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Peter Sellers Collection, The

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
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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