DirectorGeorge Roy Hill
Release Date(s)1964 (July 14, 2015)
Studio(s)United Artists (Twilight Time)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: A
Comic powerhouse Peter Sellers gets top billing, but the unknowns are the stars in The World of Henry Orient, director George Roy Hill’s charming, poignant, and extremely underrated 1964 coming of age tale. Those unknowns, young actresses Tippy Walker and Merrie Spaeth (both of whom made their screen debuts in Orient) play a pair of Manhattan schoolgirls who develop wild crushes on Sellers’s title character, a pretentious and absurd concert pianist who they stalk all over the city. In the process, they get in the way of his various romantic entanglements (particularly with a married woman hilariously played by Paula Prentiss) and make a series of less amusing discoveries about their own lives – particularly when it comes to Walker’s parents, played by Tom Bosley and Angela Lansbury, whose marriage is deeply dysfunctional. In the hands of screenwriter Nora Johnson (daughter of the legendary Nunnally Johnson, who shares a writing credit here), this premise serves as a pretext for one of the most honest and touching portraits of young female friendship ever put on screen – a kind of Stand by Me for girls.
Johnson gets so many things right in her script (based on her own novel), from the ways in which teenagers bond and test their boundaries to the bittersweet agony of learning the truth behind how adults live their lives. She couldn’t have found a better director to mount her work than Hill, though a look at his later films might make him seem ill-suited for the job; after Orient, Hill went on to specialize in male-oriented action films and comedies like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Sting, and Slap Shot – though he was also the helmer behind the underrated Diane Keaton vehicle The Little Drummer Girl in the early eighties. In Orient, Hill combines a sort of gorgeous Hollywood classicism with the liberating techniques of the French New Wave to find the perfect visual corollary for his protagonists’ increasing awareness of the world around them, and their giddy romantic longings. It’s a spectacular looking film, with warm, inviting Manhattan landscapes that would make Woody Allen jealous, yet the technique is completely at the service of the emotions and story – there’s not a gratuitous camera move or cut in the entire picture.
The World of Henry Orient gets the home video treatment it deserves on Twilight Time’s new limited edition Blu-ray. Hill’s vivid palette pops off of the screen in all its tonal range and vibrancy, with great attention paid to every subtle detail of light and shadow. This is a movie of wide, deep images, and all of the nuances of Hill’s Cinemascope frame are impeccably preserved here. The DTS-HD mono track is flawless as well, with a perfect balance between Elmer Bernstein’s lush score (featured here as an isolated stereo track too) and the crisp clear presentation of dialogue. As is starting to become standard on Twilight Time discs, The World of Henry Orient features an informative and engaging commentary track by house film scholars Nick Redman and Julie Kirgo, who are joined here by fellow historian Jeff Bond. Their audio narration provides a wealth of historical context, visual analysis, and personal recollections that make this yet another of Twilight Time’s must-own special editions.
- Jim Hemphill