Friday, 19 February 2016

The Party's Over (1965)

A story of beatniks, of sex, drugs, jazz, necrophilia and suicide, The Party's Over has a very acrimonious and difficult history. Its makers fought a two-year long battle with the censors before the Rank Organisation hacked it to ribbons and sold it on to an exploitation company. Thankfully, those lovely people at the BFI restored its original 1965 version and made it available to the masses as part of their Flipside series of offbeat British movies from the '60s and '70s.

Does it live up to the hype?

Well no, not really. Not to me anyway.

Written by American expatriate Marc Behm (co-author of Charade and Help!) and directed by Guy Hamilton (later famous for several Bond films) The Party's Over is set in Chelsea and centring on the search if an American heiress by her fiancĂ©, and his discovery that she has fallen in with a group of  nihilistic beatniks led by a charismatic Oliver Reed.

It's interesting to note that Hamilton was actually offered Dr. No in 1962 but he turned down the first outing of 007 to make this landmark swinging London movie instead. It's an intriguing initial first step away from the kitchen sink dramas of the first half of the decade but, as you can tell from the plot outline and the controversies that surrounded it, it's a much darker and more pessimistic swinging 60s picture than the surrealist kaleidoscope of colours that played out the decade. 

It's a striking and subversive anti-establishment film which unsurprisingly ruffled the feathers of the BBFC and Rank, leading to Hamilton removing his name from the butchery that was eventually released. Oliver Reed, still then a relative unknown, stars as Moise, the clique's 'leader'. What's most striking about Moise - and indeed the rest of his comrades - is that he's clearly very well educated; these aren't illiterate ruffians posing a threat to England's moral values, they're the urbane, intelligent enemy within whose hedonism and search for kicks seems unstoppable even, at times, for Moise's tastes.

"The 'message' was that they should by all means opt out but society would have to be replaced by something." Hamilton said. "It wasn't my function to tell them what that should be, but just opting out is insufficient." That message is loud and clear from the opening shot, a beautiful, near iconic, look of the partied-out group drifting aimlessly homewards across the Albert Bridge at dawn. It's a shot that looks so bleak and melancholic - at stark odds with so much of the 'let's do the party right here' type of movies that were The Party's Over's peers - that it easily sums up the insufficieny Hamilton is referring to.

Unfortunately, the film cannot achieve the promise of the controversy that surrounds it and it's too often a rather po-faced morality tale that isn't helped by some strange choices - most notably Mike Pratt's ludicrous American accent. Nevertheless, it scores high for nostalgia and John Barry's score - which pre-empts much of his later work on the Bond films to the extent that some of the interludes are exact carbon copies of the brassy blast lead-in to the infamous Bond theme - really helps set the very evocative mood of time and place, alongside the crisp black and white cinematography of Larry Pizer.


  1. I generally love those early 60s British flicks, but didn't care for this one at all when caught that Flipside edition last year. Beatniks always got a bad press then and were often seen as degenerates in movies. Curiously, I also wrote about Oliver Reed today ! Snap !

    1. Phew, glad it wasn't just me left a bit cold by this. It was all just too earnest for me. I could see the intentions, and as I say it was refreshing to see them approach that culture as opposed to working class rockers as a degenerate evil, but it was really po faced. I'll have to check your post out!