The World of Henry Orient Reviews

Page 1 of 4
Daniel Mumby
Super Reviewer
May 24, 2012
If you had to pick one film which sums up everything wrong with 1960s comedies, your first choice would have to be The Millionairess. This obscenely unfunny celebration of wealth, helmed by the once-great Anthony Asquith, took a potentially interesting idea and reduced it down to two hours of famous people enjoying each other's company at our expense. But an equally good candidate would be The World of Henry Orient, a bland, boring and totally unfunny romp which gravely underuses its big-name star and never entirely decides on what it wants to be.

To be fair, The World of Henry Orient is not as big a disappointment when taken purely as an adaptation. While this film was based on a little-read novel by Nora Johnson, The Millionairess took a George Bernard Shaw play which satirised the idle rich and completely missed every single irony. This becomes all the more painful with the knowledge that Asquith had helmed the original version of Shaw's Pygmalion years earlier, which despite its cop-out ending knocks My Fair Lady into a cocked hat.

This film is directed by George Roy Hill, who would be Oscar-nominated for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and would later win several Oscars for The Sting. Hill's career demonstrates that he could handle multiple protagonists and man-manage big-name stars, while always keeping the audience at the forefront of his mind. We can only surmise that he learnt a lot in the years between this and Butch Cassidy, because this is an utter shambles.

For starters, Hill commits one of the biggest crimes in comedy: casting Peter Sellers in a sizable part and then giving him nothing to do. When we first meet Henry Orient, schmoozing over a future Stepford Wife, we expect something along the lines of Clouseau in A Shot in the Dark: slightly sleazy in his pursuit of female affection, but still very charming overall. But as the film becomes more about the two girls and their families, his screen time and role gradually shrink until he is barely in the film at all. What could be a decent comedy driven by a powerhouse of comic timing ends up as a boring non-comedy which just happens to have Sellers in it for a few minutes.

The confusion surrounding Orient's function in the film might explain why Sellers' performance is not exactly one of his finest. His physicality wanders between uptight and louche, while his accent drifts between Clouseau, Spanish and his gangster in The Ladykillers, One often got the sense with Sellers that he was a million characters inhabiting the shell of one man, and that he could choose which one to channel like a medium flicking a switch. Hill clearly gave Sellers next to no direction; it's as though he was plonked in the middle of the action and told to make it up as he went along.

Not only is Sellers confused as to whom he's playing, but the whole film can't decide on who or what it is. Is it a coming-of-age film about two young girls? Is it a bedroom farce where the girls are mistaken for spies of a jealous husband? Is it a drama in which a daughter runs away and the family come together against the odds? Or is it a commentary on the hypocrisy of adults, epitomised by the flip-flopping of Angela Lansbury? There are at least four different potential stories within this bunch of characters, but the film never takes the time either to focus on one or come up with good enough reasons of dismissing the others.

For the first part of the film, before Henry Orient is introduced, the first hypothesis seems to be correct. The scenes of Val and Gil becoming friends and interacting seem charming enough in a sub-Disney way. We go through a series of scenes of them becoming acquainted, discovering common pastimes and eventually going over to each other's houses. None of these scenes are particularly engaging, but at least we know where we are.

But as soon as Henry Orient homes into view, the film takes a turn for the unintentionally creepy. The first time the girls come across Henry, spying on him when he is kissing his lover in the park, it is a happy coincidence and played for a half-decent laugh. But then they become obsessed with him, sitting outside his hotel window, hiding outside restaurants where he eats and plotting his every move. The film depicts their stalking as a natural phase of infatuation, and the more they ask us to laugh at it the creepier it becomes.

At this juncture you might point out that the film has to be a little obsessive, since it is about overcoming teenage infatuations as a part of growing up. You might argue that the girls' pursuit of Henry Orient is as harmless as any other fantasy world that young children create and act out. You might even argue, as The New York Times did, that the film is a reassuring antidote to the images of screaming girls associated with Beatlemania, which was reaching its zenith during the film's release.

While all of these points might seem coherent in abstract, they fall down on one small detail: there is nothing in the film to support any of them. There is no effort made in the script or the direction to justify or legitimate what the girls are doing. The more time we spend in their company, the more annoying they become, and the more we are convinced that Gil is actually a little mad. The later section of the film, where Gil goes missing, is played with so little logic that we very quickly give up on things.

The secret to comedy, as everyone knows, is timing, and The World of Henry Orient is as sluggish and slow-brained as they come. For a film that may be intended as a farce, the pacing is terrible: all the misunderstandings are mishandled, the slapstick elements aren't funny, and the sound quality is so poor that characters are often completely unintelligible. Even a score by John Landis' frequent collaborator Elmer Bernstein can't pick up the pace when it's desperately needed.

In order for a farcical or whimsical comedy to work, there has to be a strong directorial stamp on the project. Blake Edwards was always game for improvisation, particularly on the later Pink Panthers, but the cast and crew knew that he was always in charge and that his first priority was keeping things in control. Hill can't seem to marshal either the energy of his performers or the colliding storylines, and so he resorts to cheap camera tricks in a desperate bid for easy laughs. We get everything from sped-up footage to upside-down crane shots, and even an uncomfortable up-skirt shot during the incredibly annoying 'splitsing' sequence.

As if that wasn't enough, the film is also racially insensitive. Part of the girls' fantasy involves dressing up in 'oriental' costumes, running around in massive bamboo hats and speaking in mock Japanese. Later in the film there is a positively toe-curling sequence where the girls 'kow-tow' to an altar of Henry Orient, muttering faux-Japanese sayings and offering themselves to 'the gods'. It's not as obviously insensitive as Sellers' portrayal of Fu Manchu in his final film, but it still feels really out of place.

The World of Henry Orient is a hackneyed and misjudged relic of 1960s cinema, which ranks alongside The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu as one of the worst films of Sellers' career. Poor performances, thin characterisation, lacklustre direction and almost no laughs all make for a truly boring film, which is at turns misjudged, un-engaging and offensive. If nothing else, it gives The Millionairess a run for its money as one of the worst mainstream films of the 1960s.
Super Reviewer
½ February 18, 2009
Angela Landsbury is a controlling hussy and I love it.
December 30, 2013
Strange movie about "first love" and friendship. I have mixed feelings about it. It was well acted and charming, but also felt like it didn't know where it was going. And it was a bit unintentionally creepy.
½ June 25, 2013
Utterly charming film most delightful for its teenaged stars, true to life and lively. They're natural and they're inspired.
May 3, 2013
This is a GREAT female coming of age movie. I particularly liked that the girls, played by Tippy Walker and Merrie Spaeth, are realistic and believable as 'normal' teen age girls in that silly, innocent-yet wise, emotional roller-coaster age that is the last hurrah of childhood. I have never met a women yet that didn't connect with this movie while for the most part, the 'average' male just doesn't get or understand the appeal of this film. Yah, it's goofy and silly and has it's flaws but it is a wonderful movie about the intense friendships young girls have. This is a lovely and sweet movie.
½ July 21, 2012
This movie shows friendship between two teenage girls and some other stuff too .
½ August 25, 2012
It has it charming moments and sloppy ones as well. The tittle surely misled my expectations and the direction left me disappointed with Hill.
July 10, 2012
Delightful comedy with a wonderful cast set in NYC.
Daniel Mumby
Super Reviewer
May 24, 2012
If you had to pick one film which sums up everything wrong with 1960s comedies, your first choice would have to be The Millionairess. This obscenely unfunny celebration of wealth, helmed by the once-great Anthony Asquith, took a potentially interesting idea and reduced it down to two hours of famous people enjoying each other's company at our expense. But an equally good candidate would be The World of Henry Orient, a bland, boring and totally unfunny romp which gravely underuses its big-name star and never entirely decides on what it wants to be.

To be fair, The World of Henry Orient is not as big a disappointment when taken purely as an adaptation. While this film was based on a little-read novel by Nora Johnson, The Millionairess took a George Bernard Shaw play which satirised the idle rich and completely missed every single irony. This becomes all the more painful with the knowledge that Asquith had helmed the original version of Shaw's Pygmalion years earlier, which despite its cop-out ending knocks My Fair Lady into a cocked hat.

This film is directed by George Roy Hill, who would be Oscar-nominated for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and would later win several Oscars for The Sting. Hill's career demonstrates that he could handle multiple protagonists and man-manage big-name stars, while always keeping the audience at the forefront of his mind. We can only surmise that he learnt a lot in the years between this and Butch Cassidy, because this is an utter shambles.

For starters, Hill commits one of the biggest crimes in comedy: casting Peter Sellers in a sizable part and then giving him nothing to do. When we first meet Henry Orient, schmoozing over a future Stepford Wife, we expect something along the lines of Clouseau in A Shot in the Dark: slightly sleazy in his pursuit of female affection, but still very charming overall. But as the film becomes more about the two girls and their families, his screen time and role gradually shrink until he is barely in the film at all. What could be a decent comedy driven by a powerhouse of comic timing ends up as a boring non-comedy which just happens to have Sellers in it for a few minutes.

The confusion surrounding Orient's function in the film might explain why Sellers' performance is not exactly one of his finest. His physicality wanders between uptight and louche, while his accent drifts between Clouseau, Spanish and his gangster in The Ladykillers, One often got the sense with Sellers that he was a million characters inhabiting the shell of one man, and that he could choose which one to channel like a medium flicking a switch. Hill clearly gave Sellers next to no direction; it's as though he was plonked in the middle of the action and told to make it up as he went along.

Not only is Sellers confused as to whom he's playing, but the whole film can't decide on who or what it is. Is it a coming-of-age film about two young girls? Is it a bedroom farce where the girls are mistaken for spies of a jealous husband? Is it a drama in which a daughter runs away and the family come together against the odds? Or is it a commentary on the hypocrisy of adults, epitomised by the flip-flopping of Angela Lansbury? There are at least four different potential stories within this bunch of characters, but the film never takes the time either to focus on one or come up with good enough reasons of dismissing the others.

For the first part of the film, before Henry Orient is introduced, the first hypothesis seems to be correct. The scenes of Val and Gil becoming friends and interacting seem charming enough in a sub-Disney way. We go through a series of scenes of them becoming acquainted, discovering common pastimes and eventually going over to each other's houses. None of these scenes are particularly engaging, but at least we know where we are.

But as soon as Henry Orient homes into view, the film takes a turn for the unintentionally creepy. The first time the girls come across Henry, spying on him when he is kissing his lover in the park, it is a happy coincidence and played for a half-decent laugh. But then they become obsessed with him, sitting outside his hotel window, hiding outside restaurants where he eats and plotting his every move. The film depicts their stalking as a natural phase of infatuation, and the more they ask us to laugh at it the creepier it becomes.

At this juncture you might point out that the film has to be a little obsessive, since it is about overcoming teenage infatuations as a part of growing up. You might argue that the girls' pursuit of Henry Orient is as harmless as any other fantasy world that young children create and act out. You might even argue, as The New York Times did, that the film is a reassuring antidote to the images of screaming girls associated with Beatlemania, which was reaching its zenith during the film's release.

While all of these points might seem coherent in abstract, they fall down on one small detail: there is nothing in the film to support any of them. There is no effort made in the script or the direction to justify or legitimate what the girls are doing. The more time we spend in their company, the more annoying they become, and the more we are convinced that Gil is actually a little mad. The later section of the film, where Gil goes missing, is played with so little logic that we very quickly give up on things.

The secret to comedy, as everyone knows, is timing, and The World of Henry Orient is as sluggish and slow-brained as they come. For a film that may be intended as a farce, the pacing is terrible: all the misunderstandings are mishandled, the slapstick elements aren't funny, and the sound quality is so poor that characters are often completely unintelligible. Even a score by John Landis' frequent collaborator Elmer Bernstein can't pick up the pace when it's desperately needed.

In order for a farcical or whimsical comedy to work, there has to be a strong directorial stamp on the project. Blake Edwards was always game for improvisation, particularly on the later Pink Panthers, but the cast and crew knew that he was always in charge and that his first priority was keeping things in control. Hill can't seem to marshal either the energy of his performers or the colliding storylines, and so he resorts to cheap camera tricks in a desperate bid for easy laughs. We get everything from sped-up footage to upside-down crane shots, and even an uncomfortable up-skirt shot during the incredibly annoying 'splitsing' sequence.

As if that wasn't enough, the film is also racially insensitive. Part of the girls' fantasy involves dressing up in 'oriental' costumes, running around in massive bamboo hats and speaking in mock Japanese. Later in the film there is a positively toe-curling sequence where the girls 'kow-tow' to an altar of Henry Orient, muttering faux-Japanese sayings and offering themselves to 'the gods'. It's not as obviously insensitive as Sellers' portrayal of Fu Manchu in his final film, but it still feels really out of place.

The World of Henry Orient is a hackneyed and misjudged relic of 1960s cinema, which ranks alongside The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu as one of the worst films of Sellers' career. Poor performances, thin characterisation, lacklustre direction and almost no laughs all make for a truly boring film, which is at turns misjudged, un-engaging and offensive. If nothing else, it gives The Millionairess a run for its money as one of the worst mainstream films of the 1960s.
½ May 4, 2012
Good-natured look at the (mis)adventures of two 14-year old girls, one of whom develops a crush on concert pianist Henry Orient (played by Peter Sellers). So, Sellers is here in a minor role, as the object of the girls' attention, but his actions also allow for some commentary on the state of human relationships more broadly (if you want to take it there). This may be the first appearance of Angela Lansbury and Tom Bosley together, but she's in Manchurian Candidate mode.
February 6, 2012
I've seen this film several times with my wife and kids. It is a favorite.
Peter Sellers was a special actor but everyone in this movie hit the mark to make it memorable.
July 17, 2011
Fantastic - that is the word i use to describe this movie. Peter Sellers was great in the Pink Panther films and i had never seen this movie so it was a joy to catch it on tv. It invloves two girls who become infatuated with Seller's character Henry Orient and follow him and keep tabs on him through magazines and such - it has Angela Lansbury from Murder She wrote and Tom Bosely from Happy Days in it as a married couple, the two main girls are played by Merrie Spaeth and Tippy Walker who are far out and wild as the two teenage scamps! They have some great dialogue and some great scenes around the city. This film really is a great watch with a funny,campy feel to it and Al Lewis is in a small part before going onto to play Grandpa in the Munsters the same year.
February 17, 2011
The beauty of the comedy is in its closeness to the emotions of the youngsters.
½ December 11, 2010
The first time I saw this movie was at Radio City Music Hall in 1964 when I went to NYC for my college interview. It's one of my favorites.
½ July 30, 2010
"The World of Henry Orient" is a small movie that begins as a silly romp about two teen girls infatuated with a zany pianist, and then -- thanks to a pair of adult actors at the top of their game -- becomes something much better: a quietly powerful story about growing up.

Despite the title, "The World of Henry Orient" is initially a universe belonging to New York City girls Marian and Valarie. Marian (Merrie Spaeth) is a child of divorce who lives with her mother and a friend of the family. Valarie (Tippy Walker) is a child prodigy who rarely sees her own parents, wealthy globetrotters who visit their daughter only when it?s convenient. When Marian and Valarie hook up through a private school, they concoct a childish obsession: the stalking of Henry Orient (Peter Sellers), a cowardly lothario from the Bronx with uptown aspirations and a bogus, continental accent.

Sellers, riding high in 1964 with "The Pink Panther" and "Dr. Strangelove" on his resume, does his deadpan shtick in this film and is, as always, amusing. Walker and Spaeth have winning personalities and, although I confess there were times I felt I was watching two teenage girls attempting to act, their enthusiasm is infectious.

But something near-miraculous occurs in the film at its midpoint, and this is largely thanks to a pair of consummate actors who turn a frivolous comedy into something sad, powerful -- and utterly wonderful. Tom Bosley and Angela Lansbury, as Valarie?s absentee parents, command the screen: Lansbury as a self-centered socialite and lousy mother, and Bosley in a precursor to his famous "Happy Days" role on TV -- the perfect Dad. Bosley, in particular, has a scene with Walker that is heartbreaking, uplifting, and emblematic of why this little gem from 1964 still sparkles.
February 6, 2010
This is a movie where Peter Sellers is a concert New York pianist Henry Orient. Two teenage girls follow him around town. One of the girls have a crush on him and has made a scrapbook which her mother finds later. Henry is a ladies man with a huge ego to go with it. This is not Peter Sellers best movie. but it's pretty good one. Look for Tom Bosley (Happy Days)and Angela Lansbury in the movie also.
February 25, 2005
Peter Sellers was in a lot of films that basically wasted his talents. Like these three here. Or maybe I'm thinking too much of him. Dunno.

Kate Beckinsale is a person who I had no idea what she looked like. I just saw her name in the opening credits of [b]Golden Bowl[/b] and somehow automatically assumed that she's the one in the leading role. So throughout the film i kept thinking: "man, this kate beckinsale, she looks a lot like uma thurman". at one point I remember even speculating how she would've done in kill bill, and came to the conclusion that she didn't have what it took. not enough edge for it, i suppose. she was too cute.
...so naturally i felt like an ass when i saw uma thurman in the end credits.
February 16, 2005
The title of this 1964 comedy is misleading, but it's not a bad movie.
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