Gather ‘round, people, and you shall hear the grim tale of one named Jolly. With a comeback in tow, a party he did throw where drink and drug ran wild. All was not well as tempers did swell and things turned sour in that final hour. Before the sun could pick up its head, two people would lay dead by way of Jolly’s greatest folly. Let The Wild Party begin.
It’s 1929 and silent movie star Jolly Grimm (James Coco) throws a party to find backers to help launch the comeback film that took him years to make. Jolly fails to impress big producers who find his silent opus outdated and lacking, especially with the arrival of sound. His big comeback fiesta takes a turn as producers hurry off to party with Mary Pickford and other popular stars still in the spotlight. As bootleg gin and other drugs start to take effect on the varied and strange party goers, things get really interesting. Through different people, we learn the wide-ranging quirks, kinks, and cravings of those in attendance.
The more Jolly imbibes, the darker things get. Jolly’s a mean drunk and his best girl, Queenie (Raquel Welch), knows she’s playing with fire when she finds a new flame in the swashbuckling, young star Dale Sword (Perry King). Things turn grim as Jolly tumbles deeper into his cups, becoming more manic and out of control. As the night floats on, the party itself morphs into a full-on orgy as guests retire to the estate’s many rooms. Jolly is tempted by the underage Nadine (Chris Gilmore), brought along by her sister who said she may be able to show off her dancing skills to the party-goers (bad idea in general to bring a kid to this type of debauchery). While everyone frolics behind closed doors, Jolly takes Nadine to the kitchen for a snack. His temptation boils over when Nadine makes an improper suggestion. Fortunately, Nadine’s sister’s boyfriend, a tough movie stuntman, comes to the rescue just in time, knocking Jolly around and causing an uproar.
Things get worse when a super-sauced Jolly grabs his cowboy-friend/bodyguard’s (Royal Dano) gun to act out some scenes he’s now planning to add to his magnum opus. Queenie and Sword emerge from a den of sin at the wrong time and end up taking hot lead as Jolly gets trigger happy. The party-goers come out of orgiastic hiding places as Jolly cradles a lifeless Queenie in his arms. Also a victim of this gunplay is Jolly’s writing collaborator James Morrison (David Dukes), who we see in a hospital bed at the movie’s beginning penning the poem that sets the stage for the rest of the night (and inspired my own silly poetic attempt).
The Wild Party (1975) was directed by James Ivory (Howards End, The Remains of the Day) and co-written by Joseph Moncure March, whose long narrative poem of the same name is the basis for the film’s story. The movie is a little scattered and seems more like a large stage play with too much going on. At times, it’s a melodrama and a little cringy; then a song and dance break out and it’s a musical. Add the use of title cards and it’s part silent movie for a bit as well. I actually like the title cards. I think they’re creative but were abandoned too soon. They would have made fun segues to better set up scenes and make the movie seem less schizophrenic. On second thought, that schizo vibe gives us an idea of what may be happening in Jolly’s head as he swings from loving teddy bear to violent grump even while sober.
Coco can be a bit much and overplays a scene or two but I suppose that helps us understand his character, who was very loosely based on Fatty Arbuckle and his infamous party fouls. Coco’s over-dramatics also add to the whole 1920s silent-movie vibe. While Welch is sexy, as always, her performance here is a bit weak though she does a good job in her song and dance number, showing off her curves and gams very well. The ever handsome Perry King handles his role fine, even though I find there’s always something a bit off about his acting, as if he’s out of place or uncomfortable no matter where he’s at.
The soundtrack and score are styled after the period with songs and tunes that resemble Cole Porter, Ira Gershwin, and Duke Ellington. A nice touch that furthers the authentic feel of the movie and gives an idea of what those raucous Hollywood parties of the 1920s Jazz era could have been like. The Mission Inn located in Riverside, CA lends itself perfectly both inside and out, as the backdrop of this wild night. Built in 1879, the Inn resembles Hearst’s Castle and those other magnificent homes of the ’20s designed by and for Hollywood movie stars like Mary Pickford.
It’s a shame that there aren’t any extras at all on the Blu-ray release. A major bummer because this one could have benefited from a few good featurettes, like a location tour and some more info on the behind-the-scenes turmoil caused by cast and crew that delayed the movie’s theatrical release.
The Wild Party with its 108 minute runtime is entertaining overall and provides a lively and intriguing look at what those legendary, sometimes deadly Hollywood parties of the 1920s may have been like. One can imagine Jolly’s wild party rivaling those events held by William Randolph Hearst at Casa Grande or Charles Foster Kane’s in Xanadu. I can also imagine what a remake in the right hands could be like as well. A few good tweaks could go a long way and yield better results. The story itself has the potential to be less cringy and more atmospheric/creepy.