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Film / The World of Henry Orient

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The World of Henry Orient is a 1964 comedy-drama film directed by George Roy Hill, starring Peter Sellers and Angela Lansbury. It was adapted from a novel of the same name by Nora Johnson (who co-wrote the script with her father, veteran Hollywood screenwriter and producer Nunnally Johnson).

Set in New York City, it centers around two teenage girls, Marian "Gil" Gilbert (Merrie Spaeth) and Valerie "Val" Boyd (Tippy Walker), who go to an all-girls prep school and bond by having "adventures". One day, while in Central Park, they come across Henry Orient (Sellers), a third-rate concert pianist, who is there with Stella (Paula Prentiss), a married woman he is trying to score with. Soon after, Val becomes infatuated with Henry, and she and Gil begin to follow him around, turning his life upside down. Things get even more complicated when Val's domineering mother, Isabel (Lansbury), discovers the girls' scrapbook and jumps to the wrong conclusion.

Tom Bosley appears as Val's father, Frank. In 1967 the story was adapted into the short-running Broadway musical Henry, Sweet Henry, featuring Don Ameche in the title role.

This film contains examples of:

  • Answer Cut: When Henry is at the restaurant with Stella, and tries to convince her to come back to his apartment with him, he asks her who would possibly notice two respectable people going about their business in the afternoon. Cut to Marian and Valerie peering at Henry through the restaurant window.
  • Blood Brothers: Marian and Valerie become a gender flipped version when they decide to devote themselves to pursuing Henry.
  • Bonding Over Dislikes: Marian and Valerie first meet when the former tries to help the latter recover papers that have been blown away by the wind. Once Marian and Valerie settle down, they discover they both dislike the school, the same teachers, and the same classmates, which helps cement their friendship.
  • Character Catchphrase: Marian's is "Golly Moses!"
  • Coming of Age Story: Especially for Valerie.
  • Conspiracy Theorist: When a frustrated Henry mentions how Valerie and Marian (whose names he doesn't know; he just knows them as "those little punks") are always around whenever he and Stella get together, Stella panics and assumes that her husband hired the girls to follow her. That strikes Henry as ridiculous... at first.
  • Crash-Into Hello: When the girls are running away from the police, they happen to run past Henry's apartment building just as he's trying to coax Stella inside, and Val accidentally runs into Henry. Naturally, Stella is freaked out enough by this to flee.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Boothy, all the way.
    Mrs. Gilbert: (when the girls are squabbling at the concert) What's going on?
    Marian: Valerie shaved her legs and didn't tell me.
    Boothy: Louder; some of the people in the balcony can't hear you.
  • Did I Mention It's Christmas?: The story climaxes on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
  • False Reassurance: At the end, Frank worries about being able to keep up with Valerie's shenanigans.
    Mrs. Gilbert: Well, you don't have to worry about that. All those flights of fancy, that pretending, all that's in the past.
    Frank: I'm glad to hear that.
    Mrs. Gilbert: We now face real trouble.
  • Ironic Echo: Early in the film, Marian complains about having to go to Mrs. DePaul's dancing class because she thinks the boys are immature. At the end, she talks about how "dreamy" one of the boys in the class is.
  • Is There a Doctor in the House?: When Valerie is pretending she has a terminal illness that's leading her to die right there on the spot - while she's walking on a busy New York City street - other pedestrians notice this and start calling for help, including for a doctor (despite the fact Marian keeps trying to protest it's all a joke). Eventually, a doctor drives by, and he comes to examine Valerie. When he finds out Valerie and Marian made the whole thing up, he is not happy, and threatens to take Valerie to the hospital to have her stomach pumped. Fortunately for Valerie and Marian, the police show up, and everyone starts running around, allowing Marian and Valerie to flee the scene.
  • Last-Name Basis: Valerie calls Marian either Gilbert or "Gil" for short.
  • Last-Second Word Swap: When Henry's manager calls him out for missing rehearsals, he points out that Van Cliburn (a famous pianist at the time) can miss rehearsals because of his reputation, but the people in charge of the orchestra Henry's with aren't going to overlook absences from someone who... at which point he pauses, before adding, "someone who is not Van Cliburn".
  • Lonely Rich Kid: Valerie, due to her father's frequent absence and her mother's neglect.
  • Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe:
    Isabel Boyd: It's funny; all this concern over a child you don't even think is yours.
    Frank Boyd: I never said that, Iz. What I said was; I wished I could be sure. But it doesn't matter now.
  • Meaningful Background Event: While Frank (who has come to find Valerie, who has run away from home) and Mrs. Gilbert are in the living room of the Gilbert's house having a drink, we see from the mirror in the back that Valerie and Marian are sneaking out.
  • Moment Killer: Valerie and Marian are constantly doing this to Henry and Stella, though they don't really do it on purpose.
  • Mood Whiplash: Starts out as a lighthearted comedy until Isabel discovers her daughter's crush on Henry Orient; then it alternates between comedy and drama.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Henry Orient was based in part on Oscar Levant, whom writer Nora Johnson (who wrote the novel the movie was based on, and co-wrote the screenplay) had a crush on (she and one of her friends) when she was younger. The name "Henry Orient" is an obvious play on "Oscar Levant", but the similarities mostly end there. Levant was infinitely more talented than Orient, and instead of Orient's suave European routine, Levant's persona was of a Deadpan Snarker New Yorker.
    • Orient was also based in part on Paul Hindemith, a composer and teacher whom George Roy Hill had studied under when he was at Yale.
    • The story was also inspired by the fact Tony Bennett was pursued at one point by two girls who had a crush on him.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Done deliberately; when Henry is trying to woo a woman (Stella or Isabel Boyd), he speaks in a European accent (close to French), but when he gets flustered, he slips back into his regular New York accent.
  • Platonic Life-Partners: Mrs. Gilbert and Boothy.
  • Pop-Cultural Osmosis Failure: Marian is upset about how Valerie's mother, Isabel, is treating Valerie over her crush on Henry. To make Marian feel better, Boothy brings up her childhood crush on John Barrymore; Marian, of course, has never heard of him.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: According to gossip, the school doesn't mind Valerie leaving school early everyday to see her psychiatrist, because of Valerie's parents being so rich — well, that and Valerie's high IQ.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: After Isabel tells Henry Frank knows about the two of them, Henry pretends to be in her corner, while grabbing the phone book and leafing through it. After he hangs up, he makes another call:
    Henry: H-hello, Pan-Am? When's your next flight out of here?...Anywhere...Yeah, that'll do!
  • Shout-Out:
  • Stalker with a Crush: Valerie and Marian, though this movie presents it as fairly innocent...unless you ask Mrs. Boyd.
  • Stylistic Suck: The concert Marian, her mother, Valerie and Boothy attend. Yeah, it's avant-garde, but when a man turns off his hearing aid to better appreciate the concert...
    Boothy: (to Mrs. Gilbert) If this is music, what's that stuff Cole Porter writes?
    • Apparently, that's not the only bad concert Henry Orient has given; when Valerie and Marian try to find him later after one of his concerts, and they ask the doorman where he is, he replies, "The posse's forming around back." Sure enough, as Henry is leaving, the crowd is loudly insulting him.
      Valerie: I told you he should have practiced!
  • There Are No Therapists: Averted; though Marian thinks the fact Valerie is seeing a psychiatrist is something that needs to be kept secret because of the stigma attached, both Mrs. Gilbert and Boothy admit they each saw a therapist after their respective divorces.
  • Unusual Euphemism: Henry telling his manager about how Valerie and Marian interrupted him and Stella:
    Henry: And then two small bladders came out of their mouths. And just when she was beginning to hum, too.
  • Waxing Lyrical: Near the end, when Frank and Valerie have found out about Isabel cheating on Frank with Henry and are making plans to move out, Frank brings up the song "Getting to Know You" from The King and I.