The Birthday Party (1968)

G | 123 mins | Drama | 9 December 1968

Director:

William Friedkin

Writer:

Harold Pinter

Cinematographer:

Denys Coop

Editor:

Antony Gibbs

Production Designer:

George Marshall

Production Company:

Palomar Pictures International, Ltd.
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HISTORY

Director William Friedkin became interested in making a movie version of Harold Pinter’s play, The Birthday Party, in 1961, after seeing it performed by the San Francisco Actor’s Workshop, as stated in a 19 May 1968 LAT article. Having just directed his first film, a documentary called The People Vs. Paul Crump, Friedkin wrote to Pinter in hope of acquiring screen rights. The playwright did not respond; however, he did agree to a meeting with Friedkin years later, when it was set up by their shared talent agents, the 24 Mar 1967 LAT noted. After viewing Friedkin’s documentaries, Pinter gave him the rights to The Birthday Party despite having received bids from Joseph E. Levine and Carlo Ponti. They set the project up with Palomar Pictures International, Ltd., a subsidiary of ABC Pictures Corp., which offered financing and granted the filmmakers complete control over the project. In turn, Pinter was given cast approval and control of the script, which he insisted should not be altered whatsoever in shooting. The 19 May 1968 LAT claimed that Pinter “handpicked the cast himself,” including Robert Shaw, who had recently appeared in a film adaptation of Pinter’s 1960 play, The Caretaker.
       David Hemmings was initially cast in a lead role, the 20 Mar 1967 DV announced. He did not remain with the project.
       An item in the 31 May 1968 LAT cited a production budget of around $700,000. Robert Shaw’s salary was said to be $25,000, in addition to a profit percentage. Likewise, Friedkin and Pinter took low salaries in exchange for part ... More Less

Director William Friedkin became interested in making a movie version of Harold Pinter’s play, The Birthday Party, in 1961, after seeing it performed by the San Francisco Actor’s Workshop, as stated in a 19 May 1968 LAT article. Having just directed his first film, a documentary called The People Vs. Paul Crump, Friedkin wrote to Pinter in hope of acquiring screen rights. The playwright did not respond; however, he did agree to a meeting with Friedkin years later, when it was set up by their shared talent agents, the 24 Mar 1967 LAT noted. After viewing Friedkin’s documentaries, Pinter gave him the rights to The Birthday Party despite having received bids from Joseph E. Levine and Carlo Ponti. They set the project up with Palomar Pictures International, Ltd., a subsidiary of ABC Pictures Corp., which offered financing and granted the filmmakers complete control over the project. In turn, Pinter was given cast approval and control of the script, which he insisted should not be altered whatsoever in shooting. The 19 May 1968 LAT claimed that Pinter “handpicked the cast himself,” including Robert Shaw, who had recently appeared in a film adaptation of Pinter’s 1960 play, The Caretaker.
       David Hemmings was initially cast in a lead role, the 20 Mar 1967 DV announced. He did not remain with the project.
       An item in the 31 May 1968 LAT cited a production budget of around $700,000. Robert Shaw’s salary was said to be $25,000, in addition to a profit percentage. Likewise, Friedkin and Pinter took low salaries in exchange for part ownership of the film.
       Rehearsals began the week of 11 Mar 1968, according to an item in the 20 Mar 1968 Var. Principal photography commenced later that month, on 25 Mar 1968, at Shepperton Studios in Shepperton, England, as stated in a 27 Mar 1968 Var production chart. The bulk of filming took place at a boardinghouse set built on a Shepperton soundstage, while a few exteriors were shot in the seaside town of Worthing, England, where Pinter had lived during “his acting days,” according to the 31 May 1968 LAT. On 5 Jun 1968, DV confirmed that filming had ended.
       The picture opened to generally positive reviews on 9 Dec 1968 at the Coronet Theatre in New York City. A Los Angeles, CA, benefit premiere followed on 14 Dec 1968 at the Beverly Canon Theatre, raising money for the Watts Writer Workshop. General release at the Beverly Canon took place on 17 Dec 1968. More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
1 Nov 1966
p. 2.
Daily Variety
20 Mar 1967
p. 1.
Daily Variety
25 Jul 1967
p. 11.
Daily Variety
17 Jan 1968
p. 2.
Daily Variety
5 Jun 1968
p. 2.
Daily Variety
13 Dec 1968
p. 3, 13.
Los Angeles Times
21 Mar 1967
Section D, p. 15.
Los Angeles Times
24 Mar 1967
Section D, p. 6.
Los Angeles Times
17 Oct 1967
Section C, p. 14.
Los Angeles Times
19 May 1968
Section D, p. 16.
Los Angeles Times
31 May 1968
Section E, p. 13.
Los Angeles Times
6 Dec 1968
Section H, p. 23.
Los Angeles Times
10 Dec 1968
Section E, p. 21.
Los Angeles Times
16 Dec 1968
Section G, p. 1.
Los Angeles Times
17 Dec 1968
Section J, p. 17.
New York Times
8 Oct 1967.
---
New York Times
10 Dec 1968.
---
Variety
28 Feb 1968
p. 18.
Variety
20 Mar 1968
p. 29.
Variety
27 Mar 1968
p. 22.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTOR
Prod des
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SOUND
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod mgr
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the play The Birthday Party by Harold Pinter (London, 19 May 1958).
AUTHOR
DETAILS
Release Date:
9 December 1968
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 9 December 1968
Los Angeles opening: 17 December 1968
Production Date:
25 March--late May or early June 1968
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Technicolor
Duration(in mins):
123
MPAA Rating:
G
Countries:
United Kingdom, United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
21916
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

Meg and Petey Bowles are the slovenly proprietors of a rundown seaside boarding house. Their only boarder is Stanley, an unshaven and mysterious nonconformist. Prior to moving in a year or so ago, he may have been a concert pianist, or perhaps a deserter from a criminal organization. One day two strangers--urbane and jovial Nat Goldberg and grim and servile Shamus McCann--arrive at the boardinghouse and easily insinuate themselves into Meg's good graces by asking for one of her "splendid accommodations." Their apparent purpose is to give Stanley a birthday party and to bring him back to the underworld organization. Goldberg and McCann manage to catch Stanley alone, and they interrogate him until he retaliates by kicking Goldberg in the groin. Despite Stanley's protests that it is not his birthday, Meg insists that the party be held that evening with Lulu, a neighborhood woman, as the only guest. As the evening progresses and the guests play a wild game of blind man's buff, Stanley gradually weakens in his resistance to the threatening intimations of the two strangers. The party finally ends when Stanley steps on Meg's gift, a toy drum, and reduces the inebriated Meg to a state of mournful reverie. The next morning as Meg and Petey go about their chores, Goldberg and McCann take Stanley, now verging on a mental breakdown, away to meet an unknown ... +


Meg and Petey Bowles are the slovenly proprietors of a rundown seaside boarding house. Their only boarder is Stanley, an unshaven and mysterious nonconformist. Prior to moving in a year or so ago, he may have been a concert pianist, or perhaps a deserter from a criminal organization. One day two strangers--urbane and jovial Nat Goldberg and grim and servile Shamus McCann--arrive at the boardinghouse and easily insinuate themselves into Meg's good graces by asking for one of her "splendid accommodations." Their apparent purpose is to give Stanley a birthday party and to bring him back to the underworld organization. Goldberg and McCann manage to catch Stanley alone, and they interrogate him until he retaliates by kicking Goldberg in the groin. Despite Stanley's protests that it is not his birthday, Meg insists that the party be held that evening with Lulu, a neighborhood woman, as the only guest. As the evening progresses and the guests play a wild game of blind man's buff, Stanley gradually weakens in his resistance to the threatening intimations of the two strangers. The party finally ends when Stanley steps on Meg's gift, a toy drum, and reduces the inebriated Meg to a state of mournful reverie. The next morning as Meg and Petey go about their chores, Goldberg and McCann take Stanley, now verging on a mental breakdown, away to meet an unknown fate. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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