DVD REVIEW: Peter Sellers 5-Film Collection

Peter Sellers-5 Film Collection
(Lions Gate)

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Amazing talent that he was, Peter Sellers appeared in a bunch of international hits as a wide variety of characters (sometimes as more than one in the same film) and was pretty much an enigma to all who knew him. The films that are included in this DVD collection are early ones and not the popular ones we know of here in the US like the Pink Panther, Dr. Strangelove, and Being There. Still these films, 1957’s The Smallest Show On Earth, 59’s Carlton-Brown Of The F.O. and I’m All Right Jack, 1960’s Two Way Stretch and Heaven’s Above! in 1963 feature some of man’s earliest hilarious characterizations.

The Smallest Show On Earth sees us enter the world of the nearly forgotten Bijou theater, after two newlyweds, Matt and Jean Spencer (played by Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna) inherit the place from a dead uncle. Along with veritable UK actress Margaret Rutherford as the cashier and Bernard Miles as the janitor, we have Sellers as a drunken projectionist. Crazy schemes and even a fire ensure, but it is mostly the interaction of the ‘older’ members of the cast that makes this one crackle.

Carlton-Brown Of The F.O. features Sellers as Prime Minister Amphibulos in this satire of British government meddling that turns quickly into an international nuclear showdown. Very much a ‘politk’ film of its day, this represents one of the more important films of the Roy and John Boulting directing/producing team, a team Sellers will link up with again in his career.

Another Boultin brothers’ film is, I’m All Right Jack. This one earned Sellers a Best Actor Award from the British Academy (BAFTA). Another satire from the B. Bros., Jack takes jabs at British industrial life, mixing domesticity with trade unions and business and Seller’s nearly unrecognizable characterization of shop steward Fred Kite.

Two Way Stretch features some of the best British comedians of the time it was released in 1960. Here Sellers plays a cocky criminal, something he doesn’t do too often, in this solid example of the venerable British ‘caper’ movies, like The Lavender Hill Mob. “Stretch” more than the other films in the set, really sees Sellers matched with some amazing scene stealing company, especially Lionel Jeffries’ Sidney Crout, forever on the hunt for Sellers’ Dodger Lane.

Lastly in this set we have the latest film of the five, 1963’s Heavens Above!, another Boulting brothers satire, this time aimed at the attitudes towards naïve generosity and church-going class hypocrisy with Seller’s do-good-ing Reverend John Smallwood. “Heavens” is also notable for its use of profanity, unusual for the time of its release and in a film about such angelic humanist ideals.

It’s impossibly really to pin down any true Sellers’ style or character. The man might be one of the only true chameleons of our recent film age, certainly one of our best and well known. As he said during one of his Muppet Show appearances: “There is no me, I do not exist. There used to be a me, but I had it surgically removed.” Looking at his early films here, you tend to believe that was exactly how the guy was going to end up.

Ralph Greco, Jr.

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