The World of Henry Orient (1964)



The World of Henry Orient is a small movie that begins as a silly romp about two teen girls infatuated with a zany pianist, and then — thanks to a pair of adult actors at the top of their game — becomes something much better:  a quietly powerful story about growing up.

Despite the title, The World of Henry Orient is initially a world belonging to New York City girls Marian and Valarie.  Marian (Merrie Spaeth) is a child of divorce who lives with her mother and a friend of the family.  Valarie (Tippy Walker) is a child prodigy who rarely sees her own parents, wealthy globetrotters who visit their daughter only when it’s convenient.  When Marian and Valarie hook up at a private school, they concoct a childish obsession:  the stalking of Henry Orient (Peter Sellers), a cowardly lothario from the Bronx with uptown aspirations and a bogus, continental accent.

Sellers, riding high in 1964 with The Pink Panther and Dr. Strangelove on his resume, does his deadpan shtick in this film and is, as always, amusing.  Walker and Spaeth have winning personalities and, although I confess there were times I felt I was watching two novice actors attempting to act, their enthusiasm is infectious.

But something near-miraculous occurs in the film at its midpoint, and this is largely thanks to a pair of consummate actors who turn a frivolous comedy into something sad, powerful, and utterly wonderful.  Tom Bosley and Angela Lansbury, as Valarie’s absentee parents, command the screen, Lansbury as a self-centered socialite and lousy mother, and Bosley in a precursor to his Happy Days role on TV —  the perfect Dad.  Bosley, in particular, has a scene with Walker that is heartbreaking, uplifting, and emblematic of why this little gem from 1964 still sparkles.      Grade:  A-




Director:  George Roy Hill  Cast:  Peter Sellers, Paula Prentiss, Angela Lansbury, Tom Bosley, Phyllis Thaxter, Bibi Osterwald, Merrie Spaeth, Tippy Walker  Release:  1964


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