A remake of Gunga Din is being filmed in Hollywood, and today is the last day of shooting at this outdoor location. However, one man, an Indian actor called Hrundi V. Bakshi (Peter Sellers), is unwittingly doing his best to sabotage the entire production, first by his extreme overperforming of a scene where he plays a dying bugler, then by attacking someone in character - apart from his underwater watch - and finally by blowing up the fort set before the director had a chance to start the cameras rolling. So how did he get invited to this swanky party held by the big shot who vowed never to work with him again?
If someone says to you, "Birdie num-nums" you'll either have no idea of what they're on about, or you'll be transported back to the time you watched this goodnatured comedy collaboration between star Peter Sellers and writer-director Blake Edwards, their sole non-Pink Panther movie. Mostly improvised around a story outline rather than a strictly followed script, one couldn't help but admire the timing and inspiration behind the setting up of the gags, which were on a few occasions laugh out loud funny, but as with much improvised humour there was a constant danger of the lack of structure leading to meandering strands of jokes that went nowhere in particular.
Luckily, there was Sellers holding it all together with one of his most winning characterisations. There was a period in British history where immigration from India led to unrest among the locals, but there was another side as many Brits were more welcoming, and the then-novelty of the Indian accent was the source of much fascination. Hence Sellers love of it, which he had already implemented in The Millionairess back in 1960, a film now better known for the spin-off hit single he recorded with co-star Sophia Loren, "Goodness Gracious Me". Therefore while naïve, there is no malice in his portrayal, indeed Hrundi is by far the nicest character in the story, not that it convinced the stony-faced censors over in India who banned the film for a while.
Not that anyone is utterly meanspirited, it's just that the more snobbish or gruff partygoers, or more pertinently the married couple staging the bash, have no idea why Hrundi is there and his cause of escalating chaos serves only to deflate the carefully staged atmosphere of sixities sophistication. The reason he is there is because of a mistake: the head of the movie company noted down his name to remind him never to hire him again, but unfortunately he wrote it at the bottom of the party's guest list. The bright, candy-coloured mayhem begins even before Hrundi enters the plush house as he steps in some mud and decides to wash it off in the home's water feature.
Thereby losing his shoe in the process. This could have been a clinical exercise in comedy but for the genuine warmth the filmmakers have for their protagonist. So when he meets his idol, a cowboy star (one time Tarzan Denny Miller), we enjoy his flustered reaction, with that polite but somehow nervous grin never far from his face. There is even love interest in the shape of budding singer Michele (Claudine Longet, more famous for a later scandal that saw her shoot her ski instructor boyfriend) who is there hoping to further her career but actually invited because her mean agent wants to bed her that evening. Hrundi saves her in his bumbling but heroic fashion, and along the way destroys a bathroom and washes a baby elephant of its hippie-painted decorations, filling the house with foam for the "everyone into the pool" denouement. If The Party isn't consistently hilarious, it's not for want of trying, and it contains one of Sellers' most likeable and affectionate creations as well as an instant hit of heady nostalgia for sixties pop culture aficionados. Music by Henry Mancini.