Even though Peter Sellers is top billed in The World of Henry Orient and portrays the title character, George Roy Hill's quite wonderful film is a actually a whimsical and heartfelt coming of age story about the close friendship between two adventurous fourteen-year-old girls. Gil (Marrie Spaeth) is a melancholic loner torn apart by her parents' recent divorce, and Val (Tippy Walker) is an eccentric music nerd whose quirkiness and wide imagination derives from the fact that her rich and aloof parents ignore her in favor of their lavish life traveling around Europe.
Hill does an excellent job extracting natural performances from his young actresses and the film intimately captures the delicate emotional extremes kids that age have to balance. A time when they're still innocent enough to act like children while having to confront the confusing sexual and romantic feelings that come with the inevitable approach of maturity.
One of the most endearing scenes in The World of Henry Orient comes early on, as Val constructs an imaginary world in her mind where Gil's parents are still together and gently invites Gil to take a break from the painful facts of reality. Hill wisely keeps his camera in a flat two shot during the sequence, allowing the girls' inherent whimsy to envelop the scene.
After the girls' shenanigans around the gorgeously poppy and colorful streets of New York City results in them twice accidentally stopping a narcissistic and snobby pianist named Henry Orient (Sellers) from hooking up with a married socialite (Paula Prentiss), Val falls head over heels in love with Henry. Realizing that merely keeping a scrapbook full of articles about Henry and fake love letters "written" from him are not enough to satiate Val's obsession with the semi-respected musician, who's actually a lazy horndog whose glory days have sailed away long ago, the girls decide to follow him around. This exasperates Henry's already rising paranoia, which stems from being involved with a married woman.
During the time of The World of Henry Orient's release, Sellers had already proven that he could do self-centered and overly confident yet clueless buffoon characters in his sleep. Even though Henry Orient is a more grounded character than Inspector Clouseau, Sellers does a great job portraying a smug a-hole who's actually very much out of his element. Yet it's Spaeth and Walker who steals the show with their playful and relatable takes on the characters.
Hill was an immensely talented director who doesn't get as much love from film buffs as some of his peers. That's perhaps because he was a versatile filmmaker who wasn't afraid of tackling various different genres and styles, and he was successful pretty much every time he ventured into uncharted territory. Consider the fact that he helmed the science-fiction masterpiece Slaughterhouse-Five between two prestigious comedies.
The World of Henry Orient doesn't look anything like his other films, it's whimsical without being cloying, and is colorful without attracting too much attention to itself. Its free-spirited tone must have been inspired by then-recent French New Wave films (Louis Malle's Zazie Dans Le Metro chief among them) and I'm sure it went on to inspire future filmmakers in their attempts to capture a balance between straight drama and whimsical comedy (Cough, Wes Anderson, cough).
Twilight Time's gorgeous 1080p transfer does a great job capturing the bright and colorful early 60s look of the film. Every scene has tiny little scratches on the presentation, but it's devoid of obvious scratches, dirt, and DNR. The bright and colorful production design of the film is ripe for color bleeding in a video transfer, none of which occurs here.
The World of Henry Orient comes with a DTS-HD 1.0 mono transfer that loyally presents the film's original sound mix. The dialogue and score can be heard clearly and even though it doesn't carry the depth of Criterion's 1.0 presentations, it does a decent job carrying the film to the HD realm.
Isolated Score Track: Interestingly, the isolated score track is in DTS-HD 2.0, even though it still sounds like mono.
Commentary by Film Historian Jeff Boyd, Julie Kirgo, and Nick Redman: This is an informative and fun commentary that manages to find a balance between a conversational discussion on the film's cast and crew, and an academic explanation of the production process.
We also get a Trailer.
The World of Henry Orient manages to become a tender exploration of the gradual loss of innocence as we get older during our teenage years, while reminding us to hang onto a bit of that child-like whimsy and imagination as we enter into adulthood. Its poppy and colorful 60s look works as a time capsule, and is what's so endearing about the picture, while the themes of friendship, heartbreak, and loyalty turn it into a timeless piece of entertainment.