Tuesday, November 27, 2018


When the world never seems to be living up to your dreams – "The Facts of Life" theme

A recent New York Times study found that most people’s music tastes peak somewhere around the ages of 13 to 16, concluding that as we age, we tend to gravitate to the music we listened to during our adolescence. I'm certain I would have balked at such a reductive claim back in my youth—given that throughout the '80s and '90s I listened to little else but what was played in heavy rotation on MTV. But today, having just turned 60, I skip right over the '80s and '90s and listen almost exclusively to early Motown, '70s disco, and ‘60s psychedelic pop...the music of my adolescence. 

I'm sure that had a comparable study been conducted about movies, the findings would be similar. That's definitely the case with me. I've long known that the films I fell in love with during my teenage years have played a significant role in the determining and shaping of my taste in motion pictures. Chiefly because they provided me with my earliest glimpses of adult life.
As a rule, when I was young I had little patience with movies featuring or marketed to kids my own age, and was chiefly drawn to movies about what I assumed was the infinitely more interesting world of grown-ups. But every now and then I came upon an exception.

Movies have explored the lives of teenagers in a great many coming-of-age films, but few have captured that curiously cocooned, exuberant, outside-adulthood-looking-in, bittersweet limbo state known as adolescence as fancifully as George Roy Hill’s The World of Henry Orient. A thoroughly enchanting and enduring comedy-drama about friendship, found families, and the efficacy of imagination in coping with the imperfect world of flawed adults and inadequate caretakers.
Peter Sellers as Henry Orient
Paula Prentiss as Stella Dunnworthy
Angela Lansbury as Isabel Boyd
Elizabeth "Tippy" Walker as Valerie Campbell Boyd
Merrie Spaeth as Marian Gilbert
Henry Orient (Peter Sellers) is a vainglorious, not overly-gifted avant-garde concert pianist whose life (which consists of surprisingly little piano playing and considerable skirt-chasing) is turned upside down by the worshipful attentions of a pair of dreamy teenage girls who have decided to make him the object of their romantic fantasies. The girls in question are eighth-graders Valerie Boyd (Tippy Walker) and Marian Gilbert (Merrie Spaeth). Both are new enrollees at the tony Norton’s School for Girls in Manhattan's Upper East Side who establish a rapport over shared orthodontic burdens (i.e., braces: Marian has “rubber bands,” Val sports “railroad tracks”). Plus, a mutual appreciation of their temple of learning:
Val: “Do you like it?”
Marian: “They say it’s the finest girls' school in the country.”
Val: “I don’t either.”

But chiefly they share an inarticulate loneliness and the 14-year-old’s gift for filling the void of unsatisfactory home lives with an immersion in vivid flights of fancy.
"Gil" and "Val" (as they call one another) dream about the ideal family life

Valerie, a born fantasist, is musically gifted and branded a misfit at school due to her high IQ and family-rooted developmental problems (“I’m unmanageable,” she boast-confesses about being kicked out of two schools in one year). Traipsing about New York with disheveled hair and wearing an old, full-length mink (a hand-down from her mother, no doubt), she suffers the neglect of wealthy, globe-trotting parents (Angela Lansbury and Tom Bosley). Marian, an impressionable pragmatist of humbler circumstances than her private school peers (“Don’t tell me you finally found a friend in that snob hatchery!”), comes from a loving but broken home where she’s looked after by her divorced mother (Phyllis Thaxter) and materteral family friend, “Boothy” (Bibi Osterwald). 
Bibi Osterwald as Erica "Boothy" Booth and Phyllis Thaxter as Mrs. Avis Gilbert
 taking in a Henry Orient concert: "If this is music, what's that stuff Cole Porter writes?"

When a string of fateful, frightful coincidences consistently throw Val and Marian into the path of the playboy pianist --literally, in one instance--the girls, convinced of destiny’s intervention, swear blood-oath, lifelong devotion to their beloved. That Val & Marian’s ardent attentions come to inadvertently wreak havoc on Henry’s attempts to seduce a very-married patron of the arts (the wonderful Paula Prentiss, stealing every scene) is where The World of Henry Orient finds its humor. That the eyes of a couple of quixotic 14-year-olds can transform a mediocre musician and world-class phony into the fulfilled embodiment of all that is artistically pure and romantic in life is where The World of Henry Orient finds its heart.
"And then two small bladders came out of their mouths!"
Henry Orient describing his first sighting of Val and Marian 

Set in a romanticized New York that never existed (something the film’s young stars were dismayed to discover when in real-life they reenacted the scene where a concerned mob rushes to the aid of one of the girls as she feigns illness on a busy city street [in real-life, apathetic pedestrians merely stepped over them]), The World of Henry Orient celebrates the emotional resiliency of the young, suggesting that a fertile imagination is ofttimes the only line of defense afforded those vulnerable souls whose fate it is to make the best of the messes adults make of their lives.

That both comedy and dramatic conflict arise out of the struggle to maintain a hopeful dreaminess in the face of disillusionment and the inevitable eye-opening of maturity is what makes The World of Henry Orient an uncommonly insightful film about teenagers that also contains a few lessons for adults.
The Family You Create Can Be More Important Than The One You're Born Into
A particularly well-played and sensitively written scene has Mrs. Gilbert and Boothy, in an empathetic effort to make Val feel less self-conscious about her daily visits to a psychiatrist, both confess (to the surprise of Marian) to having "hit the couch" at one time or another in their past.

The timeline of its release and its favorable reception places The World of Henry Orient right at the start of the "youth wave" in motion pictures. Released one year after the first Beach Party moviea genre noted for its overage teens and absentee parentsThe World of Henry Orient is distinguished by being a film about adolescents whose stars are actually adolescents (Walker and Spaeth were 16 and 15, respectively). 
Like Disney’s The Parent Trap (released two years earlier), The World of Henry Orient, too, is about teens from broken homes, but its approach isn't as sanitized. The World of Henry Orient came out two years before another Hayley Mills film-The Trouble with Angels, and shares with it the rarefied status of being a major motion picture featuring female protagonists...their relationships and points of view...as the central focus of the narrative.

Based on Nora Johnson's debut novel first published in 1958, The World of Henry Orient was inspired by her New York childhood and the adolescent crush she harbored for pianist Oscar Levant (Levant is the French word for Orient, explaining the title character’s unusual last name). It was adapted for the screen by her father, Oscar-nominated screenwriter Nunnally Johnson (The Grapes of Wrath, How to Marry a Millionaire, Black Widow), whose extensively reworked screenplay is purported to have been completed without his daughter’s participation, but (perhaps in an effort to make up for being such a non-presence in her early life...the Johnsons divorced when Nora was five) he nevertheless granted her a co-writing credit and billing above his own.
Old-School Fangirls
The World of Henry Orient was released a month before The Beatles' first visit to the U.S. 

As autobiographical first novels go, Nora Johnson’s paean to the power of imagination to compensate for the absence of parental attention was the teenage antithesis to Françoise Sagan’s 1954 mordant memoir Bonjour Tristesse (written when Sagan was 18, Johnson’s when she was 25). While both books benefited from unsentimental perspectives, the essentially optimistic teens of Henry Orient were far more recognizable to American audiences than Sagan's cynical sophisticate. Nunnally Johnson’s screenplay lightened the tone of his daughter’s novel, fashioning it into a delightful, genuinely witty comedy with humor derived from character as much as calamity.
Noteworthy for the appealingly natural performances of its two leads, the film improves upon the book by eliminating Val’s therapist and fleshing out the girls' relationships with the adult characters via a three-pronged structure that matches the plot's shifting narrative perspective with corresponding variations in tone.
Henry Orient's offbeat piano concerto (featuring a factory whistle and a bass drum struck by a sack of potatoes) was composed by Ken Lauber, who appears in the film as the exasperated conductor

First, there's the coming-of-age comedy, which follows the breezy adventures of two girls loose in a picture-postcard vision of New York. Then there's the bedroom farce, which chronicles Henry's broadly-played attempts to seduce Stella. Finally, we have the adult satire which presents the adults of Henry Orient as the reality counterpoint to the fantasy world the girls have created for themselves. As the movie explores the differing ways in which children and adults deal with life's disappointments, The World of Henry Orient never once condescends to the girls, nor does it make all adults out to be fools or villains. Rather, the film treats all the characters with wry affection and a surprising amount of empathy.  
Paula Prentiss's elegant eccentricity brightens every scene. I can't--nor do I want to---watch anyone else.
She and Sellers reteamed the following year in What's New, Pussycat?

As a kid who spent a great deal of his adolescence in a paradoxical effort to both escape into and find myself within the flickering images of a movie screen; what I most relate to in The World of Henry Orient is the way it so entertainingly dramatizes the way young people, nonautonomous and dependent upon parents, can find temporary happiness in substituting dreams for reality when that reality is found wanting.
The film makes its points in emotionally perceptive ways. In particular, I like the scene where Val and Marian share a secret smile when the clock strikes six, the time of the day Marian confesses to most missing her absent and remarried father.
The film's only sour notes come when the girls, taking their cue from their idol's last name, lapse into the kind of non-malicious, yet nonetheless cringe-inducing, stereotypical Asian behavior (broken English, bowing) that we now recognize as casual racism. While nothing on the scale of Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany's, the scenes are still plenty embarrassing and ultimately disappointing. 

Special mention must also be made of Elmer Bernstein's splendid musical score which enlivens every scene, and the sensational New York locations. It makes Manhattan look like a kids' Playland.

There are exceptions, but as a rule, I’m inclined to find most child actors annoying. They’re like some kind of dreamscape hybrid creature--juvenile bodies possessed of a lifetime’s worth of artifice and affectation. Paradoxically, I’m not much fonder of the practice of pawning off getting-on-in-years actors like Ann-Margret (Bye Bye Birdie) and John Travolta (Grease) as high-schoolers either, but of the two, I find adults posing as kids to be less grating. Therefore, the biggest miracle and greatest source of delight in The World of Henry Orient are the relaxed, genuinely likable performances given by its two age-appropriate, unknown, inexperienced leads making their film debuts. 
With her deliciously icy turn as Val’s disinterested mother, the ever-faultless Angela Lansbury was more than ready to bring a close to nearly two decades’ worth of playing unsympathetic character roles. She ultimately traded in her withering gaze and wry delivery for twinkly smiles and Broadway musical-comedy legend status. TV-familiar Tom Bosley (Happy Days) is very good as the distracted dad, but at 35 to Lansbury’s 37, Bosley felt he was “A little too young to be Angela’s husband.”

I don’t know how George Roy Hill did it, but Walker and Spaeth give such spirited, engagingly unselfconscious performances that it's hard to believe this is their first film. (One unsavory contributing factor perhaps influencing Walker's performance is that during filming, the married-with-children, 44-year-old director embarked on a creepy, purportedly platonic “relationship” with the 16-year-old former model which lasted several years). The quality of the young women's work (particularly Walker, who’s so heartbreaking in the film’s third act) is made all the more remarkable when contrasted with the patent amateurishness of the two equally inexperienced teenage girls cast by William Castle (per his usual copycat fashion) in  I Saw What You Did (1965). Trade periodicals from the time reveal that The World of Henry Orient was originally envisioned as a vehicle for Hayley Mills and Patty Duke, but I can’t imagine either of those seasoned vets improving upon the performances of these charismatic novices.
Character actor Al Lewis (aka "Grandpa" Munster) is a riot as a shopkeeper
 who fervently wants to be of assistance to Jayne Mansfield

Having made a splash in Lolita (1962), The Pink Panther (1963), and Dr. Stangelove (1964), The World of Henry Orient was Peter Sellers’ first American film. Renowned for his skill in playing multiple roles in several of his films, I am nevertheless relieved that Sellers only plays one part in The World of Henry Orient, for as much as I like him, a little of Sellers can go a very long way. His top-billed role here is more of a showy guest star turn, the innate theatricality of the self-enchanted Orient allowing Sellers to shine in a brilliantly exaggerated manner, while simultaneously preventing him from overstaying his welcome. His Henry Orient is one of my favorite Sellers performances precisely because it's one of the few to actually leave me wanting more.
The most lauded and commented-upon aspect of his characterization (deservedly so) is the way the Brooklyn born pianist’s accent keeps slipping from Bulgarian, French, Italian, and back to Brooklynese, depending on the situation. When on the make, his Henry Orient comes across like a guy who learned about seduction from watching reruns of Renso Cesana as The Continental
"I will give someone 1,000 dinars who can find one gray hair on my head!"
My partner harbors such a deep-rooted antipathy towards Peter Sellers that I actually resorted to trickery to get him to watch The World of Henry Orient. I began the film after the opening credits had rolled, and my partner fell in love with the film before he even recognized it was Peter Sellers (he thought it was Gene Kelly in "The Pirate" mode).

There’s no arguing that representation matters, but in the movies and TV shows of the ‘60s, adolescent girls almost exclusively saw themselves represented in ways subordinate to and reflective of a negative adolescent male perspective (“Dumb ol’ Margaret” in Dennis the Menace, or “creepy” Judy in Leave it to Beaver). The lone exceptions and only TV programs I recall in which the lives and relationships of adolescent girls were central and presented as genuine were The Patty Duke Show and Gidget.
There have always been motion pictures with teenage girls as central characters within the framework of larger, family-centric stories: i.e., A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945), The Actress (1953), and Pollyanna (1960). And some—like Margie (1946), A Date with Judy (1948), and the “Tammy” and “Gidget” franchises—even placed teenage girls front-and-center of their own stories. Unfortunately, the storylines of these films were so often devoted to the heroine’s romantic misadventures that all other female characters were depicted as either rivals or bullies. Female friendships were a rarity.

“One thing about unwanted children, they soon learn how to take care of themselves”
Val and Marian’s liberating flights of fantasy are repeatedly intruded upon by adults (the concerned crowd, the overly-helpful shopkeeper, the parent with no respect for privacy), all events that underscore themes relating to the vulnerability of adolescence and the sometimes-dispiriting lack of control the young have over their circumstances.

I grew up in a house with four sisters drawn to (and catching me up in their orbit) entertainments centered around female characters. Unfortunately, for these four beautiful, vibrant Black girls with imagination and confidence to spare, images of themselves in movies and TV during the '60s were virtually non-existent, except as totems of white tolerance in special “social problem” episodes of their favorite TV shows. Even during the ‘70s, when I could find glimpses of my own existence in the teenage Black males at the center of The Learning Tree (1969), Sounder (1972), and Cooley High (1975); I can think of only one film from the entire decade that was about a black teenage girl: Ossie Davis’1972 film Black Girl.
Local Color
Angela Lansbury's Tony Award-winning turn in Broadway's Mame was still two years off, but this party scene looks like an early dry-run for the "It's Today!" number. The only scene in the film to significantly feature actors of color, its objective is to illustrate her character's high-style sophistication

Forced to live within themselves and cling to any depiction of girlhood they could get (movie-wise, Hayley Mills and Annette Funicello were pretty much it), all of my sisters responded enthusiastically to The World of Henry Orient when it aired on TV. None more so than my next-to-oldest sister, the film buff and Beatles fan who dragged me to The Trouble with Angels more times than I can count, and for whom The World of Henry Orient was something of a mirror into her life. To say she liked this movie is a serious understatement. This film spoke to her.

A Catholic school girl well-acquainted with feeling like a misfit, my sister was Val to her best girlfriend’s Gil; together they would spend entire Saturdays roaming the city of Denver, Colorado (where we lived before moving to San Francisco) creating mischief and having adventures. When she watched The World of Henry Orient—which she did, rapturously, every time it aired—it was clear to me that the big smile on her face was a smile of recognition. Not physical recognition, for no one in the film looked like her at all (it would be many years before she ever saw an authentic depiction of herself onscreen), but emotional recognition: I could tell she was responding to seeing just a little bit of her inner self reflected back to her from the TV screen.
Black Girl Excellence
An unforeseen reaction to my seeing Annie (2014): a multimillion-dollar musical built around a 10-year-old Black girl (Quvenzhane Wallis): and Black Panther (2018): a global blockbuster featuring a 16-year-old Black girl who is a science genius and warrior (Letitia Wright); was how often I found myself brought to tears watching these beautiful young women, thinking about what such images would have meant to my sisters growing up.

If part of our contemporary pop culture (fashion, the music industry) appears to be in a race to have girls acquire the tools to sexualize and objectify themselves as early as possible, another part (books, films, TV, behind-the-scenes production) feels as though it is listening to the creative and artistic voices of women and girls of all types. With more women—gay, straight, trans, Black, Asian, Latina—telling their own stories and becoming involved in the fields of writing, directing, and producing; I look forward to the day when there are more movies about the lives and friendships of girls. When a movie like The World of Henry Orient is more the cinematic norm than the rapturous rarity it remains.

In 1967 The World of Henry Orient was turned into a flop Broadway musical. Both the film's director and screenwriter collaborated on the stage production which ran a scant three months, garnered two Tony Award nominations, and featured Golden Age 20th-Century Fox musical star Don Ameche in the Peter Sellers role. The show, if remembered at all, is cited for the participation of a young Pia Zadora, the dances by choreographer Michael Bennett, and the appearance of several original members of A Chorus Line.

Twenty years after playing the unhappily-married Boyds in The World of Henry Orient, Angela Lansbury and Tom Bosley reunited on considerably more amicable terms as author Jessica Fletcher and Sheriff Amos Tupper on the long-running TV series Murder, She Wrote

I wish I could remember something about the circumstances surrounding getting this Tom Bosley autograph. In its stead, I suppose I should be grateful that I at least recorded the date.

Copyright © Ken Anderson  2009 - 2016


  1. Neat! I've never seen this movie... It appears to have a marvelous "look." For some reason, I was waiting for you to tell us there was more to Thaxter and Osterwald than meets the eye! Angie looks amazing here (but you know how I adore piled up hair.) I love that she and Bosley were reunited. I never realized they played a couple all these years before. My GOD those girls in "I Saw What You Did" were just plain bad... Glad these are presumably much better. I probably avoided this because, as you note, a little of Sellers usually goes a long way, but I'll give this a shot the next time I see that it's on. Thanks!

    1. Hi Poseidon
      You’re right in that HENRY ORIENT has a terrific early Sixties look. From the sleek costuming of the upscale adults to the flattering photography of NYC, it’s that ‘60s film phenomenon where location shooting was lit in such a way as to make them look like sets (a la Breakfast at Tiffany’s).

      As for Thaxter and Osterwald, when watching the film it never crossed my mind, but when it came time to try to describe their living arrangement for this piece, I was struck by how my initial attempts made it sound like they had a Boston Marriage, which I guess it essentially is; but since the film is told from the perspective of the girls, I guess focusing on the “aunt” role of Boothy felt more…appropriate.

      It is a bit of a miracle that George Roy Hill (if he’s to be credited) pulls off with the casting and performances of the girls. They somehow avoid every cliché and annoyance you’d expect. Their natural chemistry and relaxed performances are a kind of lightning in a bottle thing that elevates this film to being one of my favorites. If you like Lansbury, she looks good and her scenes are great. Worth a look!
      Thanks, Poseidon!

  2. Great piece, Ken. But "Henry, Sweet Henry" is remembered by musical theater fans for one more thing: the performance of Alice Playten as the girls' nemesis. In William Goldman's book "The Season," he tells the story of how Playten was so good that it unbalanced the whole show. You can hear her sock-it-to-the-rafters rendition of "Nobody Steps on Kafritz" on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZyAnq8HdWYQ

    1. "Poor Little Person" is well worth a look, courtesy of YouTube.


      In addition to the wondrous Alice Playten, that one number also featured Pia Zadora, Baayork Lee, Priscilla Lopez, and Joyce James. Alice played Ermengarde in the original cast of "Hello, Dolly!" and Joyce James became Joyce Ames when she played the same role in the movie. Priscilla Lopez introduced "What I Did for Love" in the original cast of "A Chorus Line," which also featured Baayork Lee.

      That's just the girls' chorus. The male chorus is almost equally illustrious, as are the actors. If you got to see a show that didn't make it, this would be a great one to choose.

      Now the movie... never saw it. Sorry!

    2. Hi Jack
      Curiously enough, Alice Playten made it to the first draft of my Bonus Material section because not only did I remember her from the brief notoriety she enjoyed back in 1969 from that Alka Seltzer commercial in which she played a bride with questionable cooking skills (“Marshmallowed Meatballs…”), but I’d read about HENRY,SWEET HENRY in Ken Mandelbaum’s book “Not Since Carrie” where the author repeats Goldman’s observation about how Tony Award nominated Playten stole the show.
      But by the second draft, what with Playten’s minimal presence in films, I left out all mention of her, figuring that no one would know who she was but me. Wrong! I tend to forget how often the interests of film buffs and theater fans intersect. Thanks so much for reading this piece and for reintroducing Playten to the fold via that link (what a voice!)

      Thanks very much for the link and all the Broadway cast info. Perhaps it was you who sent me this clip on my post for Pia Zadora’s THE LONELY LADY, calling my attention to how poor Pia is the only girl unable to keep in rhythm during their formation steps? It draws my attention every time.

    3. But note how much upstaging Pia tries to fit into that one number! :D

      Also, thanks for mentioning E. Bernstein's jaunty/poignant score for HENRY ORIENT. It's icing on the cake for this enjoyable film. (I think I still prefer THE TROUBLE WITH ANGELS a tad, though.)

    4. Mark-
      YES! Pia displays some major "All About Eve" (or is it "The Bad Seed"?) energy here. Her energy and determination not to be anywhere but in the most advantageous sight-lines is rather amusing to watch. And I guess it worked!
      Bernstein's score is really brilliant, I think. HENRY ORIENT and THE TROUBLE WITH ANGELS would be my sister's ideal double feature.

  3. What a great choice for a review! Peter Sellers and Paula Prentiss are a hoot in this film. And who could believe that Angela Lansbury could play cold and superficial as effectively as she does warm and caring. I have always found it interesting though that these individuals are essentially background characters. In fact, the film really isn't about Henry Orient at all but female adolescence at its giddiest and saddest. The two young protagonists ultimately discover some disturbing things about Orient's "world." (You hint at the poignant conclusion to this film which, again, caught me by surprise.) Underneath all the plotting, giggling, and fire-hydrant-jumping, there was something oh so slightly lost about these two girls. No wonder they ended up focusing on Henry Orient. (The irony being that he was definitely not worthy of their adulation.) I see the same themes playing out today: young people (and old) fascinated by whatever celebrity freakshow is occurring or hooked on some flash-in-the-pan Youtube personality. Such struggles have always been with us (hence the relevance of the film reviewed)but it seems to my middle-aged eyes that young people, now more than ever, are searching for something they've lost but can't name.

    1. Hi Ron
      Glad to hear you’re a fan of the film, as well! And you’re right, the film is unique in that the adult characters (such interesting ones, at that) are all supporting players. It’s really about the girls. Not only must that have posed a challenge to the marketing department (play up the “stars” and audiences would feel misled; play up the teenagers, adult audiences might mistake it for a kids’ film). In any event, HENRY ORIENT certainly contrasts with the latter part of the era when the role of adults in youth-centric films grew increasingly superfluous (I used to wonder what Annette and Frankie’s parents looked like).

      I read Nora Johnson’s book many many years ago, but I remember that the element of sadness and loneliness in the girls’ lives you took note of was a stronger part of the narrative. And I don’t think things ended up the same.

      At the same time TV was showing us all these perfect nuclear families, I wonder if 1964 parents took any issue with a movie where kids are faced with a world of divorce, separation, and infidelity?

      I think HENRY ORIENT endures and remains relevant (and enjoyable) because of its essential honesty about adolescence. Kids can seem lost, but in truth (at least I think so) they’re wired to search. The dreams and fixations of adolescence is where they experiment with their feelings in a safe way. At the end of the film there’s the suggestion that maturity comes with learning when it’s time to say goodbye to make believe, and that in its place comes new skills for coping with reality.
      The thing I find troubling in teens today (my age is showing) is the kind of encouragement of prolonged adolescence in boys, while girls are induced to grow up much too quickly.
      Such thoughtful, well-considered points you introduce in the context of this movie. Thanks for sharing them, Ron

  4. Hi Ken - wow, this one looks charming. I never knew a thing about this movie except the title (which was a turnoff) and that it starred Peter Sellers (whom I sometimes love and often can't stand). Had no idea that Prentiss and Lansbury were also in it, looking so glamorous, or that the story centered on adolescence. Nor did I know that Levant is French for Orient!! Now I must see this...with a Nunnaly Johnson script and your stamp of approval, I know it's bound to be good!
    Happy holidays!!

    1. Hi Chris
      Truth be told, had it not been for my sister corralling me to see this on TV, with that title, I'm not sure I ever would have given this film a look. I thought it was going to be a silly '60s sex farce about a womanizing pianist.
      The film caught me totally off guard, it being one of those rare instances of a wonderful look, a sharp script, and complete casting chemistry all around.
      In some ways I'm very surprised it was such a hit when it came out, for I'm certain many felt the way you do about the title and Sellers' participation. A real difficult film to market, but they pulled it off, somehow.
      Certain not to be to everyone's taste, but I certainly love it. Maybe next time it airs on TCM you'll give it a look.
      Thanks for reading, Chris! And Happy Holidays!

  5. I’m glad you reviewed this nostalgic gem of a film. I was privileged to attend an elite boys’ school in Manhattan around the same time the movie was made. “Henry Orient” captures how I felt about being a teenager in NYC during the early Sixties. The dangers were minuscule compared to today and I roamed around Manhattan like it was my personal playground. After high school, my parents moved to another part of the country. I caught a showing of “Henry Orient” and instantly experienced an acute case of homesickness. Manhattan has rarely been filmed so lovingly – the locales, the girls (the younger sisters of my classmates), their parents (some snooty; some welcoming) were all familiar to me. Those days are long gone. A remake of this sweet, funny movie could never capture the innocence and joy of “Henry Orient.” It would be tawdry, sleazy and full of foul language (typical Netflix “young adult” fare.) Levant? Of course, we all remember that in “Brideshead Revisited,” Lady Marchmain enlisted Mr. Samgrass of All Souls College to take her son, Lord Sebastian Flyte, on a tour of “The Levant” - AKA The Middle East - to help cure his dipsomania!

    1. Hi Robb - Yes, some films should never be remade, and ORIENT is one of them. It's perfect as it is, and any attempt to recreate or recapture the simplicity and innocence of this endeavor would seem doomed from the start. Your memories of your teen years in Manhattan clearly give this film a great deal of resonance for you. It's a lovely timepiece and I appreciate that you shared your personal memories and fondness for the film with us. Nostalgia of this sort can be very nice, indeed. Thank you for reading this post!

  6. You have put into words all the feelings I've had for this movie. So accurate! I saw it in the theater when I was 10. The New York depicted might be a fantasy but it remains that way in my sweet childhood memories. No matter how many movies I've seen, this has always been number one. When I got an opportunity to go to New York, I only had 1 day to explore so naturally I wandered Central Park and visited filming locations. Thank you for promoting this mid-century masterpiece. Have you reviewed I Wanna Hold Your Hand? It perfectly captures Beatlemania.

    1. Pleased to hear that HENRY ORIENT is a favorite of yours, and that you found in this post a mirrored expression of your own feelings. This is a wonderful film to see as a child, and you were lucky enough to have seen it in a theater!
      I grew up in a big city, and this movie captures beautifully how a kid's imaginationcan turn a sprawling urban environment into a big playgound. I can see why visiting film loations would be a priority on your first visit to NYC.
      I've haven't seen I Wanna Hold Your Hand, but my older sister did (she was the Beatles fan in our household) and she would agree with you. She said it perfectly captured the Beatlemania era.
      Thank you for reading this post and sharing your history with this delightful film with us!

  7. Yesterday I was writing something in remembrance of Angela Lansbury and specifically wanted a photo of her as Isabel Boyd. A search led me to your excellent write-up of "Henry Orient." I was thrilled. This film holds a unique place in my heart for multiple reasons, and you seem to have touched on all of them. I've often tried, without your eloquence, to describe the way it captures the last gasps of childhood and the ability to make believe, especially with a trusted best friend. I grew up in New York and was twelve when I first saw the film at Radio City. I loved it then, but appreciated it even more when it was on TV a couple of years later. By then I was 14 and roaming around Manhattan with all the freedom and anonymity of Val and Gilbert. I was prone to telling absurd whoppers to cab drivers and countermen at Chock Full O' Nuts, just to see if they would buy them (they did). At some point, I began more consciously channeling the characters. I went through a phase of splitzing fire hydrants and wearing a ratty oversized racoon coat (I have photos to prove it). I saw "Henry, Sweet Henry" on Broadway when I was 15. I knew it wasn't good, but loved it anyway. I could go on, but I'll wrap this up by thanking you for your deft and concise discussion of the film's "disappointing" racism. To my shame, I didn't fully grasp it as a privileged white adolescent. As an adult it makes my skin crawl, and makes it impossible for me to recommend the movie without a disclaimer. Finally, if you're still here, we're now both San Franciscans. Just putting that out there.

    1. Hello Andy - What a happy accident for you to have landed here while conducting a Google image search. Until I wrote this post I hadn't come across many people who'd even heard of HENRY ORIENT, let alone those (which I'm now discovering are plentiful) who saw it at an impressionable age and recognized a bit of themselves in the film's accurate adolescent perspective.
      Your growing up in NY and seeing this at Radio City at age 14 seems the ideal set of circumstances for this to have become a lifelong favorite. I especially like the way you incorporated the film into your life, something my sisters and I often did when we saw movies that in some way related to how we saw the world.
      You're certainly the only person I've encountered to have seen HENRY, SWEET HENRY...which must have been thrilling at that age.
      I truly enjoyed reading your comments and can't tell you how gratifying they are. Not just your complimentary words regarding the essay (thank you, by the way), but the way the recounting of your history with HENRY ORIENT reaffirms what this blog is about ...the enduring way movies have of inspiring our fantasies and dreams. And it doesn't have an expiration date. Seeing a film we loved in our youth can take us back or it can spark new revelations.
      And it is a shame that the silly, meaning-no-harm cringe sequences of broken English and Asian stereotypes played for humor mar the otherwise unbroken sweetness of this film. How wonderful that you're now a San Franciscan! I moved to LA back in 1978, and I don't even have family living there anymore. But I have a high school friend who still lives there, and whenever I came up to visit, we always talk about how we roamed the city on foot, creating fantasies and adventures for ourselves among all those sloping hills. It's not NYC, but it's a spectacularly beautiful city and I hope you're happy there. Thank you for saying hello!

  8. I too love this movie and would extend the kudos to the cameramen who rendered autumn and even winter in New York so lovingly. Arthur Ornitz probably did the bulk of the shooting. I suspect the great Boris Kaufman was brought in chiefly for the slow-motion "splitzing" scenes on the strength of his similar work on ZERO DE CONDUITE for Jean Vigo in 1933. A brother of Dziga Vertov, he was a New York guy from the 1940s and worked extensively for Kazan (ON THE WATERFRONT) and Lumet (LONG DAY'S JOURNEY, THE PAWNBROKER, THE GROUP). Lot of versatility there! You did mention Elmer Bernstein's music, which may be compared with his TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD for the way it helps instill something of a child's point of view -- POV being something difficult to capture in the movies.

    1. Yes! I too think the cinematography in this movie is terrifically evocative of a point of view. Those wintry scenes look so desolate, the autumn scenes crisp and inviting. That the film had two cinematographers hadn't registered with me until now. Thanks for calling attention to it and listing some of their credits.

  9. Another great analysis, Ken. Thought-provoking. I thought I'd just leave this observation here before it departs my noggin faster than a politician's promises. Your remark on a little Sellers often going a long way reminds me of the book, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers (later made into a bowdlerized TV movie with a miscast Geoffrey Rush), the writer Roger Lewis when confronted by the unpleasantness, narcissism, and nuttiness of Pete begins to actively hate him. Life and Death is the only biography I have ever read which appears to have driven the author insane. The further we get into the book and the more egotistical and certifiable Sellers gets, the more fragmentary and schizophrenic the structure becomes. It's as if it is having a mental breakdown, Lewis begins outright attacking Sellers (although reading the things he did, one can't exactly blame him) then ranting. One could write a movie about the writing of a biography sending the biographer clear round the bend! Get 1960s/70s Polanski to direct it. The star? Peter Sellers.
    One more thing, it's creepy to watch, say, A Girl in your Soup in which Seller's is desperately trying to *be* a conventional suave (tho' oh for the days when leading men could aspire to be suave rather than looking they go dumpster diving or as if every day is Casual Friday) leading man at the same time as giving an unusually empty performance. He always stressed there was *no* real him, watching pictures like that one could well believe it. Of course, there *was* a real Peter Sellers, a talented but utterly selfish and part-crazed monstre sacrè. The quest to be *thin*, to be what he though a lead should be killed him. Paraphrasing Lewis - who I should, I guess, assert I have no reason to believe is bonkers! - it was ironic that a man who didn't appear to have a heart should be killed by his.

    P.S. I am available for parties. *winks*

    1. Hello Robert - Ah, yes!...I did read The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, but as it was well over 20 years ago, I appreciate your reminding me of some of the details. It's a fascinating observation you make...a memory I wish I could retrieve...regarding the impression the book leaves of the biographer hating his subject.
      I've read two other books on Sellers, one by his son and one by his ex-wife Britt Ekland, and the man never comes off as less than a constant pain in the ass to deal with. Yet when I see him in movies and on talk shows, he seems a charmer.
      Although I must applaud you on your take his performance in THERE'S A GIRL IN MY SOUP. It's a puzzler. The charm of the play eludes me anyway, but Sellers' strange and aggressively unfunny performance was jarring to me when I saw it as a kid (back when i was a huge Sellers fan).
      His talent is obvious, and in this film he's more restrained than usual. It's one of my favorites. I guess like with so many BIG personality stars (like Streisand) a little of them goes such a long way. In HENRY ORIENT, I get the perfect amount of Sellers.
      Oh, and I saw that weak but visually stylish TV movie adapted from the Sellers biography. It didn't seem to want to go where its subject led.
      Thanks for reading so many of my older posts, Robert. I appreciate it a great deal. Cheers!

  10. "It didn't seem to want to go where it's subject led." Bang on, précisément, acutely put, exactemundo. You nailed it. With your ability to get to the heart of things you really should write a book (book?! I know I'm old-fashioned but books are one of the things that separates us from beasts, I don't think we can say the same about social media). It's so odd that they were squeamish, if one chooses to bring Mommie Dearest for the screen it'd be a curious choice not to lean into the no-wire-hangers-everness of it.
    I think The World of Henry Orient was on the Talking Pictures TV channel I mentioned elsewhere a few weeks ago, I'm kicking myself for missing it. They also showed a little-seen drama from his lost years entitled The Blockhouse, THAT I did watch - briefly, but it was so draggy and depressing I bailed out of there like D.B. Cooper.
    Weirdly, I found out that Talking Pictures TV is showing a surprising film next week - Killer Fish! I was flabbergasted, it mustn't have been shown for *decades* and I must have only vaguely read of it in Maltin or Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Horror before I read your analysis. Spooky, as Dame Edna Everage would once have said. I'm excited to be able to see it.
    I love your work, you should be proud of it.
    - Robert