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The Ghost of Peter Sellers (A Movie Review)

The Ghost of Peter Sellers


Featuring Peter Medak, Simon van der Borgh, John Heyman, Joe Dunne, Norma Farnes, Susan Wood, John Goldstone, David Korda, Ruth Myers, Joe McGrath, Victoria Sellers, Deke Heyward, Piers Haggard, Costas Evagorou, Murray Melvin, Clive Revill, Costas Demetriou, Tony Greenburch, Robert Wagner, Sanford Lieberson, Maggie Abbott, Rita Franciosa, Antony Rufus Isaacs, Danton Rissner, Denis Fraser, Michael Stevenson, Rita Thiel, Kostas Dimitriou, Robin Dalton, Tony Christodoulou, Lorenzo Berni, Rene Borisewitz, Tony Greenberg, Susan Wood and archival footage of Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan, Liza Minnelli and Tony Franciosa.

Directed by Peter Medak.

Distributed by 1091. 93 minutes. Not Rated.

It’s been 47 years since the filming of the infamous flop Ghost in the Noon Day Sun, starring Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan. Director Peter Medak has been grieving and moving through a guilt cycle ever since, perhaps even more so after Sellers death in 1980. After all, as the director, Medak was responsible for the production from soup to nuts. In The Ghost of Peter Sellers, Medak captures his attempt to reconcile regret and gain some closure, decades after making this “nightmare” of a film.

Ghost in the Noon Day Sun, hoped to be an unsinkable comedic hit, was doomed from day one of shooting, when the secondhand rehabbed pirate ship crashed into Cyprus’ rocky coast and began to sink. In retrospect, this is easily a sign of portent, if lead actor Peter Sellers’ break up with Liza Minelli before the script was finalized wasn’t enough of a harbinger of doom.

As Peter Medak paints the tale, hindsight portrays a laundry list of issues, one after another, each more horrifying than the next. Each is corroborated in interviews with the peripheral players – Peter Sellers’ agent, Spike Milligan’s agent, Tony Franciosa’s wife at the time of filming. Producer John Heyman was involved in the production and spoke these very chilling words: “The film never should have been made.”

Does this sound like a downer? It’s not.

It’s a jaw-dropping hash out of the untold 67 days of shooting as told by director Peter Medak – director of 28 films and 59 television shows – clearly not a novice film maker. And without question, a thorough record keeper of his own right.

So, why reopen his collection of letters – including Heyman’s letter at the end of week one telling Medak that he was in danger of being replaced if things didn’t shape up after complaints from the sabotaging Sellers?

Throughout The Ghost of Peter Sellers, Medak is asked the question of Why? Why now? Why look back on a period that is over and done? Why relive the pain?

His response does not come easily.

As a documentary, this film is pure cinematographic magic – filled with photo stills and rare footage from the filming of Ghost in the Noon Day Sun as well as other works in the accomplished cast and crew history. The music is captivating and a perfect match to the content. Altogether, the film captures the beauty and horror of a project doomed from the start. It was then left to die, leaving the cast and crew in its wake.

While the final piece was completed, it was killed before reaching the theaters. On a Google search, you can only purchase a DVD for a region unplayable by US machines. (There was a brief VHS release about a decade after the film was made, and later a brief DVD release, but both are long off the market.) On further search, there is a six-minute compilation of scenes on YouTube that highlights some of the better moments of this idiotic film.

In the end, Ghost in the Noon Day Sun was a hard-earned mess of a film, but The Ghost of Peter Sellers is a lovely finish to it all. I feel like Medak got the closure that he desired. As a viewer, I loved every painful minute of it.

Bonnie Paul

Copyright ©2020 All rights reserved. Posted: June 25, 2020.

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