Originally filmed in 1962, British melodrama The Party’s Over was shelved for three years after censors objected to some of its themes - most notably that of necrophilia. An edited version eventually received a limited release in 1965, by which time its director had gone on to huge success with Goldfinger. Perhaps nervous of jeopardising his burgeoning Hollywood career, Guy Hamilton had his name removed from the film, disowning it in interviews - and until recently it was thought to be totally lost.
Now restored to its full length by the BFI’s excellent Flipside strand, it’s most interesting for capturing a particular period in British cultural history, one normally overshadowed by the myth of the Technicolor Swinging Sixties. Yes, The Party’s Over takes place in the pre-pop world of the beatnik, where London (Chelsea, to be exact) is a reckless but somewhat dowdy place, where the wild antics of a group of nihilistic artists consist mostly of listening to jazz, drinking pints of mild and wearing baggy jumpers. When they’re not doing this, they’re painting people green, pulling on roll-ups or speaking in mannered hepcat slang (‘I’m just a dead fly in the soup at the tycoon banquet’).
Into this milieu arrives Carson, a clean-cut American businessman who has flown to England to look for his girlfriend, a spoiled rich girl who is being pursued by a wonderfully brooding Oliver Reed, himself the head of the beatnik gang. But what begins as a neat examination of cultural misunderstandings soon develops into something far more compelling, as Carson attempts to find out the truth behind his girlfriend’s disappearance and struggles to come to terms with the gruesome truth that it reveals.
Viewed today, the film is a potent mix of the kitsch and the genuinely unsettling. Written by Marc Behm (who later also co-authored one of the defining pop flicks, Help!) and featuring a zippy score by a young John Barry, it nevertheless occasionally descends into the kind of wearisome moralising and middle-aged prurience evident in other cautionary tales of the era. It’s hard not to attribute this to Hamilton, a man who spent most of the 1970s directing Roger Moore in various pastel-coloured safari suits in a series of increasingly hackneyed and conservative instalments of the Bond franchise. Produced by Jack Hawkins and, oddly, Peter O’Toole, The Party’s Over nevertheless deals with its themes in an intelligent and un-sensational way - even daring to ask us as an audience what exactly it is about degradation and death that we choose to be entertained by. For that reason alone, it’s a worthwhile watch.