It falls to me over the festive period to organise the film selection for our family. Now we have grandchildren too, finding films that suit all is no easy task. This year I decided to go for Brtish comedies 1958-1962. Two comedians dominated that era, Peter Sellers and Terry-Thomas and last night we showed on the Rosen Mutliplex one of the films that showcases both best The Naked Truth.
The story is surprisingly modern as it predates the celebrity news scandals of the tabloids. Dennis Price plays Nigel Dennis, proprietor of The Naked Truth that publicises the dirt on well-known figures with which he blackmails the victim. One is Lord Henry Mayley played by Terry-Thomas, another is variety star Wee Sonny McGregor (played by Peter Sellers), another an authoress, Peggy Mount, and this fourth model Melissa Wright (actress Shirley Eaton, best known for being painted gold in Goldfinger).
Dennis Price often plays the cad, a man whose oily smile and manner is as fake as his regimental tie. He was particularly good as the murderer of all 8 members of the family played by Alec Guinness in Kind Hearts and Coronets. In real life the son of a brigadier general who acted at Oxford University with John Gielgud, his life was a sad one probably because he could not come out as gay. He became an alcoholic, bankrupt and died relatively young of cirrhosis.
Between 1958-1962 Peter Sellers was at the top of his comic powers, often using his mimicry to play numerous roles in the same film. In the hilarious The Wrong Arm of the Law he played villain Pearly Gates and a french couturier, in Dr Strangelove another 3 roles and in this film the Scottish variety artiste, an inspector of barges, a jovial Irishman, all to great comic effect. A weak heart meant an early death for him too. Terry-Thomas – with his gap tooth, slight stutter and upper class silliness – was one of the most recognisable talents of that period. However my favourite and funniest picture came later (La Grande Vadrouille) in which he played alongside the French comedian Beauvil in an utterly hilarious caper set in wartime France. He is parachuted into France and lands in a otter pool, the animals being not very indistinguishable from him. He was late starter after failing as an insurance clerk, meat porter and jazz musician. Although he lived longer than Dennis Price and Peter Sellers, he suffered from Parkinson disease from 1971, the cost of care rendering him destitute and he was supported by friends by the end.
In this film the victims gather together to eliminate Dennis but as you might expect the plan is hapless. One interesting feature is that none of the victims is blackmailed for homosexuality. Dennis Price starred in a ground breaking film Victim which dealt with blackmail of gays but certainly not in a comic way. In The Naked Truth Peter Sellers appears to have a gay relationship with his secretary, a common title to the male partner at that time, when of course such relationships were criminal, but nothing is overt. This film is very much a comedy and the younger element enjoyed the slapstick as much the grown ups the colossal comic talent on view.