Classic Film Guide

Being There (1979)

Melvyn Douglas (Hud (1963)) earned his second (and last) Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for playing Peter Sellers’s well-connected (though ill and dying) billionaire benefactor in this comedy that appears at #26 on AFI’s 100 Funniest Movies list. Sellers plays the mentally challenged Chance the Gardener come Chauncey Gardner, who (perhaps not so) curiously becomes an influential political insider even though, as a gardener, he’d led a sheltered life in which he learned about the world through watching television. Coincidentally, actors Sellers (Dr. Strangelove (1964)), who picked up his second (and last) Best Actor Oscar nomination, and Douglas died within a couple of years of making this picture. It was directed by Hal Ashby (Coming Home (1978)) and written by Jerzy Kosinski. Shirley MacLaine plays Douglas’s wife Eve, who famously misunderstands Chauncey’s words “I like to watch” which led to what must have been the actress’s most embarrassing scene on film. Jack Warden plays the POTUS, Richard Dysart plays Benjamin’s (Douglas) physician, and Richard Basehart (among many others) also appears.

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