For nearly 50 years, the film “Ghost in the Noonday Sun” has lived in infamy. Back in 1973, hot, young British director Peter Medak made this swashbuckling 17th century action comedy. With the legendary Peter Sellers in the starring role and comic partner Spike Milligan also attached, “Ghost” was expected to be a runaway hit.
Yet, the movie was never formally released. Now, 47 years later, we’re discovering why.
In “The Ghost of Peter Sellers”, Medak painfully recount all the trials and tribulations surrounding the ill-fated production. Much of what took place is astonishing and entertaining. The director’s been haunted by “Noonday” since filming ending, blaming the movie and practically everyone involved in it for damaging his career (even though he continues to enjoy a pretty good career). Medak takes us on a painful stroll down Memory Lane, interviewing many of the key people involved with “Noonday”, most of whom he hasn’t spoken with in over four decades.
The movie, about a pirate ship cook (Sellers) and a search for buried treasure, was destined for failure from the start. The script was unfinished when filming began in and off the shores of the island of Cyprus. Much of the action takes place on an actual ship. Rough seas, unpredictable weather, a tight budget and a mutiny by Sellers and the movie’s producers early in production all added-up to disaster.
If you’re a fan of movies about the making of movies “The Ghost of Peter Sellers” is a must-watch. The incredible accounts of what took place over the 67-day shoot (complete with extensive clips from the movie) are fascinating. It’s like watching a long train wreck. But this documentary also presents a major challenge: Medak himself. Because he’s not only the subject of “Ghost” but also the director, we get a perspective that’s clearly one-sided and extremely jaded. This is basically a 93-minute therapy session. Cathartic for Medak, but not that rewarding for the rest of us.
And the director dominates the screen time. The constant bouncing from one interview to another (Medak’s in different clothes, with a different haircut, sometimes with glasses and sometimes without) often within the same sentence had me wanting to walk the plank.
Having a documentary about a key period in a person’s life be totally controlled by that person himself (not unlike a recent doc about a certain basketball superstar) hurts the overall authenticity and drama. Though many of the problems with “Noonday” weren’t Medak’s fault, he doesn’t own up to, or take responsible for, ANYTHING that went wrong. And the fact that he’s hung-on to so much anger and resentment, for all these years, is really sad.
Fans of Sellers will be learn a lot about the actor, including his obvious, but at the time undiagnosed mental illness. “The Ghost of Peter Sellers” is a tragic saga about a comic film — but it could have been so much more.
LCJ GRADE: B-
Running Time: 93 min.