DIRECTOR: HAL ASHBY
COUNTRY: USA 1979
CINEMATOGRAPHY: CALEB DESCHANEL
MUSIC: JOHNNY MANDEL, DEODATO
CAST: Peter Sellers, Shirley MacLaine, Jack Warden, Melvyn Douglas, Richard Dysart, Richard Basehart
WRITTEN BY: Jersy Kosinski, from his novel
SUPER FEATURES: Peter Sellers
This film was Peter Sellers' swan song. If nothing else, the master of many voices and characters in radio, that achieved fame in film, but never for his acting talent, gets to show here that under the right direction and leadership, he can display, that aside from having the secret of comic timing, he also has the secret, of characterization. The sad part is that it didn't help his career any, as the film industry was more interested in making money from his bumbling character, the Inspector Clouseau. The sad part is that underneath it all, was a man that really could act, at least in the sense of what acting was essentially, ever, defined to be, which was to "become" that character for a determined amount of time. And Peter Sellers example here, in the art of self control, which he always lacked in almost all other projects he ever did, displays that this man really had it in him, and could show it at any time, if only someone could come up with a script that could show him that there was hope for doing something much more than crap. The two best roles (actually six in the first example), that Peter Sellers has ever done, were under the auspices of directors that really knew what they wanted, and weren't about to do something just because the star wanted it differently. And Peter Sellers went with it, and came out looking brilliant on the other side. The first was, Dr. Strangelove, under the capable direction of Stanley Kubrick, and then, in 1979, under the hands of Hal Ashby, who, if anything, always knew when he had a good thing in his hand, and how he could make it better.
This film, is, still, today, one of the very nice examples what a piece of fluff in Hollywood can come out like. A very enjoyable piece of work, that can also have underlying meanings, not intentional, but by just, pardon the pun, being there. Several years later, the subtleties in this film, are still quite apparent, and the acting, specially Peter Sellers, is excellent. Well, the others around him are not as strong, but then, they don't have the meaty role amidst everyone else. By comparison, Shirley MacLaine is nice, but rather blasť about the whole thing, and the others are not as good, maybe with the exception of Melvyn Douglas, who is rather entertaining as the old man, who is dying.
But the real touch of wonder in this film is that the character is so strong all the way through, and so oblivious to anything that is happening around him, from the realities about life, to a woman, whose own feelings she is learning to get in touch with, and eventually, the outcome of the film. People like Chauncy maybe lucky, but possibly, were it not for his innocence, he may not have been so lucky.
The film, stands out, today, more as a showpiece for Peter Sellers, who was nominated for an Oscar, but didn't win. His legacy of comedy goes way back to the boom days of English comedy on the BBC radio, where he is, still, a legend, with his excellent characterizations for the GOON SHOW. There are a lot of similarities between Chauncey Gardner and his other various characters... the uncanny focus, and ability to stay focused at a moment's notice, although the out-take at the end of the film, does show, that even Peter Sellers is human, and at times struggles with a few lines.... well, he did before, too, but he could cover it rather easily. Here, in this film, there is no covering up. He just delivers, that's all.
This is the story of a man who has been a gardener in a household since heaven knows when, and he has been inside that same house for at least that long. When the man dies, he is told to leave. And on his first walkabout, he gets into a mishap that takes him into the hands of a rather well to do family that is politically based in the presidential circuit in DC. And from then, the film kinds steam rolls into a bunch of fun bits and pieces. The gardener, which he really is, just answers the questions in the only way he knows how, and those around him, take his comments seriously, and use them in various ways.
Chauncey Gardner, may be a bit retarded, but his sense of awe and beauty, at least keep him alive. He is harmless, and has a role to play in life. In this case, his is taken a bit to the extreme, but in the capable hands of Peter Sellers, this role just out shines, what might otherwise have become just another fun movie to watch and stay with.
Funny bits here and there. Watch out for the deadly tv commentaries running from the start, from the cartoons to the news, et allll.....
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