The Ghost of Peter Sellers 2019 ****

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Peter Medak went to hell and back on the 1973 comedy Ghosts of the Noonday Sun, a film from the worst period of it’s errant star, Peter Sellers. Sellers graduated through some awesome comedy work on radio via The Goon Show to international film-stardom via The Pink Panther franchise. The attention went to his head, and his early 1970’s vehicles would test the patience of anyone; watching The Great McGonagall or Soft Beds, Hard Battles is agonising, because the star is clearly a comic genius, but the films are pitifully unfunny. Medak’s 2019 reflection on working with Sellers is, however, something of a joy to watch, because the director is able to conjure a complete, warts and even more warts portrait of their working relationship. With sparing use of clips from the original film, which is available elsewhere, Medak details some truly awful behaviour on set; notably faking a heart-attack to skip back to London and have dinner with Princess Margaret while the entire crew waited anxiously for news of his condition. Medak also manages to put together some additional detail that’s telling; a cigarette commercial featuring Spike Milligan is something of a gem, and reveals the rich vein of anarchic humour that both men aspired to. Films about film-making are often vain-glorious affairs, but The Ghost of Peter Sellers is one of the best because it’s so painfully honest; to rephrase Billy Wilder’s aphorism, they film-makers start out wanting to make a great film, and by halfway, were delighted to think they’d have any kind of film at all. Medak may have failed to rein in Sellers’ antics in 1972, but he gets the last laugh here.

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