The Ghost Of Peter Sellers

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Ghost Of Peter Sellers
"A must-see warning for all would-be filmmakers."

In 1973, five years after his last Pink Panther film and nine years after Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb, Peter Sellers was set to appear alongside Anthony Franciosa and Spike Milligan in a piratical romp entitled Ghost In The Noonday Sun. If you haven't seen it, don't fear that you're slacking. It never got a cinema release, eventually making it onto video in 1985 and DVD in 2016. Director Peter Medak described making it as the single worst experience of his career. In this documentary, revisiting the Cyprus location, he sets out to explain why.

It's worth stating upfront that there isn't much dispute about the facts of what happened. What was always at stake was the distribution of blame. As far as Sellers was concerned, that all belonged to Medak - who was ultimately left to carry the can - but others involved in the production reportedly saw it differently. We don't hear from many of them here, in what is mostly one man's narrative but a compelling one nonetheless, brought to life by the locations and clips (including behind-the-scenes material) from the film. We do hear from Sellers' agent, who agrees that he was not the easiest man to work with at the time.

The problems seem to have begun with Sellers' break-up with Liza Minelli, one of a series of partners around whom he had hastily built his whole world - yet it's clear that there were deeper issues. Not only does he appear to have gone out of his way to sabotage the production, but he doesn't seem to have been fully cognisant of the inappropriateness of his behaviour, nor to have understood how others might subsequently feel about it. Behaviour that might have seen him referred for therapy or offered medication today was , in those days, seen as a simple eccentric side effect of genius - probably to his detriment as much as much as anyone else's.

Nightmarish though the experience doubtless was at the time, there's no denying that some of what he got up to was also uproariously funny, and all the more so when Milligan got involved - a man Sellers trusted, perhaps a little too much, to stand by him no matter what and to be able to salvage pretty much anything. By way of example, Medak describes an incident when he arrived on set to find that Milligan had dressed up all the other members of the cast and taught them to answer in his voice when called, so that the exhausted director was actually unable to find his star. There's some great surviving footage of a chorus line of Milligans dancing on the sand. The film is peppered with great stories like this, each more outrageous than the last.

Whilst Ghost In The Noonday Sun may never have been destined to make it - and several of those involved have described the result as unwatchable - The Ghost Of Peter Sellers is replete with the magic it might have had. Whimsical and agonised, tragic and hilarious, it's a must-see warning for all would-be filmmakers and a poignant portrait of a moment in film history. Perhaps the strongest impression it leaves, paradoxically, is of the love that existed between these apparent enemies.

Reviewed on: 20 Jun 2020
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The Ghost Of Peter Sellers packshot
In 1973, director-on-the-rise Peter Medak nabbed notoriously difficult comic genius and box-office star Peter Sellers for his new pirate comedy, Ghost In The Noonday Sun. Sellers immediately began sabotaging the film.

Director: Peter Medak

Year: 2018

Runtime: 93 minutes

Country: US


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