The Party’s Over has immediately jumped onto my list of favorite films. I came across it by chance (or fate?) on youtube, saw that Oliver Reed was in it, and immediately knew I had to watch. Then I read the imdb plot synopsis and thought ‘surely this is too good to be true’. Turns out this was not the case.
In the film, beatniks are depicted as strung-out aloof hedonists who forgo compassion for ultra-exclusive kicks. This is a pretty toxic rag-tag group. But it doesn’t have the played-out purposefulness of a cautionary tale. In fact, it’s got anti-authoritarianism coursing through its veins, cynical and bottomless. It’s almost as if it was made by someone (maybe that someone, to take it a step further, is Oliver Reed’s Moise?) looking at their life. Not looking back, but looking on; getting that wake-up call along the way.
The pack of young rakes in question, led by Oliver Reed’s Moise, has attracted an American girl named Melina (Louise Sorel) to join the ranks. By the film’s start, Melina is despondent and removed, suggesting a melancholic inner life the viewer can only guess at. Her fiancé Carson (Clifford David) shows up at the behest of her father to bring her back home. Melina, with the help of the prankish group, does everything she can to avoid him. But at a certain point Melina actually disappears. Carson is left trying to pick up the pieces by confronting the evasive pleasure seekers while a romance with one of them blossoms (Libby played by Ann Lynn).
Silly me, I unforgivably forgot that Oliver Reed was probably the most magnetic actor who ever was. His was a genuinely dangerous presence. His slinky bedroom eyes constantly harbor carnal secrecies. No but really, I’m convinced he could set anything on fire with those things. Should I keep going? Because I can keep going. I’ve had the hots for the guy since seeing him in Oliver! as a little tyke. It had been a while since seeing him in anything (has it really been that long since I watched Women in Love?)
Reed’s character and performance go a long way in establishing this as a personal canon film. His Moise reveals unexpected depths. We assume he is the leader, the villain, the one most capable of damage. But Reed as Moise fools everyone. Turns out he is in fact most capable of change, and a desire to move on. He is increasingly fed up with the senselessness around him, even if his response is often to be the most senseless of the bunch. He is an aggressive presence, very smart, very depressive. His is a finely shaped character that has stayed with me.
As mentioned earlier, Melina is a sort of melancholic mystery. She and Moise are connected in this way. The fact that he can’t have her, and that she is disgusted by him, is emphasized but that unfeeling catatonia is surely a factor. He recognizes part of himself in her.
Carson’s character, and Clifford David’s performance, came as a pleasant surprise. He’s on the up-and-up from moment one. He plays along for lack of better options. His clash with the group is imminently watchable even if it doesn’t evolve much, standard romance aside. And that romance allows the film’s ideology to meet in the middle between by-the-book and fuck-the-book.
The Party’s Over is a pulsating time-capsule piece. It portrays British youth on the cusp of Swinging London (it was shot in 1963) as mostly privileged folk who wish to deaden themselves. There’s nothing really bubbly or freeing about the film. The parties are shown with a messy frankness. But like I said, the film isn’t didactic. It doesn’t condemn. It just looks on with wariness on anyone who gets tunnel vision from fully committing to an extreme whether on one end or the other. The film had major issues with the BBFC in order to get a release. By the time the cuts and changes had been carried out, Guy Hamilton asked for his name to be removed from the film and it was released with the ‘X’ rating.
The film begins with Oliver Reed smoking, drinking, pouring alcohol on a dude’s head and jumping out a window. I kid you not.
Guy Hamilton tracks an environment where tragedy isn’t led by crime, but from a level of bacchanal self-absorption that renders death unnoticed yet unknowingly mocked and play-acted, while the real thing festers underneath their noses.