“As long as the roots are not severed, all is well. And all will be well in the garden.”
When a mentally challenged gardener (Peter Sellers) is forced to leave his lifelong home after his guardian’s passing, he is accidentally hit by a car owned by a wealthy woman (Shirley MacLaine) who takes him to her mansion to receive medical help and meet her dying husband (Melvyn Douglas). “Chance” (Sellers) — referred to by the couple as “Chauncey Gardener” — quickly impresses MacLaine and Douglas with his forthright simplicity, and an opportune meeting with the president (Jack Warden) gives him instant fame. What will Chance’s future hold in store for him and the nation?
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Hal Ashby Films
- Intellectually Disabled
- Melvyn Douglas Films
- Mistaken or Hidden Identities
- Peter Sellers Films
- Shirley MacLaine Films
Hal Ashby’s adaptation of Jerzy Kosinski’s novel became Peter Sellers’ swan song — his next-to-last film before dying from a heart attack at the age of 54. Thankfully, it’s a fitting and honorable role for Sellers, allowing him to portray a much wiser, less hectic character than usual — someone able to pass his unique gifts along simply by being himself. There’s a surprising amount of humor gleaned from the central premise of Chance being an interpretive slate for whatever people choose to make of his utterings; only his former colleague (Ruth Attaway) knows how “feeble-minded” he really is, and just one other person — Douglas’s doctor (Richard Dysart) — suspects anything. Caleb Deschanel’s cinematography perfectly captures the grandeur of the Rands’ existence in a truly palatial mansion, large enough to house a hospital unit within it. Chance’s chance meeting with MacLaine can easily be seen as a divine — perhaps even Biblical — opportunity to allow Americans to connect in an out-of-the-box way; we may need our own “Chauncey Gardener” right around now to help heal our nation…
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Peter Sellers as Chance
- Shirley MacLaine as Eve Rand
- Melvyn Douglas as Ben Rand
- Caleb Deschanel’s cinematography
Yes, for Sellers’ performance and as an all-around good show.