a New York City backdrop, I think it is intriguing to look at them back to back as I did. One might possibly think of THE BEST OF EVERYTHING as "what could happen" scenario for the girls in HENRY ORIENT (even though the film takes place five years prior). In my head I can't completely imagine either of the girls ending up at a company like this, but you never know. Anyway, it the two films do certainly seem to take place in two different universes for sure. Whilst HENRY ORIENT does its best to avoid melodrama, THE BEST OF EVERYTHING charges headlong into it without any regret. Director Jean Negulesco is a a guy ho certainly had no fear of the melodramatic / soap opera-ish story conventions and they can be found lovingly exalted in many of his films. 
The transfer on this Twilight Time Blu-ray was something of a revelation. It's a very good looking movie with lovely colors and production design. The color palette itself is a big earth-toney in parts, but there are some lovely pastels that really pop. There's strong detail throughout and fans of this movie should be quite pleased.

Special Features:
-An audio commentary with Author Rona Jaffe and Film Historian Sylvia Stoddard is included here. It's a bit more dry than a Redman/Kirgo track, but is nonetheless stimulating in that Jaffe recounts a lot of the things in her real life experiences that led to her writing the book upon which the movie is based.
-An Isolated Score track is also included.


Twilight Time Blu-rays can now be purchased directly from TT via their new website!

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