CONTAINS LITTLE IN THE WAY OF SPOILERS BUT SOME REALLY MASSIVE EXPLOSIONS AS I NAVIGATE THE MINEFIELD OF POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WHILE BLINDFOLDED AND WEARING GIANT MAGNETIC BOOTS.
I know you're supposed to admire and appreciate silent comedy, but personally I prefer mine verbal. Outside of the genuinely death-defying insanity of the early stuntwork and the immaculate precision of some of the physical comedy, it generally leaves me cold, particularly when it gets ickily sentimental (I'm looking at you, Chaplin). Words and wordplay interest me far more than fat women falling over or downtrodden blokes kicking policemen up the bum and running away. And in a far more recent example, I cannot be doing with Mr Bean either. To me it's always felt like getting laughs from the mentally handicapped.
In 1968 they had a go at this semi-silent comedy (it's not entirely silent, but the spirit of the genre is there and there are lengthy passages without dialogue) in The Party, a Blake Edwards film in which Peter Sellers plays an accident-prone film star accidentally invited to a swanky Hollywood party, which he comprehensively wrecks. There are a number of problems with this. Firstly, it's far too long even at around 94 minutes and frankly I'd have liked a lot less of the random chaos and, curiously, more of the nicely touching romance with a French girl. Secondly, a lot of what happens at the party are actually nothing to do with Sellers: there's a lot of time allocated to an increasingly drunken waiter, and towards the end a bunch of hippies turn up with an elephant, so the nominal star and central character is reduced to bystander status.
Thirdly: the Sellers character is Indian, for which Sellers has put on his funny Indian voice and "browned up". And while you could have got away with it in 1968, the world has changed since and it now feels very uncomfortable. Similarly Mickey Rooney's comedy Japanese schtick from Breakfast At Tiffany's (oh, it's Blake Edwards again!) might have been funny at the time but it's genuinely jaw-dropping now. So how come Sellers playing French (Clouseau) with cod accent is okay, indeed celebrated, while Sellers playing Indian with equally cod accent isn't? Well, there's the physical transformation in terms of skin colour - but then Rory Bremner gets away with it every time he pretends to be Trevor MacDonald. Isn't the whole point of acting to pretend to be someone else, someone that you're not? Isn't a man blacking up the pigmentation equivalent of a man in drag? Why would Robin Williams in blackface be entirely inappropriate when Robin Williams in a dress is fun for all the family and gets away with a PG (despite being something so unutterably grotesque that Jason Voorhees would cack his Calvins at the sight of it)?
I don't profess to know. I can state, however, is that The Party isn't nearly as funny as it should be or as funny as it thinks it is, and that's surely of some importance. It being a Blake Edwards film, there's a Henry Mancini score, but it's mostly source music for the band at the party itself and not a great example of his work (if only someone would release the original score tracks for Charade rather than the easy-listening album we have now!). There are a few moments that almost work, but most of it just doesn't. A pity.