Peter Sellers is perhaps best remembered for his umpteen appearances as Inspector Closeau in the “Pink Panther” franchise, but I’ll always have a fond place for him in my heart for “Being There.”
He has the role of a lifetime — and an Oscar nod — in Chance, a simple-minded gardener whose life is his work and watching television, partly because he has next to nothing in the departments of communication and social skills. As the film opens, he’ s thrown out into a big, scary world known as the streets of D.C. when the man he works for dies.
True to his name, a chance meeting with Eve (Shirley MacLaine) — her limo pins him while he’s entranced by store-window TVs — leads him to find a new home in her home, which she shares with her ailing but very powerful husband (Melvyn Douglas). The child-like Chance speaks through lines he learns from the boob tube, and these are misinterpreted as wise and piercing by his new friends and their circle of elite players.
Although primarily a comedian, Sellers aces a dramatic role here. He instantly earns our sympathy, which deepens for the entirety of Hal Ashby’s deeply touching film. Its final scene is particularly haunting, flooring me every time.
This new “Deluxe Edition” offers a tidy, 15-minute documentary that sheds some light on how that ending came to be, according to Douglas’ granddaughter, actress Ileana Douglas. Other than that, a trailer is its only bonus.
I like to watch. You will, too. —Rod Lott