Release year: 1979
Director: Hal Ashby
Screenwriter: Jerzy Kosinski, Jerzy Kosinski (novel)
Starring: Peter Sellers, Melvyn Douglas, Shirley MacLaine, Jack Warden, Richard Dysart, Richard Basehart, Ruth Attaway, David Clennon
Ratings: 1 Oscar: Best Support Actor (Melvyn Douglas). 1 Oscar nomination: Best Actor (Peter Sellers). 2 Golden Globes: Best Actor Comedy/Musical (Peter Sellers), Best Supporting Actor Comedy/Musical (Melvyn Douglas). 4 Golden Globes nominations: Best Comedy/Musical, Best Director, Best Actress Comedy/Musical (Shirley MacLaine), Best Screenplay. Cannes: Nominated for Palme d’Or.
After the old man whose garden he has attended to dies, the simple-minded Chance (Sellers) is forced to leave the only home he has ever known. With a luck that seems to follow him, he ends in the care of a wealthy man, who takes Chance’s simple garden advise as great knowledge.
Long before Forrest Gump, there was Chance. Simple-minded, but with not a bad bone in his body, Chance is endearing, kind and obliviously to the spectacle he creates around him. But things tend to work out to a degree where you start to see the beauty in the way Chance keeps his answers short and simple. Something even more admirable in today’s ‘look-at-me’ culture. The role was one of the very last of the great Sellers (The Pink Panther, 1963) and is by many considered his greatest role, earning him his third Oscar nomination but sadly no Oscar. His performance as Chance is a perfect showcase of how less is often more and as the movie itself, his performance is very quiet but incredibly engaging. Because, though the pace of the movie is rather slow instead of boring you it lulls you into quiet surrender. You simply feel entertained and comfortable around the well-played full-embodied characters of the movie. One that did win an Oscar for the movie was Douglas (Hud, 1963), whose performance shows a strong mind inside a weak body and who is great support to Sellers. But also MacLaine (Terms of Endearment, 1983) as his young wife and Dysart (The Thing, 1982) as his doctor are good while Warden (12 Angry Men, 1957) is a hoot as the President. But the movie stands and falls with Sellers ability to sell his kind idiot, and that he does with bravour. Everything in the movie seems to be double-layered. There is the story perceived by Chance and then there is the story perceived by everybody else. The duality makes you thing generally on the real world and the misunderstandings we constantly experience but it especially becomes important when we get to THAT ending. A much discussed ending that will leave you talking with fellow viewers afterwards and probably show you, how just as in the movie, we perceive information given to us in different ways.
Peter Sellers was nominated for the Oscar for Best Actor. Some said the reason Sellers lost was because of the outtakes at the very end of the movie as the credits are rolling. Sellers himself later said the outtakes “broke the spell” of the movie.
Peter Sellers prepared for the role of Chance by recording his voice over and over again, experimenting with different styles and tones. He chose a deliberately blank style to convey the character.
The mansion used in the movie was The Biltmore Mansion in Asheville, North Carolina.
Picture copyrights: Warner Home Video