Review: ‘The Ghost of Peter Sellers’ revisits an outlandish film and its troubled minds

Peter Sellers (left), Peter Medak and Spike Milligan on the set of “Ghost in the Noonday Sun,”


The Hungarian-born filmmaker Peter Medak survived Nazi occupation during World War II and communism under the Soviet umbrella. But Peter Sellers was a force of nature all his own.

By many accounts, the British comic genius severely damaged Medak’s career when in 1973 he enticed the director to make a pirate comedy concocted by friend and cohort Spike Milligan, then decided on the second day of filming he didn’t want to be a part of it. That was the beginning of a nightmarish shoot that would end with the disastrous “Ghost in the Noonday Sun” being shelved and the blame heaped on Medak, who was one of the hottest directors in the world going into the shoot, but afterward wouldn’t make another film for five years.

But Medak’s new documentary “The Ghost of Peter Sellers,” while intending to set the record straight, isn’t a hit piece on Sellers, but a nuanced portrait of a troubled, often self-destructive talent. And it is an introspective piece from a filmmaker who still, nearly a half-century later, lives with the guilt and psychological wounds from the experience that need addressing.

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Director Peter Medak Plans to Resurrect The Ghost of Peter Sellers

It was 1973 and Peter Medak was a hot director on the rise. Following the success of The Ruling Class, which had earned Peter O’Toole an Academy Award nomination the previous year, United Artists offered him Death Wish. But when the studio insisted on casting Charles Bronson instead of Medak’s pick, Henry Fonda, Medak passed on the project.

Back in London, Medak ran into his friend Peter Sellers, who asked him to direct his next film, Ghost in The Noonday Sun, which was set to be filmed on the island of Cyprus. Somehow the idea of filming a 17th-century pirate comedy aboard real ships on the Mediterranean seemed a good idea at the time [ . . . ]

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