I thought it was a statue

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Maybe the reason for all those damn EFFIGIES in TRAIL and particularly CURSE OF THE PINK PANTHER can be found in this extract from Peter Sellers by Michael Starr, which I found quoted in A Splurch in the Kisser: the Movies of Blake Edwards by Sam Wasson (good book). Blake Edwards recounts his last “meeting” with Sellers. After blanking Edwards at a night club, Sellers quarrels with his wife and leaves ~

About half an hour later my son came in-he was meeting us there-he sat down and said, “Dad, I just saw Peter Sellers.” And I said, “Yeah,” and he said, “He’s standing across the street. I thought it was a statue.”

And I said, “You’re kidding. It’s snowing out there!” He said, “Yes, he looks like a snowman, it’s the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen!”

I thought, “Well, it’s Christmas, and it’s crazy, at least for me, to play the game of not speaking or talking. In spite of the problems, there were good times too.” So I excused myself to Julie and said,” I’m going to go over and say something to him.”

I walked out, and it was spooky-he had a coat on, but he was just standing there. lme.an it was snowing heavily, and he was covered with snow, he hadn’t moved, it was like he was catatonic. So I walked across the street to him, and I walked up to him, and he acted at least like he hadn’t seen me coming or he.ard me. And I said, ” Peter,” and he was just standing there, and he kind of snapped out of it, and he looked, and he saw it was me, and he didn ‘t know quite what to do with it. I said, “Peter, go home or get inside. You’re going to catch cold.” And I kissed him on the cheeks and said, “Merry Christmas” and walked back into the place. And as I walked through the door, I looked back, and he was still standing there. That’s the last time I ever saw him.

Hence all those creepy waxworks, statues, dummies.

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The other recurring image is of Clouseau, the Panther, or someone else as an empty suit of clothes, opening onto blackness (example: the Panther, dressed as Clouseau, flashes the camera at the end of TRAIL, but exposes only a yawning existential abyss, instead of the more appropriate cock and balls. The camera plunges into the velvety blackness and the credits roll.) This I associate with Sellers catchphrase, used regularly on chat shows, I used to have a personality, but I had it surgically removed.” The depressive and obsessive Edwards seems to fear this is true of him, too, and that he’s merging with Sellers. And, obviously, in the wake of Sellers’ death and in the light of Edwards’ advancing years, the blackness is also Death.

“I know that.”

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10 Responses to “I thought it was a statue”

  1. When you think of all the filmmakers forced to finish a film after the death of an actor, a truly horrible task… Edwards may be the only filmmaker ever to voluntarily take on such a job even when there was no necessity. Apart from Ed Wood, maybe, who had shot so little footage of Bela Lugosi that there was no pressing need to use it.

  2. Henry Daniell dropped dead on the set right after completing the take of his scene in My Fair Lady A real pro.

  3. I think this might be the final scene of the Geoffrey Rush film. He’s dressed as Chancey Gardner. I thought it was made up. A lot of that film is made up.

  4. Wow, the Daniell story is apt for such a reliable old stager.

    Richard Lester, on hearing of Sellers’ erratic behaviour, recast the underwater vicar in Bed Sitting Room. “It’s not worth it, even for a day.” But he had a pleasant chat with Sellers while waiting for Concorde, shortly before the latter’s death, and their friendship was restored. A less melancholy, less strange final encounter than Edwards’.

    Of course the Edwards story MIGHT be made up, but if so it was made up by Edwards. He doesn’t say anything about a Chauncey Gardner get-up, though.

  5. “The depressive and obsessive Edwards seems to fear this is true of him, too, and that he’s merging with Sellers.”

    Ah, so Edwards wrote himself into the Pink Panther movies in the form of Herbert Lom’s Dreyfus, driven mad not so much because of Clouseau’s bungling or even his indestructibility but because at heart Dreyfus suspects that he himself is a Clouseau, a blunderer with delusions of competence.

  6. I always thought the removal joke originated on the Muppet Show. Kermit tries to assure guest star Sellers he can relax and be himself, and Sellers — outfitted with Viking helmet and boxing gloves — confides he had his self surgically removed.

  7. Mono: yes. As Chuck Jones said he dreams of being Bugs Bunny, only to awaken as Daffy Duck, Edwards consciously had the Panther modelled on him, but subconsciously projected himself into both Clouseau and Dreyfus.

    I’m not sure if Sellers originated the personality line or filched it from the Muppets script. It’s true that many of his “improvisations” (“Quick, nurse, the screens!” and “It’s hell in there!”) were derived from The Goon Show. The amazing bit is he can get away with having Clouseau say things he wouldn’t say. Clouseau, after all, has no visible sense of humour.

  8. Edwards as Dreyfus is an interesting projection, especially when you look at “Son of the Pink Panther.” There, if memory serves, Dreyfus first appears as an almost boringly sane and competent cop, long past the madness imposed by Clouseau. He falls in love with and ultimately marries a woman who makes him stepfather to TWO bastard (?) Clouseaus.

    You could argue it’s the story of a man seduced into association with a maddening fool. For Edwards and Sellers, a couple of one-time hitmakers suffering through dry years, it was the money that kept them married to Clouseau.

    One other peculiar relic of the relationship: After Sellers’s death, Edwards did a television “tribute” to Sellers/Clouseau that not only included the obligatory clips and outtakes, but Julie Andrews and Robert Preston doing a song from “Victor/Victoria” and I think Dudley Moore performing a piano piece. It edged uncomfortably close to a Blake Edwards tribute.

  9. The IMDb has no record of that, though his last credits are TV works with Andrews.

    Edwards is Dreyfus, and also the Panther. Sellers is Clouseau and Clouseau is Sellers. It’s like the bit with the two thieves in gorilla costumes in the first Panther film.

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