oscars in heaven

As much as I enjoy watching Peter Sellers, and as much as I like his work in the 1968 film The Party, the performance I really want to see whenever I put on the DVD is Steve Franken’s. Every time.

Franken plays Levinson. (that's him in the picture, clutching - don't ask why - the woman in soap suds.) levinson is a butler at a swanky Hollywood get-together. But he’s not hoping to pass on a script or talk his way into an audition. No, he’s there to knock back every drink he can get his hands on. And before the film’s even got up comic steam, he’s already bobbing and weaving around the set like a man on an invisible, sagging tightrope.

But all the while he’s doing his best to remain the epitome of professional poise, even while his torso seems to be moving in the opposite direction to his legs and his eyebrows dance around on his face as he registers stupefied surprise at everything going on around him.

My favourite scene is the sit-down dinner. He lurches around the table passing out the salad with his bare hands, trips over a guest bending down, pokes the neck of a wine bottle through a woman’s hair to fill her glass, and hides a plate of roast quail under his jacket when the headwaiter comes out of the kitchen to fix him with a furious glare.

In the best moment of all, Peter Sellers surreptitiously points out that there’s another roast quail - again, don’t ask - fixed to a fellow guest’s tiara. When Franken looks up and across the table at this, his forehead tightens, his head pegs back a notch or two on his neck and his eyes widen in bleary astonishment as if he’s thinking, ‘Well, you don’t see that every day!’

It’s probably not surprising this performance got lost. The Party wasn’t a financial success, Peter Sellers was the star and besides, Franken was ‘just’ playing a drunk.

He died in 2012, at the age of 80. Let’s hope they give out Oscars in heaven.

© Nick Garlick 2017