The Magnificent Seven Deadly Sins 1971 ***

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British comedy is well represented in Graham Stark’s debut film as director, a portmanteau of comedy sketches which fuse the old-school comedy of the early sixties with the surreal edge of the late sixties; it’s not exactly consistent, but it is interesting because of the talent involved. Original Goons Spike Milligan and Harry Secombe are here, although working separately, Monty Python’s Graham Chapman contributes two sketches, but with Barry Cryer as his writing partner rather than John Cleese, and there’s three Bond girls to add glamour. Add cod-Python animated inserts, plus a role call of comedy names from Bruce Forsyth to Leslie Phillips, and you’ve got an interesting evening viewing, even if there’s precious few actual laughs.

Starting with the good stuff, Spike Milligan’s brand of humour did not translate to the big screen in the way that fellow Goon Peter Sellers did; The Great McGonagall, Puckoon and The Bed Sitting Room are all hard going and for completists only. But his short on the subject of Sloth is pretty good, and has the crazy energy of his written successes; it’s really just a series of silent jokes, with director Graham Stark in a bathtub, lots of discussion of walnuts, and a genuine anarchic tone. It’s worth seeking out, even if the rest of the sins leave you cold.

Elsewhere, there’s Harry Secombe in blackface, which is something of a low-point in a silly story about house Envy, while for Lust, Harry H Corbett does a strange melancholy routine about trying to chat up ‘dolly birds’ in subway stations; Marty Feldman is a credited writer here. And say what you want about Bruce Forsyth’s efforts to rescue a 50p coin from a drain in the Avarice sketch, it’s a sketch that sticks in your mind despite being, well, not particularly funny.

With Bob Guccione, Roy Hudd, Ronnie Barker, June Whitfield, Julie Ege, Ian Carmichael, Alfie Bass, Bill Pertwee and more making appearances, The Magnificent Seven Deadly Sins should have been a comedy monument; instead, it’s an oddity, but one that’s fun in terms of spotting cameos and reflecting on a way of life in 1971 that seems like a long time ago; the 5p Subway-ticket vending machines and the tiny packets of crisps may interest future cultural anthropologists.

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.