Sometime around 1970/1, the BBC ran a series of Peter Sellers' films. Amongst those shown was a delightful number called 'The world of Henry Orient', in which Sellers plays a classical pianist who is better at being a lothario than playing the piano. As far as I was concerned, the focus of the film wasn't Sellers, but rather two girls on the edge of adolescence. I only remember all this because a few months later I wrote a poem which hints at this film. I tried looking for the poem yesterday - not because it was any good, but because it would give me a date - but couldn't find the folder in which it was stored. [see end of post]
Fast forward nearly 40 years. The MGM movie channel showed TWOHO a few weeks ago, and I eagerly recorded it onto DVD. When watching it, I was instantly charmed by the film's youth, but discovered to my dismay that the physical media on which I had recorded the film couldn't keep up with the pace, and so it stuttered. Too often. So much so that in the end, I couldn't watch the film. It seems that the first 20 or so DVDs in the pack were ok, but then the quality went down, as a few other films which I recorded suffered the same fate. I have since bought better quality DVDs (or at least, more expensive ones) and am saving the cheaper ones for digital copies only.
TWOHO was screened again yesterday, and this time I made sure that I recorded it onto a good disc. One more technical gripe before I write about the film: the television set displayed the film with a strange aspect ratio, which ignored the bottom 10% of the picture, and sometimes caused faces to appear distorted. Fortunately, the DVD recorded the film with a better aspect ratio, showing everything properly.
As many have commented before me (check out the comments at IMDB), this is a lovely teenage movie made just before things were about to change. Instead of adding my own bumbling commentary, here is one of the comments from IMDB:
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 sexual awakening and same-sex bonding 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 wonderful cinematic artifact; it gives the lie to the condescending put-downs of the era by the current generation.
Another comment talks about "the magical, honest bond of best-friendship between girls". Whatever. I would like to be gender blind, and say that the film demonstrates the magical and honest bond of best friendships, something which I was encountering when I first saw the film. To me, that is more important than the plot involving Sellers, and especially more important than the film's ending (not the final scene, but the ten minutes which precede it).
In fact, the film could almost have been split in half: the first forty minutes, and the rest of the film. This is not to say the that the second half is any less good than the first, but rather the first part shows a specific world and emphasizes the values of friendship, whereas the second part develops a story.
I am not too sure whether the accompanying score is subtle or blatant; certainly whilst watching this film for the fourth or fifth time, I was paying more attention to the score than one normally does. During the Central Park scene at the beginning, note how whenever the girls are on screen, a 'youthful' theme is being played, but whenever the camera cuts to Sellers, the score consists of abstract piano chords, in keeping with his character.
The young actress playing Val - Tippy Walker - unfortunately did not stay in the movie business. Most of the time she looks to me like a young Diane Keaton; if one takes the Diane of 'Sleeper' and tries to imagine what she would have looked like ten years younger, then Val is the result.
[Edit from 22 July 2010: The poem referred to above was written on 16 Nov 1971, which means that the film was screened a few months before hand]