Wednesday, January 25, 2012

34. THE PARTY'S OVER (1964)

The more I discover of Oliver Reed's early work, the more consecrated I become to the view that he was one of the most compelling screen actors we will ever see. Though third-billed in this film, he owns it nonetheless, and nearly everyone else pales in terms of the commitment they bring to their performances. This isn't to say that the other roles are badly acted; on the contrary, I find this film not only remarkably well-cast but pleasingly stocked with fascinating characters -- a painter who drums, a lesbian couple, a German expatriate maimed during the war -- just the sort of arty, liberated crowd I'd be tempted to fall in with, even if they did turn out to be bad news just the same. But whenever Reed is onscreen, he dominates everything else that's going on, and his sheer force of presence, personality and psychology eclipses the story's dramatic obligations, which include sussing out the truth in a possible murder investigation.

Reed plays the ringleader of a group of partying beatniks, to whom most of the girls (including second-billed Amy Lynn) have been drawn at one point or another, who becomes hung up on the one girl who's refused him sexually -- Melina (Louise Sorel), an engaged American heiress from Missouri who's fled to London to get away from the pressures personified by her crew-cutted father (Eddie Albert) and the fiancé who's being groomed to take over his industrial throne. The fiancé, Carson (Clifford David), tracks down her group and they send him off to different dead ends that eventually persuade him that his intended doesn't wish to see him. Their engagement broken, he finds himself attracted to Nina (Katherine Woodville), one of the beatnik girls who, like him, is looking for a reason to break free of her social circle and "grow up." In the wake of Melina's disappearance and the suicide of one of her group, her father arrives to do what Carson has failed to do, and finds his daughter in the morgue, the supposed victim of a hit-and-run accident that Carson knows did not happen.

Directed and apparently disowned by an uncredited Guy Hamilton, the same year his career was raised to a different category by directing GOLDFINGER, this film has a vital jazz score by John Barry, and Annie Ross sings one of the numbers. The familiar rising and falling notes of Barry's world-famous Bond theme can be heard here in rudimentary form in one of the cues. Annette Robertson, later Reed's co-star in two BBC films directed by Ken Russell, is one of the more intriguing girls in Reed's circle, though not given much to do. Not a great film, but a reasonably gripping one, restored after many years of unavailability by the British Film Institute.

Viewed on BFI Flipside Blu-ray and DVD.

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