The World of Henry Orient Review
Two young schoolgirls in New York, Gil and Val (Merrie Spaeth and Tippy Walker), become friends, finding that apart from being the new girls in school, they also have similar backgrounds and interests as well as a similarly unstable family life. Valerie’s parents are often out of the city, residing either at their Arizona home or their apartment in Paris. Gil’s parents were divorced when she was young. While playing around in Central Park, the girls stumble across Henry Orient (Peter Sellers) who is trying, unsuccessfully, to conduct an affair with a married woman (Paula Prentiss). When they discover that Henry Orient is actually a famous concert pianist Val develops a crush and the girls form a pact to find out as much as they can about his lifestyle, following him to restaurants and to his apartment. The unexpected appearance of the girls at every turn makes Henry’s courtship of the married woman all the more impossible.
Despite the top billing of Peter Sellers and the use of his character’s name in the title of the film, the focus of The World of Henry Orient is that of the friendship of two fourteen year-old girls. Much of the humour of the film comes from the antics of the two girls, from the openness of their emotions and the lengths to which they will take their obsessions. And what better foil for the object of their obsession than Peter Sellers, who reacts wonderfully to the beaming faces that seem to greet him every time he turns around or looks out his window. That said, Henry Orient isn’t the funniest character Sellers has created and the film doesn’t use the comedy actor’s best strengths. Sellers is much better when given a certain amount of freedom to improvise, as in his Pink Panther films or the other films released by MGM alongside this title – The Party and After The Fox. He has a few moments of spontaneity but nearly all of his moments are reactions to what other people do – the surprising appearances of the two girls and the extreme paranoia of the married woman he is dating.
The two girls fortunately are mostly capable of keeping the film interesting, their charming naivety reminiscent of a similar troublesome friendship in Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures, with the same potential to get quite scary in the intensity of the little world the girls’ imaginations create between them. The initial scenes of their blossoming friendship as they drift through Central Park in Fall to Elmer Bernstein’s breezy score are quite magical, but there are limits to how far the viewer can find their antics amusing. As reality slips in, the film unfortunately turns towards a standard resolution, the girls find themselves having to grow-up in their attitudes and behaviour, adjusting to a world beyond Henry Orient.
The World of Henry Orient is released as a standard MGM back-catalogue title, which means it’s barebones. The quality of the print however is reasonably good. There are a few areas where scratches are visible, but for the most part the image is clear of both digital and analogue artefacts. Colours are a little on the dull side – the film looks quite colourful, but it is probably not as bright or as sharp as it should be. Overall though, it’s certainly a pleasant image and more than adequate. The Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack is rather dull and flat, and at a quite low volume, so it’s not always easy to make out everything that is being said. English subtitles are provided however, as well as a number of languages making this edition portable to other Region 2 countries. Consequently, the menus contain the usual MGM wordless icons. There are no extra features on the disc nor even a chapter selection option.
The World of Henry Orient is regarded as a bit of an overlooked comedy gem in some places, but while it does have some amusing situations and performances, it’s no classic. While not one of his best performances, it is certainly a Peter Sellers film that hasn’t been widely seen, so its appearance on DVD is most welcome, even in its most basic form as an MGM back-catalogue release.