Movie Review By Monica Sullivan
"The World of Henry Orient" was considerably overshadowed by another Peter Sellers release in 1964, "The Pink Panther", but it remains one of the best films about teenagers ever made, and among the few to give anything like an accurate reading of the many crossed signals between kids and adults. Sellers portrays Henry Orient, a concert piano player of limited ability who becomes the reluctant idol of fourteen-year-old Elizabeth (Tippy) Walker. Sellers, who perfectly captures the personality of a not-terribly-bright, middle-aged slime, is incapable of coping with much more than one night stands with married women like Paula Prentiss. Unfortunately, although the talented Walker has a good mental grasp of his failings, she is unable to free herself from this pointless obsession. Walker involves her best friend Merrie Spaeth in a dogged pursuit of the dreary activities of Henry Orient which takes the girls all over New York City. Walker collects his discarded cigarettes and other junk as if they were priceless relics and Spaeth is unable to resist the romantic compulsion of the chase.
Both girls come from unconventional homes. The affluent, musical Walker is the daughter of kind pushover Tom Bosley who has resigned himself to life with the hard-as-nails Angela Lansbury. The decidedly middle class Spaeth lives with her mother and a woman friend, sympathetically played by Phyllis Thaxter and Bibi Osterwald. Left to their own devices, Walker would probably drift into drugs or an early marriage while the more level-headed Spaeth would lend equally loyal support to any other best friend. Despite the difference in their fortunes, it is clear that Walker has a far more poverty-stricken life and that she needs Henry Orient to distract her from the sadness and emptiness she would otherwise feel. Walker's recognition that she must learn to grow up by seeing Henry Orient exactly as he is comprises the most painful fact of her life, circa 1964. The adults in this one, despite some fine acting, are rather shadowy figures, which is probably the way most kids see them.
For a man who didn't begin directing movies until he was forty, George Roy Hill is clearly captivated by the girls' story and his enthusiasm for their adventures is contagious. Note the similarities in mood and tone between 1964's "The World of Henry Orient" and the first half of 1994's "Heavenly Creatures."
© 2001 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 10/3/01
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