“Every comic character is a type. … it is comic to wander out of one’s own self. It is comic to fall into a ready-made category. And what is most comic of all is to become a category oneself into which others will fall … to crystallise into a stock character.”
— Henri Bergson, Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic (1903)
Comedy can rely on archetypes and stereotypes, sometimes to smash them open like party piñatas. But laugh-maestro Peter Sellers seemed to unintentionally create a new stereotype—the unhappy film-comic—with his death in 1980. He had grappled with deep insecurities, depression, addictions and the feeling that, outside his characters, he was himself a blank. (This spectral, “sad/troubled clown” figure popped up again with John Belushi’s fatal overdose in 1982 and Robin Williams’ recent suicide—Williams had visited Belushi hours before his death.)
One of Sellers’ famous characters was Inspector Clouseau, that bumbling French policeman. The Edmonton Film Society’s Winter Series trips off February 9 with the second in Sellers and Blake Edwards’ Pink Panther series, A Shot in the Dark (1964).
“Make Us Laugh” also features Danny Kaye going medieval in The Court Jester (1956; Mar 9), the maternity-misidentification of Bachelor Mother (1939; Mar 16), the screwball-style fisherman-fraud of Man’s Favorite Sport? (1964; Mar 23), and the adventure-in-male-babysitting Sitting Pretty (1948; Mar 30).
Ealing Studios’ Passport to Pimlico (1949; Apr 13) was inspired by the temporary declaration of Ottawa’s Civic Hospital maternity ward, in 1943, as extraterritorial so Holland’s Princess Margriet, born there, could remain in line for the throne. I Was A Male War Bride sees Cary Grant and Ann Sheridan jump Army-regulation hoops and hurdle comic misunderstandings (1949; Feb 23).
And Jack Benny and Carole Lombard star in Ernst Lubitsch’s Nazi-mocking tale of a touring Warsaw troupe, To Be or Not To Be (1942; Mar 2). Many American viewers and critics, in the midst of the Second World War, couldn’t see the punch-line of a satirical attack on Hitler’s Germany. But, as Bergson and Sellers and company knew, the comfy pillow of comedy often has a serious, even sad, lining.
Mondays (8 pm), Feb 9 – Apr 13 Royal Alberta Museum
$5 – $6 per film, $30 series pass
Full schedule available at: royalalbertamuseum.ca/events/movies/movies.cfm