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S Entries
Carl Sagan
Archie Savage
William Schallert
Roy Scheider
Thelma Schnee
Arnold Schwarzenegger
Peter Sellers
Lorenzo Semple, Jr.
Rod Serling
William Shatner
M. Night Shyamalan
Curt Siodmak
Jack Smight
Jerry Sohl
Steven Spielberg
Ringo Starr
Warren Stevens
Robert Stevenson
Patrick Stewart
Glenn Strange
Theodore Sturgeon
 
SELLERS, PETER
(Richard Henry Sellers 1925–1980). British actor.

SCIENCE FICTION, FANTASY, AND HORROR FILM CREDITS
Acted in: Tom Thumb (Ladislas Foder 1958); The Mouse That Roared (Jack ARNOLD 1959); The Road to Hong Kong (Norman Panama 1962); Heavens Above (John Boulting and Ray Boulting 1963); The Pink Panther (Blake Edwards 1963); Dr. Strangelove, Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (Stanley KUBRICK 1964); A Shot in the Dark (Edwards 1964); Carol for Another Christmas (tv movie) (Joseph Mankiewicz 1964); Casino Royale (and co-wrote, uncredited, with Wolf Mankowitz, John Law, Michael Sayers, Billy Wilder, John Huston, Val GUEST, Joseph Heller, and Terry Southern) (Huston, Ken Hughes, Guest, Robert Parrish, and Joseph McGrath 1967); Alice in Wonderland (tv movie) (Jonathan Miller 1967); The Magic Christian (and co-wrote with Southern, McGrath, Graham Chapman, and John Cleese) (McGrath 1969); Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (William Sterling 1972); Ghost in the Noonday Sun (Peter Medak 1973); Return of the Pink Panther (Edwards 1974); The Pink Panther Strikes Again (Edwards 1976); The Prisoner of Zenda (Richard QUINE 1978); Revenge of the Pink Panther (Edwards 1978); Being There (Hal Ashby 1979); The Fiendish Plot of Fu Manchu (Piers Haggard 1980); Trail of the Pink Panther (Edwards 1982).
 
To understand the three Peter Sellers, one only needs to observe his three roles in Dr. Strangelove. As Captain Lionel Mandrake, he is the archetypal, hard-working British comedian in the Goon Show tradition, epitomizing both the lively energy and eventual tedium of the species, amply prepared for the endless pratfalls and double entendres of the Pink Panther movies. As Dr. Strangelove, he is the unrestrained, anything-for-a-laugh shtick-meister on display in the eclectic would-be romps of the 1960s that failed to establish him as a major star. As President Merkin Muffley, he is the controlled, understated, and brilliant comic presence that surely led to the inspired decision to cast him in Being There, his most remarkable screen appearance. It is unfortunate that we did not observe the third Peter Sellers more often.

He first honed his comedic skills in a series of black-and-white British comedies that rarely crossed the Atlantic and are rarely remembered today. But he attracted international attention for his three roles in the farcical The Mouse That Roared, including an amusing turn as the queen of the nation that declares war on the United States that anticipated his equally effective Queen Victoria in The Great McGonagall (1975). (Why do American actors like Dustin Hoffman and Robin WILLIAMS garner such critical acclaim for clumsy performances in drag, while so many British actors repeatedly and skillfully portray women simply as part of their standard repertoire?) After a cameo appearance in the disappointing The Road to Hong Kong, he scored his first big hit as the bumbling Inspector Clouseau in The Pink Panther, launching a series of spy spoofs that, like others, sometimes ventured into science-fictional territory. The film and its immediate sequel, A Shot in the Dark, were reasonably entertaining, but Sellers soon abandoned the role for what he imagined were bigger and better things.

Surveying Sellers's major films of the 1960s—such as The World of Henry Orient (1964), What's New, Pussycat? (1965), Casino Royale, The Bobo (1967), The Party (1968), I Love You, Alice B. Toklas (1968), and The Magic Christian—is rather like slowing down on the freeway to look at a car wreck, but there are memorable moments for discerning viewers. While watching the overrated Dr. Strangelove, ignore his routine Mandrake and over-the-top Strangelove and pay attention to his Muffley, especially his delivery of the film's most amusing line, "You can't fight here. This is the War Room." In the incoherent and inane Casino Royale, Sellers was the James Bond chosen to play the casino scene (opposite Orson Welles) that represented the film's only link to Ian Fleming's novel, and he did so with calm confidence, bringing the unexpected revelation that Sellers could have played Bond just as well as George Lazenby or Roger MOORE, if not Sean CONNERY or Pierce BROSNAN. And I harbor a special fondness for The Magic Christian, not because it is significantly better than Sellers's other efforts of the 1960s, but because, perhaps influenced by the company of the unambitious Ringo STARR, Sellers for once seemed content to relax and let a bad film be a bad film instead of endeavoring to avoid disaster through frenetic overexertion, only to make matters worse.

Unfortunately, frenetic overexertion in response to awful material generally characterized Sellers's first decade as a movie star, bringing an inevitable decline reportedly aided and abetted by heavy drug use. But he recovered his stature by returning to the Clouseau character in three more films (and a final, posthumous Clouseau film constructed from outtakes), interspersed with inferior comedies like The Prisoner of Zenda and The Fiendish Plot of Fu Manchu. Long after anyone had any reason to look forward to a Peter Sellers film, he surprised everyone with his subdued, touching performance in Being There as a man with no real convictions of his own who dazzles the world with simple wisdom derived solely from years of watching television. It was a part that may have meant something to Sellers, an actor famous for employing superficial mannerisms to play multiple roles but seldom required to probe introspectively into his own life in order to accomplish some genuine acting. His career, ended prematurely by a heart attack, suggests that science fiction may best combine not with raucous farce (as in Dr. Strangelove or, say, Mel BROOKS's Spaceballs), but with a quiet, ironic sort of comedy that Sellers could do very well, whenever anyone happened to ask.

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