Shirley MacLaine, Peter Sellers, Robert C. Jones, Hal Ashby - Being There
While this was not actually Peter Sellers’s last movie—that was the less-well-remembered The Fiendish Plot of Doctor Fu Manchu (1980)—Being There is generally accepted as his swan song. Based on the 1971 novel by Jerzy Kosinski (who also wrote the screenplay), Being There was a labor of love for Sellers, who was obsessed with the book’s central character, the simple gardener, Chance. In 1971, shortly after the book came out, Sellers sent Kosinski a telegram saying “AVAILABLE IN MY GARDEN OR OUTSIDE OF IT,” followed by his telephone number.
Sellers’s influence must have helped this film get made, as it is remarkably low-key and quirky even by 1970s standards. The story is, aptly, a simple one: after the death of his wealthy employer Chauncey Gardiner, the almost retarded Chance (Sellers) is mistaken for Gardiner. Taken in by Senator Benjamin Rand (Melvyn Douglas) and his wife (Shirley Mclaine), his every utterance is taken as a profound remark about the state of human existence. Following a series of just-about-plausible events, he is seemingly about to become President of the United States when he vanishes in a suitably Christlike manner.