Entertainment :: Movies

Peter Sellers: 5-Film Collection

by Kilian Melloy
Sunday Feb 1, 2009
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Peter Sellers: 5-Film Collection is essentially a re-release of 2003’s "Peter Sellers Collection" DVD set, except that where the first set offered six films, the new release drops a title, "Hoffman."

The other five titles from the first collection are all present and accounted for. But don’t expect them to the Peter Sellers movies you may be most familiar with: there are no "Pink Panther" films here, and no "Shot in the Dark," "The Mouse that Roared," ""Lolita," "Hello, Pussycat," "Being There," or "Dr. Strangelove."

Arguably, what you get here... is better.

These early films, from the late 1950s and early 1960s, are all black and white, and most of them are broad satire taking on British colonialism ("Carlton-Browne of the F.O."), capitalism ("I’m All Right Jack"), religion ("Heavens Above!") and the penal system ("Two-Way Stretch").

In most of these films, Sellers plays supporting roles, and not that of the bumbling anti-hero, as he did in his later films (that role is left in these films to the likes of Ian Carmichael and Terry-Thomas). In many ways, the Sellers you see here is a rough draft for later roles: his cheerful priest in "Heavens Above!" is much different from Chance in "Being There," but you can easily imagine a trajectory between the two; "Carlton-Browne of the F.O." plays like a direct ancestor to "The Mouse That Roared."

Sellers has been pigeonholed, to an extent, as the hilariously foolish, indestructible Inspector Clouseau in the "Pink Panther" movies, and that’s too bad. These five films offer a correction to that image: Sellers had a terrific gift for character, and he plays a range here, from an aging alcoholic in the comedy "The Smallest Show on Earth" to the slick and charismatic crook in "Two-Way Stretch," to a befuddled, socialist-leaning shop steward confronted by a naive and terrifyingly inept fellow named Windrush in the razor-sharp satire "I’m All Right Jack."

These movies are gems (some more brightly polished than others, but all worth your time) that should never have been forgotten (though, in fairness, they were "regional" films that probably didn’t get much of an international release to begin with).

The transfers are all good, though they don’t seem to have been remastered; the sound mixes are not quite so good, however: these sound like old movies. Moreover, it’s a shame that there are no proper special features. All in all, you might prefer to buy the 2003 release.

But this 5-film collection will certainly do. Except for "Hoffman" having been dropped from this veritable re-issue, and the lack of special features (all the discs offer the same text-only biographical feature on Sellers), this DVD set will serve to fill a gap in any Sellers fan’s video library.

Special Feature:
"Peter Sellers Biography"

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network’s Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association’s Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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