A gangland lawyer and a lounge singer/call girl rebel against their underworld ‘family’ in this stunningly stylized Technicolor film noir. Rare screening of this hard-to-see cult classic.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2005
Nicholas Ray was idolised by the young French critics who would become the directors of the New Wave. Writing of Ray and Howard Hawks, François Truffaut declared, ‘Anyone who rejects either should never go to the movies again, never see any more films. Such people will never recognise inspiration, poetic intuition, or a framed picture, a shot, an idea, a good film, or even cinema itself.’ Said Jean-Luc Godard: ‘There was theatre (Griffith), poetry (Murnau), painting (Rosellini), dance (Eisenstein), music (Renoir). Henceforth there is cinema. And the cinema is Nicholas Ray.’
Meanwhile, Party Girl, Ray’s last Hollywood production, had been conceived by MGM as a vehicle for two of its expensive contract stars, the dancer Cyd Charissa and aging matinee idol Robert Taylor. When less enlightened critics focused on the formulaic aspects of the film, critic Fereydoun Hoveyda unleashed one of the most glorious panegyrics of Cahiers du Cinema auteurism: ‘With clock-like regularity, certain critics continue to insist on the importance of scripts, acting and the system of production. While we are at it, why not take into account the influence of the heavenly spheres? …To remain insensitive to the thousand beauties of Nicholas Ray’s Party Girl is to turn one’s back resolutely on the modern cinema, to reject the cinema as autonomous art.’ Forty-five years later, the critics who dismissed the film are forgotten and the cult of Ray’s sleek, eruptively colourful tale of gangsterland amour fou lives on. Surprisingly, Ray’s final genre movie contains his most tender and affirmative picture of a man and woman in love. — Bill Gosden
"Against the obscure, baroquely stylised locale almost arbitrarily tagged ‘Chicago in the early thirties’, Ray creates a surreal atmosphere of exoticism and violence. Robert Taylor and Cyd Charisse are well cast against type as a gangland lawyer and a lounge singer/call girl who rebel against an underworld ‘family’ of which mobster Lee J. Cobb is the formidable father. As in other Ray films, love in the context of a brutal society becomes l’amour fou; but in no other film does ‘normality’ approach the hellish insanity of Party Girl." — Judy Bloch, Pacific Film Archive
"With luxuriant images compared by one French critic to Cézanne, and a palpably violent atmosphere, it’s a baroque but brilliant parable of moral, physical and spiritual regeneration." — Geoff Andrew, National Film Theatre