Peter Sellers was, and still is, regarded as an icon of comedy; Seeding the Goons style of comedy with the likes of Spike Milligan that would, in turn, help to birth the mighty Python.
Perhaps best known for the ‘Pink Panther’ films, Sellers’ work includes the seminal Kubrick classic Dr Strangelove or: How I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb. Alongside this we can count Chance, a gardener with learning difficulties in Being There, and Casino Royale’s ‘sort of Bond’ in the diverse list of roles Sellers played. Add to this the bile inducing paedophile (though never clearly labelled as such), Claire Quilty, in another Kubrick masterwork Lolita, and we can clearly see the man could act. Whilst perhaps not in Starburst’s wheelhouse, Lolita is absolutely worth your time.
It is unfortunate that The Peter Sellers Collection, from Fabulous films, feature none of the above titles, nor Sellers on anything close to form. It should be noted that during the late sixties and early seventies, the period during which the collected four films were made, Sellers was battling with depression and a drink and drug addiction. This shows in scenes across all four films, often the erratic performances seem tainted by whatever Sellers was going through at the time and, when the films are firmly in the mould of seventies slapstick farce, some of his performances leave the sour taste of a man going through the motions.
The Magic Christian is unfortunately weighed down by the one thing that brings in the punters - Ringo Starr. After his scene stealing turn as a heightened version of himself in A Hard Day’s Night, Starr struggles to fill the screen and as such it falls to Sellers to carry him throughout the film. The pair play practical jokes on their unsuspecting friends and the film degenerates into a game of spot-the-cameo.
‘Ghost in the Noonday Sun follows in the slapstick tradition of Monty Python and Benny Hill.’ So states the blurb on the film’s cover. Monty Python has stayed in the hearts and minds of many a fan and continues to garner a new audience. Benny Hill is slowly, blissfully, being consigned to the annals of time. Guess which of the two Ghost in the Noonday Sun is more like?
A reteaming of Sellers with his ol’mucker Milligan brings the funnies back with The Great McGonall. One would be entirely forgiven for expecting John Cleese to turn up behind his desk in between what is essentially a sketch show. Peter Sellers is no Terry Jones when it comes to donning a dress.
The Prisoner of Zenda shows Sellers in both his guises as serious actor and comedian, and still not hitting the heady heights he had achieved before, on either count. Doctor Who did it better with The Androids of Tara.
One for the aficionados who probably already own them, the films in this collection are the sort of thing you flick past showing as a Saturday afternoon matinee on BBC2 when there is bugger all else on. Give them a go; they may be your thing.
THE PETER SELLERS COLLECTION / DIRECTOR: VARIOUS / SCREENPLAY: VARIOUS / STARRING: PETER SELLERS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW