Monday, August 26, 2013

Mature Comedy with Peter Sellers

Fans of classic films know that Peter Sellers could steal a scene like nobody's business.  Look at him play three characters in Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove, his over-done improv acting in Lolita, his bumbling Inspector Clouseau in A Shot in the Dark and his slow-witted gardener in Being There.  Onscreen, Sellers was a brilliant chameleon who could pull focus easily.  To me, there is only one actor who stole a comedy from Peter Sellers -- and that actor was veteran Hollywood movie star, Victor Mature.
He was a big hunk of Italian beefcake who worked at 20th Century Fox for years and was very popular with moviegoers in the 1940s.  He joked about his acting skills.  He loved playing golf.  He seemed to have a pretty breezy attitude about life.  He never got an Oscar nomination but he could do good work in just about any genre.  Maybe he didn't have Marlon Brando or Montgomery Clift acting skills but he was definitely versatile and probably didn't get the respect from critics that he deserved.  Victor Mature could get musical comedy laughs opposite Betty Grable and Rita Hayworth.  He delivered a solid performance as "Doc" Holliday in the John Ford western My Darling Clementine starring Henry Fonda.  The brawny dude was believable in whatever assignment he was given.

He was a fine fit in crime thrillers like the classic Kiss of Death co-starring Richard Widmark.  Then Mature could take off his tough-guy street clothes and go the sand & sandals route in epics like The Robe and Demetrius and the Gladiators.  He could also be a Biblical muscleman for Cecil B. DeMille in Samson and Deliah for Paramount Pictures.

If he had received an Oscar nomination, he should've been a Best Supporting Actor contender for the 1966 comedy he stole from star Peter Sellers.  Directed by Vittorio De Sica and co-written by Neil Simon, it's  After the Fox.  It's a heist movie involving gold.  A crook played by Sellers pulls a fast one and has folks believing he's an Italian filmmaker ready to shoot a new movie on location.  That's the crook's cover so he and his cohorts can smuggle the goods into a village.  Victor Mature plays the lovably vain and clueless aging movie star who thinks he's meeting a famous foreign filmmaker for a lead role in his new film.  Martin Balsam, one of my favorite supporting actors, complements Mature perfectly as the Hollywood actor's hyper and harried but devoted agent.
Mature is clearly lampooning his own 1940s Hollywood image.  He is great fun to watch while he does it.  He's fabulous in After the Fox.  When Sylvester Stallone's action movie hero glory days started to fade, I felt he should take roles like Victor Mature's in this feature.  Stallone could have nailed that type of movie comedy character.

But do big stars ever listen to me?  No!  To see Victor Mature steal a crime caper comedy from Peter Sellers,  watch After the Fox when it airs Tuesday afternoon, August 27th, on Turner Classic Movies (TCM).  Or you can rent the DVD.  Thanks for listening.

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