Sunday, June 2, 2013

Caftan Woman's Choice: One for June on TCM

Peter Sellers is brilliantly funny as the title character in 1964s The World of Henry Orient and you are forgiven for thinking that he is the star of the picture when he is not.  The three stars of this unique and quirky film are two teenage girls and New York City.

Nora Johnson was 23 when her source novel was published.  The core idea was based on the crush she and some girlhood friends had on well-known pianist and bon vivant Oscar Levant.  If there is such a thing as a writing gene, no doubt Nora inherited it from her father, reporter, humourist and Oscar nominated screenwriter Nunnally Johnson.  Among his movie gifts are The Grapes of Wrath, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, How to Marry a Millionaire, The Gunfighter, Roxie Hart, The Woman in the Window, The Mudlark and The Prisoner of Shark Island.  He and Nora collaborated on the screenplay for the movie. 

The World of Henry Orient was the third feature film for director George Roy Hill whose previous work included many of the live television anthology programs of the 1950s, Period of Adjustment starring Jane Fonda and Jim Hutton and Toys in the Attic with Geraldine Page and Dean Martin.  Later triumphs include Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting.  The cinematographer, Boris Kaufman, was no stranger to location shooting, but the carefree atmosphere prevalent in this colour feature is a far cry from the mean streets of 1954s On the Waterfront.  The original score is from that master manipulator Elmer Bernstein.

Merrie Spaeth, Tippy Walker
"Gil" and "Val"

Two lonely teenage girls meet early in a new school year and become instant best friends.  Name actresses such as Hayley Mills and Patty Duke were considered for the roles, however much to the betterment of the story two newcomers to films were cast.

Merrie Spaeth plays Marian Gilbert or "Gil".  Gil lives in a homey townhouse with her divorced mother played by the sympathetic Phyllis Thaxter and family friend, a deliciously sarcastic Bibi Osterwald.  Gil has lots of love and attention, but cannot help but feel a sense of abandonment as her father has moved to Florida with a new wife and new children.

Tippy Walker is Valerie Campbell Boyd or "Val".  Val comes from money and divides her time between school and psychiatric appointments.  It seems Val has issues.   Those issues may be based on the fact that she lives alone in the city with servants.  Her well-meaning but ineffectual father played by Tom Bosley travels for business.  Her socialite mother played by Angela Lansbury travels for fun and perhaps to forget that she has a growing daughter.  Fans of Murder, She Wrote (and aren't we all?) will get a great kick out of seeing "Sheriff Tupper" and "Mrs. Fletcher" in these high society roles.

Peter Sellers
"Henry Orient"

Val is the leader of the two girls in their games of imaginative role play with Manhattan as their playground.  After a chance encounter in Central Park their energies and devotion is transferred to avant-garde pianist Henry Orient, becoming his admiring and non-threatening stalkers.  The trouble for Henry Orient is that these adolescents are cramping his style.  Henry Orient is one big phony baloney who fancies himself an international playboy.  The latest object of his desire is Mrs. Stella Dunnworthy played by Paula Prentiss.  It is one of life's joyous mysteries how Ms. Prentiss can be so elegant and so goofy at the same time.  The young wife has artistic aspirations and is intrigued and flattered by Henry Orient, but she's also a conventional suburban housewife with a guilty conscious.  Every surreptitious move of Mrs. Dunnworthy and Mr. Orient is observed by Val and Gil, and it has the almost adulterous couple on a comic edge.

Inevitable change comes about when the worlds of the adults and the teens collide.  Change is not necessarily a bad thing although emotional fallout can be traumatic.  The World of Henry Orient is both funny in its situations and a very true coming-of-age story.

In 1967 a musical version of the story called Henry, Sweet Henry with songs by Bob Merrill, book by Nunnally Johnson and directed by George Roy Hill had a brief run of 80 performances on Broadway.  Don Ameche played Henry Orient and Carol Bruce (Mother Carlson, WKRP in Cincinnati) played Mrs. Boyd.  Tony nominations were received by Michael Bennett for choreography and Alice Playten as featured actress.

If necessary, I can provide testimony from relatives who succumbed to my browbeating about watching this movie and genuinely thanked me for being so persistent.  My coming to your house and making you plop down in front of the television is not outside the realm of possibility.

TCM is screening The World of Henry Orient on Tuesday, June 25th at 10:00 p.m.


  1. I never heard of this movie, and, to be honest, I'm pretty sure I have never seen a single Peter Sellers film in my entire life.

    I think it's terrific that you actually browbeat friends and family into watching it and that they came away being glad they did. That almost never happens to me. I share my passion about beloved films, and all I get is "Why are you so wrapped up in black and white movies and dead men?!" Obviously, I don't have your touch!

    On the flip side, at least through my blog and my interaction with fellow classic film lovers, my passion for certain films is often caught.

    Thanks for sharing about a movie which has meant so much to you.

  2. Patti, my family has learned it is best to do what I want! Actually, I'm one of four sisters and we were raised to be movie buffs. It makes it easy. We all have our favourites and idiosyncrasies, but we're more than willing to share.

    I hope you give "The World of Henry Orient" a look. It's in colour and captures a specific era in NYC that is a lot of fun. I think it would be a good introduction to Sellers as well.

    You started something with your star of the month. I must go watch an Audie Murphy movie now.

  3. How fun to be one of four sisters. I always wanted a sister...had to wait until I married my husband to get one!

    My family will indulge my classic film's my friends who roll their eyes and question the obsession with dead men.

    My husband and kids will watch movies with me in the evening if they're home, but they're usually only half-watching, because they're on their own computer or phone at the same time. Even if they don't love the films like I do, they're usually pretty good sports...unless I try to push too many films of one person. These monthly themes of mine drive the family crazy, especially when it's someone they really dislike like John Garfield. (Go figure that one!) And my daughter is none too keen on all the Westerns Audie will be bringing to the house.

    Sorry for the longwinded comment.

  4. This was one of my favorite movies as a kid/teenager. I can't believe I used to watch this on a regular local Philadelphia channel (my dad was too cheap to pay for cable). Somehow I was still exposed to some great cinema. Although I still love this movie, I have found that Sellers' other films have imho not aged very well. I'm glad to know that someone else loves this movie and pesters friends and family to give it a look.

  5. You're not long winded at all, Patti. Merely enthusiastic.

    Gee, not liking John Garfield is a head scratcher. When my daughter was in high school she would complain that her friends were missing out on great movies because they were old or in black and white. Finally, she just made them watch some Hitchcock and James Cagney. It worked. We're a pushy lot!

  6. Paulette, thanks for your comment. I think more than a few of us became acquainted with great movies because of local TV channels. Nowadays they are all about infomercials.

    I agree that not everything Peter Seller's did has wide appeal, but when he was good he was very good.

    I hope more people catch onto the pleasure of "The World of Henry Orient".

  7. "The three stars of this unique and quirky film are two teenage girls and New York City"--well said! They made this quirky picture well worth seeing. I remember when everyone was praising the 2001 film GHOST WORLD, apparently oblivious to this Peter Sellers film that clearly inspired it.

  8. It's a funny thing, Rick, that despite the love for this movie in some circles, it has somehow fallen between the cracks when 60s movies are recalled.

  9. Oh, I love, love, love this film!!!! It is funny, sad, so sophisticated and innocent at the same time. Just a delight! Thank you for your review and letting us know when it will be on TCM.

  10. You summed up the emotional appeal of the movie perfectly, FlickChick.

  11. This film sounds like a lot of fun. I've heard of it but have never seen it. I'll make sure I have the DVR ready the next time it's on TCM.

    Thanks for your wonderful review. :)

  12. Thanks, Gwen. I'll check it out after this busy weekend.

    Ruth, I can pretty much guarantee this movie will find a place on your favourites list.

  13. CW,
    With your enthusiasm and knowledge of this genre, I would invite you over to co-horse me into watching anything! ha ha

    I've never read an unkind word or negative comment about Peter Sellers and for good reason. Even the photo you've provided with that face and his expression as he peers out the window had me smiling.

    Interesting that Duke and Mills were considered for roles as the two girls in the film. I'm not a fan of either of them but I would have still seen this one. Shoot, even the title draws you in.

    And, with his name being Henry Orient, I bet you were drawn to it like a moth to a flame. ha ha. My Charlie Chan Gal!

    Another fun review.

    Sorry it took so long to get back here. Hopefully things have calmed down around here enough to catch up with your blog and our fellow CMBA'rs.

    Have a wonderful weekend!

  14. I hope you and yours are faring well, Page. I usually enjoy watching The Weather Channel, but the stories from your neck of the woods were horrifying.

    Yep. As if the title isn't irresistible enough, the movie has to go and be even better than imagined. A real winner, just like you.

  15. oh, oh, oh, Pat. I LOVE THIS MOVIE! I even wrote about it on my blog a while back. I too will come to your house and make you watch it...well, not YOUR house since you've already seen it and love it. Hell, you know what I mean. :)

    We should book a trip to Patti's house in Michigan. Ha. Show up on her doorstep with the DVD.

    This movie makes you fall in love with NYC if you needed any prompting. I love everything about it. EVERYTHING!!

    I simply can't believe that it's disappeared from most movie radars. So it's up to us, Pat, to fan the flames.

  16. Yvette, if your enthusiasm doesn't bring people around to giving this movie a shot, then there is absolutely no hope. It truly is a film to fall in love with.

  17. Caftan Woman, I'm so glad I finally got a chance to read your delightful HENRY ORIENT blog post, because I've only seen it once, as a young'un in both the Bronx and Manhattan at various times, and your post has me wanting to watch the movie again! I had forgotten that the character of Henry Orient was inspired by Oscar Levant, another of my favorites. I'm both impressed and maybe a teeny-tiny bit envious that source author Nora Johnson was Nunnally Johnson's daughter! :-) One line from the film that I always liked was from Angela Lansbury when, as I recall, she was canceling a rendezvous with Peter Sellers, along the lines of "Darling, I have some rather stupid news." :-) I very much enjoyed your post, C.W., as always! You've also reminded me that I've got to get back on the stick and start peddling my novel manuscript; maybe then I can get an agent to check out my comedy-thriller! :-) Wonderful, my friend, as always!

  18. Dorian, you made my day. Isn't it great that movies are there at different times for us?

    Start peddling, girl! There's a place for your manuscript.

  19. This is a FANTASTIC film and highly underrated. It's one of those movies that you watch once and then want to watch again and again every year at the same time. And yes, it's great to see Sheriff Tupper and Jessica Fletcher together so many years before they were those lovable characters. When my sister and I saw "Junior Miss" recently ( 1945? Peggy Ann Gardner )it seemed to us like it captured a bit of the essence of The World of Henry Orient : two playful girls in NYC, winter setting, the growing pain years, and their sparkling banter between each other. Not many films are able to really CAPTURE the age of youth as Henry Orient did, but Junior Miss comes close too. I never knew that Hayley Mills was considered for one of the girl's parts! Thank you for spreading the word about this film gem.

  20. It was my pleasure to talk about "The World of Henry Orient". Thanks for cluing me in on "Junior Miss".



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