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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The Peter Sellers Collection
The Peter Sellers Collection
Starz / Anchor Bay // Unrated // January 21, 2003
List Price: $89.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Holly E. Ordway | posted February 23, 2003 | E-mail the Author
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The movie

When Anchor Bay decided to put together a boxed Peter Sellers set, they didn't skimp: The Peter Sellers Collection contains a total of six films that offer a sampling of Sellers' work from 1958 to 1970. The films included here do a great job of showcasing the talents of the gifted British comic actor, with Sellers playing everything from a seasoned con man to a shy, elderly film projectionist. His celebrated talent for mimicry is apparent in the complete believability that he brings to each of his characters, who are strikingly different from each other while still having a certain inimitable "Sellers" quality.

Taken in chronological order, the first film in the set is 1957's The Smallest Show on Earth: the light-hearted, charming story of a young couple who have just inherited a movie theater... only to find that the "Kinema" is locally known as the "Flea Pit" and is hardly worth the land it's built on. Various complications ensue as the couple try to make the best of it, with the resulting story being well structured and very entertaining. The film is well paced, with each section of the story just long enough before moving on to the next. Sellers has a small but memorable role as Percy Quill, one of the three elderly staff still remaining at the theater.

The next film is the 1958 Carlton-Browne of the F.O., which is exclusive to the boxed set. I can see why it hasn't been released on its own, as it's actually one of the weakest in this collection. Sellers plays a minor role here as the shady prime minister of Gaillardia, a forgotten former colony of the British Empire, in this odd satire of imperialism and politics. It seems to be trying for a plot that's a maze of humorous complexity, and it does have some mildly funny parts, but it never really comes together.

I'm All Right Jack (1959) has Sellers in a larger but still secondary role, as a well-meaning labor leader in this ironic treatment of the working life, from the "executive" track to the working-class level. Ian Carmichael, whom I recognized from his later role as Lord Peter Wimsey in the classic mysteries, does a great job as the goggling, good-natured but rather dim Stanley Windrush. The film is perhaps a bit longer than necessary, but on the whole it's very entertaining, and it shows off a whimsical sense of humor along with its satire.

1960's Two-Way Stretch is possibly the best of the set, a very fun and funny movie that shows off Sellers in a main role as "Dodger" Lane, which he takes on perfectly. It's a humorous parody of prison movies and prison life, mixing "Great Escape" elements with a story of the perfect heist. But of course, things don't quite go as planned... The film hops right along at a brisk pace, and takes the viewer along for a very entertaining ride.

The next film in the set is the 1963 Heavens Above!, another fun and well done movie. Heavens Above! is a very interesting satire because, like I'm All Right Jack, it takes on both sides at once. At first it seems like the film is satirizing hypocrisy, with its portraits of people who claim to be Christian but can't be bothered to follow any of the tenets of their faith. But when Sellers' character of the innocent and idealistic vicar Smallwood comes into the picture, we also get a biting satire of blind religious faith and idealism, the kind that tackles societal problems with complete assurance but with no consideration of the complexities of real life. It's a movie that equally skewers cynicism and naiviete, pointing out that human beings are falliable and human society is a bit of a muddle. Sellers handles the role of Smallwood with complete assurance; you'd hardly believe that this is the same actor who portrayed Dodger Lane or Percy Quill.

The final film in the set is Hoffman, a 1970 production that gives Sellers a mainly dramatic role rather than the comic parts in the other films. Here, Sellers plays Mr. Hoffman, a lonely man who blackmails his secretary into spending a week with him. I found this to be the strangest and least successful of the six films in the collection, but I'd put the blame more on the peculiar script and story than on Sellers' performance. I didn't care for the exploitative premise, which seems to require that we be entertained by Miss Smith's obvious fear and discomfort, but even apart from that, I found the story to be clumsily handled in terms of dialogue, pacing, and exposition.

It's obvious that fans of Peter Sellers will be delighted by this set, but The Peter Sellers Collection also provides a great introduction for viewers who haven't seen many of his films.

The DVD

Video

Anchor Bay has done a superb job with the transfers of the films for the set, particularly the black and white ones. All six films are presented in their original 1.85:1 aspect ratios, and are anamorphically enhanced. I'm All Right Jack, The Smallest Show on Earth, Carlton-Browne of the F.O., Two-Way Stretch, and Heavens Above! all offer extremely good image quality. The black and white prints are clean, sharp, and detailed, with excellent contrast and shading. The only flaws that I noticed were a thin vertical line in the print in a few scenes in Carlton-Browne, and in Heavens Above! a very small touch of noise and a few vertical line flaws. But these are extremely minor nit-picks: these films look fantastic.

The one color film in the set, Hoffman, ironicallly has the worst image quality. Colors are slightly off, looking rather brownish, and contrast is less than satisfactory. The overall image is rather blurred as well, though it looks better in close-up shots. The image here is satisfactory, particularly since it's anamorphic widescreen as well, but it's just not in the same league as the pristine transfers of the black and white films.

Audio

All six films are presented with very well-balanced Dolby 2.0 mono tracks. Carlton-Browne of the F.O., The Smallest Show on Earth, Heavens Above! and Hoffman all have excellent sound, with the audio track being crystal clear and very clean. I'm All Right Jack has a few moments in which the sound is not entirely clear, but it's satisfactory overall. Two-Way Stretch gets only adequate marks for audio quality, with a muffled quality to it that requires the volume to be boosted a fair amount to follow the dialogue; some of it is still less than clear even with the volume up. The soundtracks for all six films are clean and free of background noise or distortion, and certainly rank among the better older mono tracks I've heard.

Extras

The six films are individually packaged in keepcases, which are enclosed in a paper slipcase.

A trailer is included on Hoffman and I'm All Right Jack; apart from that, the same text biography of Peter Sellers is included on all six DVDs.

Final thoughts

I'd enjoyed a few Sellers movies before watching the The Peter Sellers Collection, but now I'm definitely a fan. The versatility and comic ability of this actor is nothing short of amazing, and the six movies in this set give a broad sampling of his performances. Four of the six are great; one is not great, but watchable; and only one just wasn't to my taste; all in all The Peter Sellers Collection is a winner. Especially considering the outstanding anamorphic transfers of the older black and white films, this set is recommended.

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