Last night, I watched The Party. It put PeterSellers at the top of the list of my favourite comic actors. He makes me laugh with the least effort. I used to think Mr. Bean is hilarious, that Leon Schuster is awesome, that Jim Carrey was the god of comedy, but they all disappointed me at some point. (Okay, he does not beat Woody Allen. I think Woody will be my favourite of all time, because Woody is not just a comic actor, but also a funny writer and director. I’ll do a list of my favourite Woody Allen’s next). With Sellers, every film of his I’ve seen is a riot. Or well, maybe not The Man Who Never Was, but again, it was a very entertaining film, and it only confirmed to me that he was gifted actor, able to fit any role, be it comedic of serious. As happens in the industry, he got typed with comedy (I think) and so most of the films he was given were in that genre.
|Peter Sellers. London, 1973. Photo from Wikipedia|
Being There (1979) I’ve never watched a film as good as this one, not in a long time. It might be better than Harold and Maude, though they probably share the spoils. It’s about a simple man with a mental disability. He is called Chance. His brains never develop beyond childhood, but it doesn’t make him an idiot, as you might imagine. Certainly not like I Am Sam, or The Rain Man. He has lived for as long as he can remember in the backyard of his benefactor’s house. He is a gardener. It’s the only thing he knows. Then his life turns around when he his guardian dies, and he is thrown out of the house. For the first time, he is out in the streets. He is a guy who has never been outside the doors in decades, and what follows is a sweetly sad story with a weirdly happy ending. He ends up the President of the USA! Okay, maybe not. But you get the feeling that he will be the next one. 🙂
I particularly loved the acting in that film. I’ve read that Sellers went to great lengths to perfect his portrayal of Chance, he changed his voice and the way the character walked. According to wikipeadia, “Sellers considered Chance’s walking and voice the character’s most important attributes, and in preparing for the role, he worked alone with a tape recorder, or with his wife, and then with Ashby, to perfect the clear enunciation and flat delivery needed to reveal ‘the childlike mind behind the words’,” and that in order to remain in character, he refused to do interviews and kept aloof from the other actors. I love such an actor. He should have won all the awards for that role. Quoting wiki again “Critic Frank Richwrote that the acting skill required for this sort of role, with a “schismatic personality that Peter had to convey with strenuous vocal and gestural technique … A lesser actor would have made the character’s mental dysfunction flamboyant and drastic … [His] intelligence was always deeper, his onscreen confidence greater, his technique much more finely honed”: in achieving this, Sellers “makes the film’s fantastic premise credible”.
The Party (1968) In this film, Sellers plays an error prone Indian actor, Hrundi V. Bakshi, who accidentally gets an invitation to a high class party. At first I was sceptical, and thought he would end up offending Indians, but by minute fifteen, I saw he was at his best again. I totally believed he was an Indian, with the accent, the subtle head shake, the Namaste hand clasp, the English! My, and do comedies get any better than this? It’s told in the fashion of the films of those days, where everything happens largely in one location. I want to write such a film soon.
The Ladykillers (1955). At first, I thought it was a film about hunks who ‘kill’ ladies. Then, I thought it was a film about a gang of psychopaths who go around killing ladies. I was wrong. It has a very captivating plot. A gang of thieves plan a robbery. They use an old woman’s house as their base, where they pretend to be musicians rehearsing for a performance. The old woman is an eccentric widow with a raucous parrot. The thieves think she will be a pushover, when she stumbles upon their plan. Instead, she finds herself part of the gang, to her horror.
A Shot in the Dark (1964) This is arguably the best of The Pink Panther series. I loved it more than The Pink Panther itself. Like all good comedies, the plot has a very fast pace, and like all good mysteries, it has a lot of twists and turns. I totally loved the scene in the nudist colony! Sellers gives a more interesting portrayal of the bungling French detective, Inspector Jacques Clouseau. Though I’ve come to respect him as an actor, I found it disturbing that in this film, he forced the producers to fire one director, and then he did not get along well with the replacement director. They even stopped talking to each other. I don’t like it when actors become too big for the director, however good the actor is. He should have directed the film himself.
The Mouse That Roared (1959) The premise of this film is a weird one. A small country, smaller than even Uganda, invades the United States, and wins the war. I’ve fantasised about such a thing happening in real life, and i’ve had delusions of being a general who leads the war against the US. After all the trouble they have caused in the world, it would be nice to have someone whack them (not some cowardly terrorists, but a real army to go there and kick ass and put some sense into them). In this way, this film was kind of prophetic, for many people around the world would love to the downfall of a big bully. Sellers played three roles, he was the elderly queen, the ambitious Prime Minister and the innocent, clumsy farm boy who leads the invasion. The film is packed with humour, I laughed every five minutes or so. But it’s also very entertaining. I’m yet to see an idiotic film that captures my attention the way this one did.
There are other good ones, like Dr. Strangelove, in which he played four roles, but I did not like. Maybe because it only appeals to the cold-war era. The Mouse That Roared is also based in that era, when nuclear weapons threatened the world, but its premise (attacking a bully, the US, and using war as a tool of profit) speaks to our generation as well, and will continue to be relevant long after nuclear politics are gone. He was also in Lolita, which I did not like much, maybe because the book was better, and the girl in the film did not look like an under-aged girl. The Pink Panther, which I didn’t enjoy as much as I enjoyed the ensuing one. I loved What’s New Pussycat, in which he appeared with Woody Allen, but well it wasn’t the best of Woody’s films.
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