Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, April 26, 2012


Peter Sellers
BEING THERE (1979). Director: Hal Ashby.

"Nobody likes a dying man, Chance, because nobody knows what death is."

"You always gonna be a little boy, ain't ya?"

"It's a white man's world in America for sure" -- Louise, the black maid, after she sees Chance on TV. 

Based on a novel by Jerzy Kosinski, this is the story of the simple-minded gardener Chance (Peter Sellers), who has to move out of the house where he worked after his elderly employer dies. By chance -- no pun intended -- his is hit by a limo, injures his leg, and is taken in by the very wealthy Eve Rand (Shirley MacLaine) and her ill, much older husband, Ben (Melvyn Douglas) who is friends with the President (Jack Warden). Before long Chance is "advising" the leader of the free world on policy, even though he really has no idea what he's talking about and can only relate everything to a garden. Instead of recognizing that Chance is mentally challenged, everyone thinks he's the height of profundity and he winds up on TV and being toasted by the media and intelligentsia. In this variation of Hans Christian Anderson's "The Emperor's New Clothes" -- which essentially said the same thing with more economy -- Ashby skewers the stupidity and superficiality of the rich, powerful, political, and influential, although one has to suspend disbelief that no one he meets after leaving his home seems to get that Chance is, well, just plain stupid. Sellers is fine, although he isn't really given the opportunity to go wild as he does in the Inspector Clouseau films. MacLaine and Douglas are marvelous, and there are notable supporting performances from Jack Warden, Richard Dysart as Ben's doctor, and Ruth Attaway as the maid, Louise, among others. As for the ending -- everyone can make up their own mind what that's about.

Verdict: Absorbing and sadly amusing satire. ***.

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