PETER SELLERS has from the outset had an element of perfectionism in his acting, a dimension which one seldom has had serious exercising (Dr Strangelove is an example). Recently it has increasingly been subjected to Pink Panther circus high jinks.
Now Being There ("AA", Odeon, St Martin's I.ane) seems the fulfilment of the Sellers genius. His creation of the central character, a gardener named Chance, who is discovered surviving in a Washington mansion where his rich employer benefactor has just died, is as immaculate as the employer's suits in which Chance lives, tightly buttoned tending the garden or endlessly watching television.
Chance is a dedicated gardener. Otherwise he is what might be regarded as a retarded orphan, the complete simpleton. Indoors all he does is to watch television. All he thinks or knows is what can be referred to what he has seen on television. He has never been in a lift or in a car before he is run into by Shirley Maclaine's chauffeur.
Thereafter the coincidence of accidents translates Chance to another rich mansion where Eve (Shirley Maclaine) also giving one of the performances of her life lives with her rich old invalid husband (Melvyn Douglas giving another magical performance, mostly bed-ridden). They live in high Society on good terms with the uninspiring President (Jack Warden) and surrounded by all the official hanger-on baffled by Chance's apparent lack of any identifiable background and ready to interpret his most rudimentary horticultural comment on the growth of seedlings as the utterances of profound political philosophy bound to lead him to the White House.
A refreshing, even an exhilarating feature of the week's new movies is that they all have an old-fashioned moral in Miss Jean Brodie's sense of "the moral is ..
The moral of Being There is at least two, if not threefold: that addiction to television will make a race of voyeurs, among whom an absolute innocent may pass for a wise man and may even fool all of the people most of the time, into accepting him as their guru, leader of perhaps even more.
Directed by Hal Ashby (of The Last Detail, the movie is as immaculate down to the last detail as Seller's own performance of a man quite without expression or normal powers of communication but with an incontrovertible inner truth. His performance and the irony are subtle, delicate and gentle rather than hilarious but not to be missed.
Photographed by Deschamps of the Coppola stable where he directed the beautiful camerawork of The Black Stallion this latest Seller's offering suggests a renaissance of film standards higher than those recently observed.
The moral of Bronco Billy ("A", Warner" ) is explicity stated by the eponymous hero (Clint Eastwood) — or one of the players in his cheap Wild West Road Show: "You can be whate you choose if you make up your mind and go out and become it".
Billy McCoy, according to the movice, was a shoe salesman who longed from childhood to be a cowboy, an ambition he fulfils by going out like Buffalo Bill to become a legendary cowboy on the music halls with the aid of blonde heiress Antoinette Lily (Sondra Locke).
Her inheritance supplies an immensely complicated sub-plot and she hurls herself at Billy by catching the plates he throws in the air to shoot. Eventually Antoinette wears down the suspicions of the rest of the troupe that she brings had luck and the film by sheer exuberance and high spirits wears down criticism to give place to enjoyment of the fun.
Exactly the moral of The Last Flight of Noah's Ark ("U", Classic Haymarket) may be difficult to define. But as basic Disney "U" certificate, the movie is very welcome.
Probably the moral .is that if two decently naughty children (Ricky Schroder, the charmer from Zeffirelli's remake of The Champ, and Tammy Lauren) will trust themselves and their batch of farm animals to a charming Bible-carrying missionary (Genevieve Bujold at her nicest) and a good guy like pilot Dugan (Elliott Gould), even the ramshackle boat made out of Dugan's bomber with the help of two of the Japanese who didn't know the war was over, will get the cargo of favourite farm creatures to their promised island in the Pacific. This is a very elementary but satisfactory Disney children's tale.
I haven't seen any of the plays by Atholl Fugard which are enjoying a vogue, and one of them a run at the Cottesloe only his first African film Boestnan and Lena. But I bind the "moral" of Ross Devnish's film "Marigolds in Africa" of which Fugard in both star and author, slightly confused.
The movie is exquisite to look at, a gently coloured, finely cornposed and photographed picture of what is always said to he the beautiful country of South Africa. In a sense, this is another tale of the pure in heart tilling their land. But the two black protagonists trying to plant Marigolds in Africa have difficulty in getting land to till.
Daan (Winston Nshona) who has a job as a gardener turns against his younger compatriot. Melton, and won't help horn to get one which might enable him to feed wife and children, The only effort at reconciliation is made by Paulus (Atholl Fugard) a "coloured or near-white trapper who trades sacks of snakes. But Melton in despair breaks into a white-owned store and sweeps the photographs of the unseen white family crashing to the floor.
The explicit moral that men who can't find jobs will be driven to crime seems a curious one to have been honoured by the catholic jury of the Berlin Festival. It is easier to understand the underlying political philosophy earning the film's other award from the Festival of Tashkent.
It is a touching tale, of course, but some of the direction and acting falls short — or rather is, it over-reaches? — the simplicity to which it aspires. The younger Black actor (John Kani) gives a lovely and absolutely convincing portrayal of innocence, as do some of the women in the early scenes. But besides Fugard's over-acting as Paulus, Ntshona also declaims in the slow-paced emphatic style which spreads an air of pretension.
Freda Bruce Lockhart