The Party’s Over (Guy Hamilton, 1963)

The BFI Flipside series is, according to the back of the Blu-ray box, dedicated to “rescuing weird and wonderful British films from obscurity and presenting them in new high-quality editions.” I picked up a few of them when my local Zavvi finally closed down a couple of years ago (yes, there really did used to be Zavvi shops that you could walk into), meaning a lot of Masters of Cinema and BFI releases were reduced to about £7-8. One that I picked up and put at the bottom of my “to watch” list was The Party’s Over, Guy Hamilton’s 1963 controversial release.

Opening with a drunken Chelsea party, we’re immediately introduced to Oliver Reed’s pack leader Moise (pronounced “Mo-Eece”). He’s a handsome and popular guy, not afraid of being the centre of attention but equally happy to slip into the background. He shows off a bit and everyone looks on in admiration. This is then juxtaposed by a painfully cool opening sequence as Melina (Luoise Sorel) walks towards the camera, brilliantly soundtracked by Annie Ross and John Barry.

A shot from the cool opening sequence

A shot from the painfully cool opening sequence

It’s obviously a film that isn’t afraid to glamorise its subject matter and candidly display every part of their lives, and I suspect that was one of the reasons it was withheld from release subject to several cuts and changes. This was 1963 after all, and censor John Trevelyan perhaps thought an audience besotted by a young new group called The Beatles were unnerved enough without this kind of film further rotting their brain. In short, the world wasn’t quite ready for the subject matter [1].

Despite a decent range of characters, it is Oliver Reed who steals the show throughout. His is a character that snaps his fingers and gets what he wants immediately, such is the influence he has over his beatnik and largely non-descript gang members. As the plot develops through some shocking developments – including sexual assault and suicide – it is Reed that maintains his position as the driving force of the narrative, much as Moise is the driving force of the gang.

It is a shame that there are several lacklustre performances. The supporting cast look like they’re straight out of acting school and don’t look overly comfortable in front of the camera. Several of the leading cast either overact or lack conviction, which is quite an achievement in itself when you think about it. Carson (Clifford David), Meilna’s fiancé, provides a solid performance and rescues the film from being a poor one-man-show.

BFI Flipside has been responsible for a number of excellent releases, with as much care given to their release as any famous film. Whilst the audience is undoubtedly more niche, it’s great that we are able to watch a film like The Party’s Over without any edits as the production team originally intended [2]. It’s not a film that has changed my life, but it might have had a much greater impact on the landscape of cinema had the censors not got involved some 50 years ago [3].

The Party’s Over is out now on BFI dual-format Blu-Ray and DVD.

[1] This release contains extensive words on both the censoring of the film and the director’s recollection of making and editing the film in line with the increasing pressure from Trevelyan.

[2] According to the booklet, one edit was made at the request of the director, with the removal of the credits over the opening sequence. It is unnoticeable unless, I suspect, you vividly remember to original.

[3] The Wikipedia page suggests the film was made in 1965. It was eventually released in 1965, but I’ve decided to list the film as a 1963 release. This was done because the version presented is as close as we’ve ever got to a version director Guy Hamilton’s pre-censor vision. The film was completed in 1963 and this is the version I have reviewed. For completionists, the 1965 version is also included on the Blu-Ray disc.

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