Think Peter Sellers today and you’ll think Pink Panther, Dr Strangelove and just maybe The Party (in my view, his finest hour). But before those Hollywood roles, Sellers had made a name for himself and his character acting on the British circuit, appearing in a number of fondly-remembered movies, some of which are featured in the Peter Sellers Collection.
The package includes three features films – I’m Alright Jack, Heaven’s Above!, Only Two Can Play and a compilation of clips, The Very Best Of Peter Sellers. And as you’d expect, it’s something of a mixed bag.
The pick of the titles is definitely I’m Alright Jack, a Boulting Brothers satire against the unions and indeed the managing classes. The management want to make more money, the unions want to do the same – but without doing anymore work. When the naive Windrush is placed on the shopfloor by the management, they hope it will lead to a strike and a big arms deal. Instead, it leads to a strike and big problems for both sides.
It’s one of the British comedy greats, with a cast to match. Sellers is superb as the communist shop steward, Fred Kite. But the rest of the roll call is equally as good – Ian Carmichael, Terry Thomas (superb as the personnel manager), Richard Attenborough, Margaret Rutherford, John Le Mesurier, Irene Handl, Liz Fraser…the list is almost endless. A film everyone should see and indeed own.
It’s certainly a better film than the other Boulting Brothers movie here – Heaven’s Above! Another satire, but against whom, it’s hard to say – industry, upper classes, the working class, religion – just about everyone gets it. The tale revolves around Brummie cleric John Smallwood (Sellers), sent to a small country parish by mistake, but determined to make his mark against injustice. Unfortunately, his efforts merely bring out the greed of all in the area – and with so many vested interests at risk, Smallwood is cast as the villain for doing good.
It’s not a bad film at all – and again has an impressive cast, but goes on that bit too long. And the ridiculous ending doesn’t do it any favours either.
The final feature film here is Only Two Can Play, the movie version of the Kingsley Amis Novel That Uncertain Smile. The book is a great read, the movie seems a little shallow in comparison, but is still a fascinating film. Sellers this time does the Welsh accent to play John Lewis, a local librarian in a stagnant marriage, who finds his head turned by the wife of a wealthy businessman and councillor, entering into a brief affair that could benefit his career.
A more serious role for Sellers and perhaps a little risque for the day, these days it’s tame stuff – enjoyable, without being essential. The book, on the other hand, is well worth seeking out.
Rounding everything up is a compilation of Sellers moments. Promised to be a collection of his best TV work, it’s actually much the opposite, taking in the majority of Sellers’ better-known movie moments in brief snatches – in particular, the Pink Panther films. If you want to see Sellers’ versatility in action, watch this. And of course, it’s also very funny.
So overall, one essential purchase, two solid movies and a compilation of clips for around £25. Not bad value at all and certainly a great introduction to the work of Peter Sellers.