How Peter Sellers sabotaged his own movie | Director tells the inside story of Ghost Of The Noonday Sun

How Peter Sellers sabotaged his own movie

Director tells the inside story of Ghost Of The Noonday Sun

The director of a Peter Sellers movie flop is making a documentary about the nightmares he endured on the shoot because of the comedian's impossible behaviour.

Filming on Ghost In The Noonday Sun, a comedy set amid 17th Century pirates and co-starring Spike Milligan, was blighted with problems from the moment filming started in 1973.

Sellers quickly lost confidence in the $2million project and did all he could to stop it being made, putting nothing into his performance and locking himself away for days at a time. He even faked a heart attack then secretly left the island to have lunch with Princess Margaret in London.

Problems were exacerbated as the comedian had just split from Liza Minelli, with whom he was said to be infatuated, on top of his usual unreasonable behaviour. Crew recall him trying to work through the 'deepest catatonic depression'.

Ghost In The Noonday Sun was filmed in Cyprus as Russian and American warships circled, amid rising tensions that would lead to the Arab-Israel war. There was even a conspiracy theory that the film was a 'research front' for the Turkish invasion of Cyprus a few months after production wrapped.

Director Peter Medak, who says the film nearly cost him career, recalls: 'We shot on the Mediterranean on real boats which was a complete insanity to do.

'Everything started going wrong days before shooting began - the Greek captain delivering the pirate ship to Kyrenia's magnificent 7th Century harbour was so drunk that he crashed the ship into the quay.

Peter Medak Ghost Of Noonday Sun

'The weather turned bad and we couldn't sail out day after day, everybody got seasick and my darling friend Peter Sellers became completely impossible when he realised how difficult it was to make this film on a real boat and he did everything to try to make sure that the film would never be finished.

'He even fired the producers the first day he arrived at the island. Nobody ever fires the producers.'

Sellers also moved to have Medak taken off the production.

To add to the farce, the comedian broke off from the shoot to film a Benson & Hedges cigarette commercial – only to suddenly refused to touch the product, realising that he was the President of the Anti-Smoking League.

The film was never released at the cinema, although it did later emerge on VHS – revealing some of the huge flaws in the project.

Sellers' character even changes his name midway through the film, from Scratch to Scratcher, because during filming a soothsayer told the troubled comedian that Scratch was an ancient name for the devil.

Sellers Peter Ghost Of Noonday Sun

In his definitive biography of Sellers, writer Roger Lewis describes how the actor antagonised co-star Tony Franciosa to an extent that the American swung a sword at Sellers' head as he leaned over the side of the ship but stopped himself. The incident was enough for Sellers to refuse to be in the same frame for the rest of filming, so even scenes showing confrontations between their two characts were shot separately.

Sellers is said to have acted the diva from the very start, bringing 200 suitcases to the villa he was renting for the shoot, then immediately rearranging the furniture to get the right vibes, and installing his own hi-fi system that he'd brought.

Based on a novel, Ghost In The Noonday Sun revolves around a bumbling pirate, played by Sellers, who kills his captain after learning where he has buried treasure. However as he begins to lose his memory, he relies more and more on the ghost of the man he's murdered to help him find the treasure.

Sellers immediately took a dislike to the script, and called in Milligan, who agreed with the diagnosis that the film was a flop. The Goon rewrote it as a zany comedy but, Medak recalls 'the script never worked'.

Medak had signed up for the film after turning down the chance to shoot the first Death Wish movie, as the studios would not agree to his insistence that Henry Fonda should play the lead, plumping for Charles Brosnan instead.

Now the director whose credits also include The Krays, Romeo Is Bleeding and A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, as well as episodes of The Wire, Breaking Bad and House, is to chronicle the off-camera events in a new documentary called The Ghost Of Peter Sellers.

He says: 'This documentary is about the making of the film and what happened behind the scenes, which was more outrageous and funnier than the actual movie itself.'

'The interest for me is to tell about the love of making movies and what happens when a brilliant idea goes wrong.'

Production is more than two-thirds completed, but the film-makers have launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise the last $40,000 needed to complete it.

Producer Paul Iacovou called the documentary 'an incredible testament to British comedy of the 70s and the genius talents of Sellers and Milligan and the other host of British comedians in the film.'

It is due for release later this year, and here is some footage that has already been shot:

Here is some of the original film:

And here is Medak's video appealing for crowdfunding backers.

Click here to contribute to the crowdfunding campaign

Published: 8 Feb 2016

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