Directed by: James Ivory
Starring: James Coco, Raquel Welch, Perry King, Tiffany Bolling, Royal Dano, David Dukes
The Wild Party (1975) is neither the oddest, nor the worst movie signed by Messrs. Ismail Merchant and James Ivory, but it’s more notable as a curio than for any intrinsic merit. I mean, once you’ve noted that it contains Raquel Welch’s best performance (the bar was not that high) and that it looks nice, there’s not much beyond the curio there. It’s a shock to see the American International Pictures logo at the beginning of a Merchant-Ivory movie—you almost want to call it Ismail and Jim Go Slumming—but the fact is that the pair weren’t the go-to guys for canned high culture till The Europeans four years later set them on that path. Actually, AIP cofounder Sam Arkoff was probably a man after Merchant’s rupee-pinching heart in terms of parsimony, but unlike Arkoff, Merchant never hacked away at one of his partner’s movies. About 13 minutes—now restored—were taken out of The Wild Party before its limited and disastrous release. Even in its complete form, the movie’s a pretty misbegotten affair. This is largely due to a lead actor, James Coco, who could neither carry the film nor light up the box office. Equally at fault is a screenplay that tries to turn Joseph Moncure March’s 1928 narrative poem (which wasn’t about Hollywood) into a very melodramatic version of the “Fatty” Arbuckle story—complete with occasionally jaw-dropping pastiche songs. Right now, the film has some added interest because of its premise—a silent film star trying to sell a silent movie to a world wanting talkies (something that has nothing to do with Arbuckle)—roughly relates to The Artist, something that perhaps only adds to its status as a fascinating curio.
The Hendersonville Film Society will show The Wild Party at 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 26, in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community (behind Epic Cinemas), 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville.