Upon initial submission to the British Board of Film Censors in 1963, Guy Hamilton’s dispassionate glimpse into the mindset of a group of fictional Chelsea “rat pack” revellers caused consternation for its on-screen depiction of lesbianism, interracial kissing, violence, and crude language. Following eighteen months of suppression under the guidance of BBFC chief, John Trevelyn, THE PARTY’S OVER finally received an “X” rating along with the expurgation of eighteen minutes involving proletarian argument and sequences that Trevelyn found morally objectionable. The cuts included several shots of couples in bed; a scene in which a woman is brutally stripped naked by a gang of drunken revelers; and an ambiguous climactic encounter that forced viewers to draw their own conclusions regarding the film’s disillusioned anti-hero and his attitude towards conformation with the status quo of society.
The resultant mess, replete with a tacked on voice-over prologue and a hastily shot romanticised ending overseen by producer Anthony Perry, in an attempt to appease financial backers as well as the censors, promoted a non-existent victory for morality that resulted in director Hamilton removing his name from all prints.
By the time THE PARTY’S OVER received a butchered theatrical release in 1965, the counter-cultural stance of the leather gangs from the UK’s beat scene, depicted films such as Sidney J. Furie’s THE LEATHER BOYS (1963), THE BOYS (1962), and Clive Donner’s SOME PEOPLE (1962) had evolved to the softer, peaceful philosophies of the hippie movement espoused writers and artists that included Adrian Mitchell, Christopher Logue and Bruce Lacey. The film failed to ignite the box office, having been sold to a distributor that unsuccessfully promoted the film as soft-core exploitation, despite it’s accomplished cast. Following a panning by the critics, the film sank into relative obscurity.
This recent BFI release, as part of the Flipside series, arrives in both DVD and Blu-ray packages that restore the film to its original 1963 cut. As such the film is an important addition to the cycle of British melodramas that dared to delve into the darker underbelly of Bohemian life in London of the 60s. Hamilton was able to take full advantage of the use of recently improved film stocks and battery powered lighting that permitted on-location shooting in a variety of buildings and outdoor exteriors, replacing the necessity for swiftly constructed sets that cheapened so many films of the era, as a result the film doesn’t look quite so dated as other Britsh films of the era.
Opening to a fabulous tracking shot at a party that follows a scantily clad woman’s feet as they paint a path across the ceiling before descending across a sea of partygoers smoke-enshrouded faces indulging in sexualized exuberance, the mood is set for a series of highs, comedowns and consequences that result from a series of bohemian encounters amongst a middle-class group of London beatniks.
Moise (Oliver Reed) is the disdainful alpha male of “the Pack”; a hard-partying crowd that reside in the hip borough of Chelsea, squandering their inheritances and sponging off the likes of Geronimo (Mike Pratt), a successful Cuban artist/performer who makes a profitable living selling sculptures and hand-made porno-chic artifacts to the well-to-do crowd. Recently indoctrinated into their circle of excess is young American heiress, Melina Morgan (Louise Sorel) who has fled her homeland to escape a forthcoming marriage of convenience to Carson (Clifford David), a successful manager for her father Ben’s (Eddie Albert) business empire. By immersing herself into a world of drugs and booze, Melina allays the fears of a predictable lifestyle of comfort and the inherent sacrifices of freedom that will inevitably result in spiritual unhappiness.
Moise, sensing her true disillusionment with both lifestyles, recognizes a kindred soul in Melina, for he is searching for something beyond the realms of what he can realistically obtain. Despite the doting presence of girlfriend Libby (Ann Lynn), Moise unsuccessfully pursues a sexually unresponsive Melina in an attempt to get to know her better. Melina meanwhile, toys with the attentions of besotted new boyfriend Phillip (Jonathan Burn) who is unable to recognize that he is just a pawn in Melina’s confused plans for escape.
Minnesota city slicker Carson is sent by Melina’s father to retrieve her from London and is initially given the runaround by the crowd that also include the aristocratic Nina (Catherine Woodville); tartish, drunken socialite Fran (Annette Robinson); and posh Countess (Mildred Mayne) who send Carson on wild-goose chases as he attempts to discover his fiancée’s whereabouts. After settling in the basement of Melina’s apartment building, Carson quickly acclimatizes to the bohemian lifestyle, and reminded of the differences between Melina and himself accepts the Pack’s assurances that Melina no longer wants to be with him.
Carson is seduced by Nina and embarks on a relationship with her; though he still wants to confront Melina in order to know she is safe and appease her father. Libby promises to take Carson to a party that night that will be attended by Melina, but upon arrival, his fiancée has mysteriously vanished. The drunken party revellers appear to be wearing Melina’s clothing and from here the script switches to darker territory as we follow Carson as he attempts to discover the truth behind Melina’s disappearance.
THE PARTY’S OVER is an impressive film for its day, blessed with an intelligent script by Marc Behm and proficient performances from the youthful cast. Director of photography, Larry Pizer suffuses the canvas with several sequences that reflect the dark, brooding intensity of its characters in a series of south west London locales that capture the smoking mills of Battersea Power Station housed against grey skies; zombiefied partygoers slowly traversing a lonely path over Albert Bridge and along the Embankment; and the squalid deserted back streets with their abandoned building sites.
The casting is inspired. Oliver Reed fresh from his association with Hammer Films (SWORD OF SHERWOOD FOREST (1960), THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL (1960), THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF (1961), CAPTAIN CLEGG (1962), PIRATES OF BLOOD RIVER (1962), is perfectly cast as the disillusioned group leader who comes to realise, all too late, that one must ultimately conform to society’s way of doing things in order to exist. Reed was no stranger to the role of bohemians having played extras as café artist in the Galton & Simpson satirical comedy THE REBEL (1961), and a plaid shirted hipster tapping away to Adam Faith’s guitar strumming singer in BEAT GIRL (1959). However, it was probably his turn as the doomed lycanthrope in CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF in which Reed delivered both brooding intensity and vulnerable self-reflection that caught the eye of the casting agent.
Equally impressive is Reed’s on screen lover, Libby, played by former model turned thespian Ann Lynn. Fresh from roles that also presented her with the challenge of portraying estranged lovers: first as Josie, girlfriend of Notting Hill bigot Johnny Briggs in Vernon Sewell’s gripping kitchen-sink drama WIND OF CHANGE (1961), and as a a strip tease artist in Ernest Morris’s STRIP TEASE MURDER (1961) in which her ruthless former boyfriend rigs a microphone in order to electrocute her on stage.
In an interview recorded by Frank Clews in the preface to his adapted screenplay of THE PARTY’S OVER (Digit Books, London, 1963), Lynn expounds on her character and the reasons why she remains infatuated with boyfriend Moise, despite his philandering:
“I invented in my head, a complete background for Libby with the approval of the director… a certain fondness which she automatically transferred to Moise at her very first meeting with him. And then this fondness, built up into something much stronger, much bigger than she imagined. An intense, vital longing for Moise, threatened by the appearance of Melina and hence Libby’s desire to bring together the American girl and Carson…”
The BFI are to be congratulated for rescuing this minor classic from oblivion. With its underlying themes of paranoia and fear concerning evaporation of one’s individuality and the rub associated with the intellectual’s desire for rebellion against the status quo, THE PARTY’S OVER offers no easy solutions for its audience, and stands, even today, as a provocative slice of British cinema.
With the sour taste of bitter battles with the censor and the repression of his vision, Hamilton would soon tire from making low budget artistic films and instead concentrate on mundane action films that included notable success with several Bond vehicles, GOLDFINGER (1964); DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER (1971); LIVE AND LET DIE (1973); THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (1974) alongside war blockbusters such as THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN (1969) and FORCE TEN FROM NAVARONE (1978). Despite the restoration of THE PARTY’S OVER to something akin to its original pre-release state, the director still feels the print does not represent his definitive cut, as such his name remains free from the titles, which is a great shame for THE PARTY’S OVER remains his greatest contribution to cinematic art.
Carl T. Ford
Directed by Guy Hamilton
English Language / UK / 1963-65 / Black & White
Disc 1: BD50 / 1080p / 24 fps / PCM mono audio (48k/16-bit)
Disc 2: DVD9 / PAL / PCM Mono audio 48k/16-bit) (extras Dolby Digital 320 kbps
All Region Pal (UK)
Released on DVD (£17.99) and Blu-ray (£19.99) on 17th May, 2010.
THE PARTY’S OVER