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    Easter in New York

    Posted by Mike Finnegan on

    Debuting 52 years ago this week as the Great Easter Show attraction at Radio City Music Hall, The World of Henry Orient (1964) seemed particularly apropos for the locale. Not only was it a family-friendly seriocomic delight but also a celebration of New York City that included several midtown and eastside locations as well as Central Park, many chronicled here: Though it was subject to the hustle-bustle of Big Apple filmmaking, it overcame all obstacles, as Variety’s reviewer notes: “Producer Jerome Hellman guided this production through many harrowing days as an all-New York try. Despite the problems, which included a craft union hassles incident, to being the first film ever lensed in its entirety at Michael Myerberg's Long Island Studios, as well as scheduling problems involving Peter Sellers' other commitments, Orient has come off an often-funny and always fetching production, the first feature to be made by the indie Pan Arts Co.,” formed by director George Roy Hill for many of his future projects, including Hawaii (a Twilight Time Blu-ray release). Although its characters are drawn from a specific strata of Manhattan life, courtesy of Nora Johnson’s original 1956 novel and co-scripted for the screen by Nora and her veteran filmmaker father Nunnally Johnson, they all ring true with an energy and a savvy that have endeared the film to generations of fans, one of whom documents her crush here: Two of the film’s stars, Tom Bosley and Angela Lansbury (husband and wife in the movie, in fact), were on the Broadway boards for short-lived visits while The World of Henry Orient played the Hall, he in the one-night flop A Murderer Among Us and she in Stephen Sondheim-Arthur Laurents mishap Anyone Can Whistle. (Both would return triumphantly in later years.) The movie, which would play a month later alongside other stateside entries One Potato, Two Potato and The Visit at the Cannes Film Festival, was not a national box-office success despite its charm and craft but it endures as captivating entertainment and a nostalgic Panavision prism of multiseasonal city life. A contributing factor in its disappointing returns may have been that though Peter Sellers played the title role, that of an egocentric, questionably talented concert pianist and serial lover who draws the obsessive attraction of two smitten teenagers (played by newcomers Merrie Spaeth and Tippy Walker), the film’s centerpiece was clearly the girls, not the guy. (Sellers’ bookending films of 1964, Dr. Strangelove, The Pink Panther – which opened in the U.S. the same week in March! – and A Shot in the Dark – which arrived just three months later, would emphatically seal his stardom and showcase his comic genius like lightning in a bottle.) But if The World of Henry Orient, also starring Paula Prentiss, Phyllis Thaxter, Bibi Osterwald, Al Lewis and Peter Duchin with an elegantly larky score by Elmer Bernstein, is essentially a “one-off,” it endures as quite a sparkling one indeed, marvelously etched on a Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray. And what became of the two teens that stole the show? This 2012 New Yorker article offers some eye-opening and quite bittersweet answers: