July 2020 marks 40 years since the death of the brilliant actor and comedian Peter Sellers (1925-1980) and the UW Cinematheque's free series of view-at-home movies continues this week with a pair of movies to watch at home that we have packaged as "Peter Sellers: Lost and Found." The selections include a new documentary from veteran director Peter Medak, The Ghost of Peter Sellers, and a new restoration of the one feature film that Peter Sellers directed, 1961’s Mr. Topaze (aka I Like Money).
THE GHOST OF PETER SELLERS (UK, 2018, 93 min.) Director Peter Medak’s documentary chronicles the disastrous production and aftermath of Ghost in the Noonday Sun (1973), a pirate comedy set in the 17th Century directed by Medak and starring Peter Sellers. Fresh off the success of his cult comedy classic The Ruling Class, Medak was recruited by Sellers to helm the big screen adaptation of a children's book, a project that would also reunite Sellers with his former Goon Show compatriot Spike Milligan. Sellers arrived on the set in Cyprus depressed from his recent breakup with Liza Minnelli and things only went downhill from there. Sellers lost confidence with the film immediately and tried to sabotage it, firing producers and other crew members before turning on co-star Anthony Franciosa and, eventually, the young director Medak. Attempting to heal old wounds and end his persistent sense of personal guilt over the film's failure, Medak, after 43 years, speaks with surviving cast members and others involved with the production. Filled with clips from Ghost in the Noonday Sun, which was never given a theatrical release, and other vintage footage of Sellers, The Ghost of Peter Sellers is a fascinating depiction of a movie's unmaking.
MR. TOPAZE (I LIKE MONEY, UK, 1961, 97 min.) In this adaptation of a play by Marcel Pagnol, Peter Sellers plays Albert Topaze, a poor but proud French schoolmaster who, unwilling to sacrifice his principles, loses his job after he refuses to alter the failing grades of one of students. Seizing the opportunity to exploit his well-known honesty, actress Suzy Courtois (Nadia Gray) convinces her lover, the corrupt city council member Castel Benac (frequent Sellers co-star Herbert Lom), to hire Topaze as a managing director for one of his shady businesses. But when Topaze learns he is being used, he cunningly turns the tables on Benac. The only feature film ever directed by Sellers, Mr. Topaze also features the actor at his inimitable, physical best, playing opposite a stellar supporting cast that includes the aforementioned Gray and Lom, plus Leo McKern, Billie Whitelaw and Michael Gough. Impossible to see for decades outside of the few surviving prints held at the British Film Institute's National Archives, Mr. Topaze has been digitally restored and color corrected by the BFI and can now be discovered by Sellers fans.
The Cinematheque has a limited number of opportunities to view both The Ghost of Peter Sellers and Mr. Topaze at home for free. To receive access, simply send an email to email@example.com that contains the word SELLERS in the subject line.
And, on a new episode of our Cinematalk podcast, Cinematheque Programmers Ben Reiser and Jim Healy discuss The Ghost of Peter Sellers, Mr. Topaze, and several other Peter Sellers movies. Scroll below to listen or subscribe and listen through Apple Podcasts.