Tag Archives: Peter Sellers

The Magic Christian (1969)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Everybody has a price.

Sir Guy Grand (Peter Sellers) is a billionaire with an eccentric side, who wants to prove the powerful influence money has over other people. He meets Youngman (Ringo Starr),a homeless man in a park, and decides to adopt him as his son. Together they proceed to play elaborate pranks on the public by watching how far they can push their theory and what humiliating lengths people will go to get their hands on some money.

The film is based on the 1959 novel of the same name written by Terry Southern, who also wrote the screenplay, and while the novel was considered a success the movie, at least when it was first released, wasn’t. My critics complained of the film’s heavy-handed satirical nature and unrelenting jabs at capitalism even though all the same pranks done in the movie were also in the book. The film also has the exact same satirical theme as O Lucky Man, which starred Malcom McDowell and came out just a few years later that also took numerous potshots at capitalism and yet many of the same critics adored that one, but came down hard on this one.

Fortunately through the years the film has managed to find a cult following. I supposed if one has more of a socialist bent they may enjoy it more, but it has such a surreal, creative vibe to it that it’s fun to watch no matter if you agree with it’s message, which is kind of muddled anyways, or not. Some of my favorite bits included snotty, rich aristocrats boarding a ship cruise that puts them in increasingly more humorously challenging and bizarre situations. The final segment, which has the classic song ‘Something in the Air’ by Thunderclap Newman playing during it, features a giant outdoor vat filled with urine, blood, and animal feces and then having Grand throw money into it and challenging onlookers to jump into the mess in order to get at the money, which despite the awful stench they readily do.

There’s many cameo appearances by famous stars who agreed to take small roles as a favor to Sellers who at the time was a top star and friends with many of the big headliners of the day. Some of the best bits here include Laurence Harvey who does a striptease while onstage and in front of a packed house of onlookers while reciting ‘Hamlet’. Yul Bryner, looking almost unrecognizable in a female wig, is great as a transvestite who comes-onto a shy Roman Polanski while at a bar. Spike Milligan is hilarious as a traffic cop who agrees to eat his own traffic ticket for the right price as well as Raquel Welch as a slave commander with a whip, Wilfred Hyde-White as a drunken ship captain, and John Cleese as a perplexed auctioneer.

The problems that I had with the film dealt mainly with the relationship between Sellers and Starr. Sellers meets Starr one day in a park by chance and then begins to have a conversation with him, but there’s music playing over this, so we never hear what they’re saying, which is frustrating as the having a rich man suddenly offer a poor man the chance to be his adopted son seemed like dialogue that should be heard. Starr is also not given much to do and it seemed almost pointless for having even in the movie. In the novel there was only the Grand character creating the pranks, but it was decided for the movie to make it a two man show, but Ringo has so little to do that it didn’t seem worth it and this reportedly was due to Sellers’ insecurity of being upstaged and thus insisting that all the best lines had to go to him.

It’s also never clear why the Sellers’ character does what he does. What’s the motivation for why this rich man feels the need to expose other people’s foibles and vanities? Does he feel guilty about being so rich and therefore has decided to ‘take-it-to’ the others in his own social circle? None of this gets explained or analyzed at all, which on the character end makes the film quite superficial and confusing.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: December 12, 1969

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated M

Director: Joseph McGrath

Studio: Commonwealth United Entertainment

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Hoffman (1970)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Executive blackmails a secretary.

Janet (Sinead Cusack) is engaged to be married to Tom (Jeremy Bulloch), but tells him that she must spend a week away while visiting her sick grandmother in another city. Yet what she really does is go to the residence of Benjamin Hoffman (Peter Sellers). She has no love for him and there’s a wide age difference between the two, but Hoffman is blackmailing her in hopes that, if given enough time, that she’ll fall for him and leave her fiancée, but she resists his advances and when she threatens to leave he comes up with another plan to keep her there.

This unusual movie was based on a TV-play broadcast in 1967 in the UK that starred Donald Pleasance and Judy Cornwell. It had been written by Ernest Gebler and titled ‘Call Me Daddy’. When it received much acclaim it convinced Gebler to turn it into a novel, which was called ‘Shall I Eat You Now?’ and published a year later. When the response to that was positive Alvin Rakoff, who had directed the TV version, then decided to turn it into a feature film.

Having a movie centered around only two characters and take place almost entirely in one setting is usually a recipe for a static disaster and I felt this would’ve worked better as a stageplay, which Gebler eventually did turn it into in 1975. However, the initial mystery involving what Hoffman is blackmailing Janet about, who otherwise comes off as this innocent wide-eyed young woman who you can’t imagine could’ve ever done anything that wrong to be blackmailed in the first place, is what held my interest and kept me watching.

A lot of the credit to what keeps this movie watchable also goes to the two stars. Cusack, who is the wife of actor Jeremy Irons and the daughter of legendary performer Cyril Cusack, is fantastic especially with her constant shocked and perplexed expressions, which makes the movie consistently amusing. Sellers is excellent as well in his one and only serious turn. Initially he had wanted to give it his patented comical touch and using an Austrian accent, but Rakoff convinced him to play it straight and the result is a surprisingly dark, creepy performance, which made me believe he had untapped potential to being a memorable film villain had he wanted to be.

Spoiler Alert!

My grievances involve the character motivations which are poorly fleshed-out. Initially I thought Hoffman was blackmailing Janet over some wrongdoing she had done and was desperately trying to cover-up, but instead it was a crime committed by her fiancée Tom that Hoffman became aware of. If this was the case then why didn’t she alert Tom about what Hoffman knew? If she’s going to be marrying him then she should want to let him know if someone like Hoffman has it in for him. The two could’ve conspired a defensive strategy against Hoffman in an effort to turn-the-tables, but in any case there was no rational reason why she should keep it a secret. Again, if it was something she personally did that could’ve made her look bad in Tom’s eyes I could understand, but this other scenario just doesn’t make much sense.

Having her end up rejecting Tom and going back to Hoffman and becoming his girlfriend was equally ridiculous. It becomes quite obvious that Tom was not right for her, so dumping him was fine, but she didn’t have much in common with Hoffman either. The way he manipulated her should’ve been a red flag and unless there’s some weird quirk with her character that never gets explained the eventual love angle twist is pretty stupid and ultimately makes this film, despite the great acting, a rather pointless experience.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 16, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 53 Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Alvin Rakoff

Studio: Anglo-EMI Distributors

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

There’s a Girl in My Soup (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Playboy falls for hippie.

Robert (Peter Sellers) is a dashing playboy who enjoys having random sexual encounters with women, even having sex with a bride on her wedding day. Despite being in his 40’s he shows no signs of wanting to settle down and get married. Then he meets Marion (Goldie Hawn) a groupie for a rock band who finds out that its lead singer Jimmy (Nicky Henson) has been unfaithful to her. With nowhere else to go she lets Robert pick her up and take her back to his pad where he tries to seduce her, but without much luck.

Although the stageplay for which this film is based did quite well its translation to the screen leaves much to be desired.  Despite director Ray Boulting’s efforts to liven up the scenery by placing several scenes in exotic locales while also sprucing up Robert’s place by inserting his bathroom to have all mirrors in it that cover both the walls and ceiling, the film still ends up coming off like a filmed stageplay that lacks both energy and action. Even the dialogue, that usually helps  keep other plays that have evolved onto the big screen, lacks bite and becomes as stale as the rest of the proceedings.

The relationship is only funny when Marion rebuffs Robert’s advances and openly tells him how unsexy he really is, but when she foolishly ignores her better judgement and starts falling for the cad is when the whole thing goes downhill. There’s also confusion for why Robert, who openly enjoyed his single life and sleeping around with various beautiful women, which he seemed to have no trouble getting, would suddenly fall for a young woman that he didn’t have much in common with. For a relationship to begin both sides have to initially be looking for one and there is absolutely no hint that is what Robert wanted, so what about Marion got him to suddenly change his mind?

Sellers is okay although critics at the time complained that his performance was ‘lifeless’, which it is, but he makes up for it with his Cheshire cat grin. The role though doesn’t allow him to be inventive, or put on many of his different accents or personas, which he is so well known for. The character and situation are also too similar to the one that he played  in I Love You Alice B. Toklas, which he did just two years earlier.

Hawn is great and I enjoyed seeing her playing a snarky woman instead of the spacey blonde that she usually does, you even get a nice shot of her naked backside, but her character is too similar to one that she did in Butterflies are Free. In fact the two people that come-off best here are not the stars at all, but instead John Comer and Diana Dors as a middle-aged, bickering couple who should’ve been given more screen time.

Overall there’s just not enough laughs here to make sitting through it worth it. The plot has no point and the characters don’t grow or evolve making it a waste of time for its two leads whose talents are above this type of material.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 15, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Ray Boulting

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Where Does It Hurt? (1972)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Corruption at a hospital.

It’s funny how names like Ed Wood Jr. or Tommy Wiseau get mentioned in just about anyone’s list of bad movie director’s, but Rod Amateau’s never does, but should. Not only did he produce ‘My Mother the Car’ and ‘Supertrain’, which are considered two of the worst TV-series ever to be broadcast, but he also directed the notorious Garbage Pail Kids as well as Son of Hitler and The Statue, which featured a jealous David Niven going around the bathrooms and gay bathhouses of London looking for a man whose penis matches the one that his wife created for a life-sized statue that she says replicates her lovers.

While this film isn’t quite as bad as those it comes close. It stars Peter Sellers who was at a career nadir due to financial mismanagement and willing to take on any low budget job offer he was given. Here he plays the corrupt head of a hospital that uses an array of schemes to bilk patients and insurance companies out of thousands of dollars. Rick Lenz plays a patient who becomes aware of the shenanigans going on and tries to bring Sellers and his staff down, but finds that they seem to have a trick up their proverbial sleeves at every turn.

The film manages to have a few amusing moments, but comes off more like a gag reel than a story. The characters are exaggerated and unlikable. We are supposed to side with Lenz and his predicament, but he so stupidly allows the doctors to take advantage of him at the beginning that it becomes hard to. The whole thing gets sillier by the second until by the end it’s completely inane. It also makes light of some serious issues that were handled better in Paddy Chayefsky’s The Hospital, which came out just 8 months before this one.

To some degree it’s fun seeing Sellers, who was noted for his wide range of dialects, taking a stab at an American accent and he almost pulls it off except for a few moments including the one where he pronounces orifice as AW-ifice.

The supporting cast made up of lesser known talents proves to be game here. Pat Morita, still years away from his breakout role in The Karate Kid, is genuinely amusing as a lab tech with an inferiority complex and at one point even speaks in a British accent. Harold Gould is good as an incompetent Dr. and J. Edward McKinley, best known for his many appearances on ‘Bewitched’ as one of McMahon and Tate’s primary clients, is funny as the Hospital commissioner who relentlessly tries to nab Sellers and eventually after repeated missed opportunities is able to.

In better hands this might’ve had a chance, but the low budget, irritating country music soundtrack and cheap jokes pretty much sink this thing before it even has a chance to get started.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: September 29, 1972

Runtime: 1Hour 28Minutes

Rated R

Director: Rod Amateau

Studio: Cinerama Releasing Corporation

Available: None at this time.

Woman Times Seven (1967)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Gotta love Shirley MacLaine.

Much like with Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow Vittorio De Sica directs a collage of stories all centering on a different female character and all played by the same actress this time being Shirley MacLaine who is fabulous. In fact she is so good that her famous male co-stars get badly upstaged and their presence almost becomes transparent.

The first story is entitled ‘Funeral Procession’ and deals with MacLaine playing the character of Paulette who is grieving over the recent death of her husband. As they are walking behind the hearse that is carrying her husband to his gravesite her friend Jean (Peter Sellers) uses this moment to proposition her for a weekend of sex and fun at an isolated getaway. The irony in this one is amusing and De Sica makes great use of nuance particularly the way everyone tries to avoid the messy puddles they come upon during the procession.

‘Amateur Night’ is the second segment and this one deals with Maria Theresa (MacLaine) coming home early from a vacation only to find her husband Giorgio (Rossano Brazzi) in bed with her best friend. She becomes so upset that she runs out of the house and into a group of prostitutes who lend a sympathetic ear as well as concocting some revenge. The interplay of the prostitutes is quite amusing and I loved watching all the different items that she throws at Giorgio during her rage, but the final payoff on this one could have been better.

MacLaine plays Linda in the third segment, which is entitled ‘Two Against One’. This is where she takes two competing suitors (Vittorio Gassman, Clinton Greyn) up to her apartment and reads them poems while she is completely naked. This segment is a bit forced and the attempts at satirizing the artsy-fartsy crowd is strained, but the creative ways De Sica cover-ups MacLaine’s otherwise naked body, so the viewer never sees anything explicit is amusing.

‘Super Simone’ makes up the fourth story and deals with Edith (MacLaine) becoming jealous because her writer husband Rik (Lex Barker) seems more infatuated with the female character in the book that he is writing than with her. Her wild attempts to get his attention backfires as he starts to think that she is going insane and even brings in a psychiatrist (Robert Morley) to take her away. The story here is slightly contrived, but MacLaine with a short bob haircut is adorable and the foot chase at the end along some apartment rooftops is visually engaging.

MacLaine gives an hilarious over-the-top performance in the fifth segment entitled ‘At the Opera’ dealing with a rich woman who becomes enraged when she finds out that another woman will be wearing the same dress that she will to an exclusive opera. The satirical jabs at the rich are on-target, but it loses steam at the end.

The weakest segment of them all that is barely even funny is the sixth one entitled ‘Suicides’. This is where a young couple (MacLaine, Alan Arkin) decide to commit suicide as a form of vague political protest, but then both chicken out at the end.

The seventh and final segment is entitled ‘Snow’ and deals with a married woman who becomes intrigued by a handsome stranger (Michael Caine) who follows her around the city streets, but who may not be who he seems. Most of the time movies like these have the final story be a strong one, but this one is strangely subdued making the film end with a whimper instead of the bang that it should. This segment is also novel because Caine barely even utters one word of dialogue and becomes completely wasted in the process.

Overall this is fun lightweight entertainment with a great chance to see MacLaine’s wide acting ability and different hairstyles and looks.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released:  June 27, 1967

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Vittorio De Sica

Studio: Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, Netflix Streaming