The World of Henry Orient: Tippy Walker, Paula Prentiss, and Merrie Spaeth star in the unfortunately titled but otherwise sublime film.
Spinning ‘round the turn comes this week’s sure-bet trifecta, a trio of thoroughbred friendships of the unforgettable teenage girl variety.
The World of Henry Orient (1964) trailer
The World of Henry Orient (1964)
While strolling through Central Park one day, Val (Tippy Walker) and Gil (Merrie Spaeth), a pair of roving-eyed 14-year-old adventurers, both from cultivated but broken families, surprise a couple of well-heeled squeezers in mid-pucker. The man with the resolute bouffant is Henry Orient (Peter Sellers), a celebrated (in his mind) concert pianist and vainglorious ego without a cause, and the girls devote their lives to studying him. (Paula Prentiss is wasted as Henry’s disoriented married lover.) Sandwiched between Dr. Strangelove and the first two Pink Panthers, this was Sellers’ American film debut. A neighborhood screen had it doubled with The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao, and for years I thought that these two films with Asian-sounding titles were connected. They might have been, had Tony Randall, originally considered for the role of Henry and the man behind the seven faces, gone on to star. Director George Roy Hill would later hit paydirt with a pair of buddy pictures (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting), but when it comes to primo pairings, Val and Gil can’t be topped. Walker and Spaeth were unknowns, and in spite of their authentic performances, neither pursued a career in acting.
Ghost World (2001) trailer
Ghost World (2001)
Ghost World arrived as a poignant, hysterically funny, and unerringly honest antidote to the countless teen no-brainers that had for years fouled multiplex auditoria. From the opening strains of Indian composer Shankar-Jaikishan’s toe-tapping arrangement, audiences knew they were in for something extraordinarily out of the ordinary. Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson were their generation’s enfants terribles, and Steve Buscemi their Henry Orient. Old souls, memorabilia geeks, and fans of sidewalk theater are encouraged to seek out this alluring outsider comedy that accentuates the negative. Released not long after American Beauty, many thought (myself included) that Thora Birch’s performance was going to lead to busy days for the actress. In the almost 20 years since its release, Birch’s work in features amounts to a baker’s dozen — it was good to see her in The Last Black Man In San Francisco — while her co-star went on to earn a permanent spot in the Marvel Comics Universe. Based on Daniel Clowes’ biting underground comic and directed by Terry Zwigoff (the man who brought you Crumb), Ghost World will forever remain Johanssen’s strongest foray into comic book movies. Many read the film’s ending as a metaphor for suicide. When I bought this up during an interview, Clowes could be heard scratching his head through the receiver. My allegorical insight on the “Not In Service” bus as a one-way trip to conformity was met with near equal bafflement.
Cattle Annie and Little Britches (1981) trailer
Cattle Annie and Little Britches (1981)
The Doolin-Dalton gang (led by Burt Lancaster and Scott Glenn) ride again in Lamont Johnson’s penultimate feature, a genteel Western account of the period in their real-life exploits where two teenage girls, Cattle Annie (Amanda Plummer) and Little Britches (Diane Lane) rode alongside the desperados. Were it not for the folklore that preceded them, the mellowing gang wouldn’t deserve the hero-worship heaped on them by the adoring locals. The one thing of value they derive from the botched train robbery that opens the film is the eternal loyalty of our titular orphans of the storm, looking to freighthop their way into a better life. It’s Annie who brings the legend news of his own myth — in the form of dime-novel stories by journalist Ned Buntline. She also dishes out tips on personal grooming and sartorial nuance befitting outlaws of their stature. As the floppy-hatted pipsqueak living in the shadow of hurricane Annie, Lane wisely underplays Little Britches’ pent-up emotions. But it’s Plummmer, making her big screen nod, who deftly robs scenes from the veteran likes of Lancaster (in his last western) and Rod Steiger (appearing as Bill Tilghman, the U.S. Marshal who later found fame as a Hollywood star). A mesmeric pinwheel glinted in her eye, a string of firecrackers exploding in her brain, and tumbleweed tresses styled by the wind, Plummer inherited father Christopher’s tenacity and mother Tammy Grimes’ pluck and chafed voice. It’s one of the most assured debuts ever committed to film.