Peter Sellers is back at work again. Perhaps nostalgia is in order. Until a few years ago, Sellers was the funniest comedian in the movies. He turned out a series of splendid British comedies (now inhabiting the late show), and even after he got to Hollywood he stayed funny. "The Pink Panther" (1963) was good and "Dr. Strangelove" was great and "What's New, Pussycat" had its moments.
But then, alas, Sellers started believing the back-slappers, and they told him he was naturally funny. He isn't. He has his moments, but most of the time he has to work like any other comedian. There have been a few naturally funny comedians, like W. C. Fields, and all they have to do is stand there (or weave back and forth) and you laugh. But the mortals have to work.
So anyway, Sellers started getting lazy. You could almost predict a new Sellers movie. It would have Sellers arching his eyebrows and muttering under his breath, Sellers delicately not touching a luscious starlet, Sellers rolling his eyes, Sellers doing his Napoleon imitation. The low point in his self-indulgence came in "Casino Royale" (1967), a film unjustly neglected in the lists of last year's worst.
All of this is one reason why "The Party" is so enjoyable. Sellers works. He develops a character and plays it, for better or worse, for the whole movie. No costume changes. No Napoleon suits. Sellers is Hrundi V. Bakshi, a painfully polite actor from India who courteously and delicately sabotages the evening of several dozen guests and an elephant. He is assisted by a hilariously drunken butler (Steve Franken).
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