Forty-five years since the completion of The Party’s Over, the uncut original of this controversial and critic-battered film is finally to see the light of day. Rescued from the archives where it has lain since 1965, following the unsuccessful run of a heavily censored and edited version, the British Film Institute have published the uncut, pre-release film as part of its “Flipside” range of DVDs exploring obscure and hard to find pieces of British cinema.
Facing extraordinary difficulty on release, the film underwent three rounds of cuts as the British Board of Film Classification cut down what proved an abnormally controversial film, before granting an X certificate and cinematic release in 1965. Director Guy Hamilton scrubbed his name from the credits of this release in protest, as did the Producer and Executive Producer – though they have not been restored to BFI’s pre-cut footage; excised controversial material and the less romanticised conclusion Hamilton originally intended now remains intact.
The film follows ‘The Pack’, a gang of youthful beatniks in what isn’t quite swinging London, as they follow a bohemian lifestyle of parties and promiscuity narrated by the ‘beat’ language. The arrival of American businessman Carson (Clifford David) coincides with a darkening of events as he pursues his spoilt fiancée, who has been ‘slumming it’ with the group to avoid her suffocating life. His attempts to uncover the truth see him match wills with charismatic yet sinister gang leader Moise (Oliver Reed).
Beyond doubt the high point of this production is the performance of a young Oliver Reed. The actor quickly seizes centre stage and, despite sharing screen time equally with David’s straight-man, he is by far the more memorable.
His casting as Moise is excellently judged – he radiates a dark charisma other Pack members gravitate around. While party scenes have a mad energy (plentiful drinking and ridiculous ‘wild’ dancing), Reed stands out – he remains constantly cold and detached, a born liar and sinisterly mercurial character who uses his charm and talents of wit to mock, belittle and manipulate those around him. This restraint adds considerable strength to his anger.
He is extremely difficult to gauge – a gang leader who hates the gang mentality, a man with a public school accent challenging authority by default, a womaniser who hates the women who fall for him and a well-spoken chess player living a ‘Beat’ lifestyle, taunting Melinda over the difficulties of a rich childhood.
Despite the youthful cast and easy lifestyle, the grimness of Moise can be found equally in the setting, a background of bombed out houses and orphaned gang members where the Blitz and World War 2’s spectre still cast a shadow over a London that has only begun to swing. Beatlemania has yet to land, though a youthful revolution has already begun.
Though a star-free, low-budget production shot out of a ramshackle Chelsea house (that nonetheless boasts respectable production values), several cast members would go on to reasonable careers, such as Mike Pratt who would later be seen in Randall and Hopkirk (deceased). Hamilton would go on to direct Live and Let Die. John Barry’s musical score (whose skills were cleverly employed by a line producer claiming poverty) is at times very reminiscent of the now-legendary James Bond score’s rising and falling brass (Dr. No had been released two years previous).
The film is well-paced throughout with its excellent scene progression increasing suspense and tension. What begins as a rebellious, carefree youth movie becomes more intense as Carson investigates the disappearance of his wife-to-be. The revelation as to what actually happened at Geronimo’s party, told piecemeal by the Pack and a sullen Reed, is skilfully handled.
By the conclusion the events of the party have worked their way into the fabric of every relationship, corrupting everything – even before the truth is revealed it has become clear that it will tear the group apart. This creates an ominous and tragic atmosphere that builds throughout the last third of the production.
What could have been a routine trip through an exploitation film is well edited, building a sense of tragedy as the events’ impact on characters is seen before the viewer becomes aware of what has really taken place. While much of Moise’s second, ‘true’ flashback has been seen in his first, the knowledge gained between the two lends an intensely macabre and twisted atmosphere to what is familiar, but far worse.
While I have mentioned the controversy the film caused among the BBFC and the extensive censorship edits that followed, to find any shocking material today would require either study or memory of contemporary opinions – the film is laughably tame by modern standards. Yet when analysed as an artefact of the 1960s, its contentious nature can be traced not only to shocking material (suicide, light necrophilia, alcohol consumption) but also to its attitudes.
The film does not feature a typical ‘60s conclusion and a squad of police cars never roar around the corner to administer justice to the juvenile delinquents, nor is there a disastrous event to punish the gang and bring audience catharsis. The beatniks themselves do not fall into the typical film role of disenchanted working class youth gangs to terrify middle class audiences, instead being eloquent and artistic.
Though not followed in depth, one comment indicates that Tutsi is possibly homosexual – in a film made three years before the Sexual Offences Act (1967) would even partially decriminalise this. In truth, the only real authority figure in the film seems to be American industrialist Ben – policemen only feature to pass out paperwork, collect bodies or to have cigarillo butts thrown at their feet.
At the time, producer Anthony Perry attributed the critics’ attacks on the film as a response against the film’s focus on “the weakness of middle class morality”.
The uncut film enjoys a deeper ending, as well as a clearer view into characters’ motivations. The climax, where Moise faces Melinda’s father Ben in an attempt to tell him what truly happened to his child, sees the callous leader face an establishment figure with whom he can empathise. The theatrical release showed a lone Moise wandering away, while the original ending on BFI’s release features him returning to his girlfriend, who sneeringly shoos the Pack as she leads him away.
I feel this edits’ ending to be the clearer and find that Moise’s final speech to Carson suggests a search for catharsis in punishment and the drive to find someone capable of putting him in his place. I believe that it is only in this conclusion that he can be seen for what he is – a spoiled, arrogant child whose confidence has failed and has finally realised it is time to grow up.
It is not difficult to recommend this film, not only for Oliver Reed’s excellent performance but to enjoy an atypical film for the period, in concepts used, attitudes and setting. Given the typical role of youth subcultures in film at this time, it is refreshing to see the beatniks treated objectively, rather than as a stereotype and barely veiled excuse for nudity, alcohol and violence – the Beatnik subculture’s stress on personal development and criticisms of materialism and nuclear proliferation rarely saw much media attention in favour of subversive alcoholism and sexuality stories.
While I had wondered if this would be a clumsily handled trip through exploitation film, the result is reassuringly coherent with decent plot depth. Anybody expecting a shocking film will be disappointed – after all, nearly forty years have passed since this film disappeared into archive. The revelations revealed in Moise’s second ‘true’ flashback still carry considerable impact and a very macabre atmosphere – but this can be attributed to skilful editing more than vivid material.
It cannot be said, however, that all of the film has aged well. Much of the depiction of the Pack’s bohemian party lifestyle definitely shows its age, with ridiculous and poorly directed ‘manic’ energy. Some of the script has also not aged gracefully. Many characters lack depth and few are well explored, which seems a shame – especially considering that David’s Carson is a rather bland lead (which is made especially clear in scenes where he faces Reed). Female characters particularly seem to be passed over for development as Melinda’s plain back-story (pampered daughter running from stifling father and arranged marriage) seems to be the only texture a female character receives.
Yet the darker tones and the concepts at the heart of the film have stood the test of time. BFI’s release of the uncut, 1964 The Party’s Over proves that underneath the controversy, shock and negative attention there is still a film worth watching. While not a hidden classic, it is still well enough made, I believe, to deserve to be seen properly and uncut, as its director intended.
The DVD also contains some additional features, including short films The Party and Emma (each around 15 minutes) from the same producer, and the theatrical release. Both the high definition Blu-ray and standard DVD are included together in one package. Though I have not seen the Blu-ray production, the quality of the remastered standard definition film is clear and the sound quality excellent.