There are obscure performances . . . and then there are obscure performances.
Here's one that's even escaped most biographers of Peter Sellers: Using the nom de cinema A. Queen, Sellers played a homosexual shopkeeper in "A Day at the Beach," a Paramount picture that only recently was uncovered in the studio's London vaults, where it had been lost for 23 years. The picture was never released.
Sellers--who died in 1980--appears in the film for only five minutes, yet as director Simon Hesera admits, the actor's presence may help the film's chances of getting a theatrical launch. He has just bought the rights from the studio and has had the negative restored.
"My God! It is a beautiful film. I did a wonderful job, (the actors) did a wonderful job. Why shouldn't it come out?" the French-born filmmaker said.
The picture, which features an all-British cast including Sellers, Beatie Edney and Mark Burns, is a somber story written by Roman Polanski (who also was a producer) of an alcoholic father's inability to care for his beloved daughter (Edney) even for one Sunday at the beach. As the father (Burns) searches for his next drink, the two suffer a series of misadventures, including an encounter with the witty Sellers that is described by one viewer as "the only bit of levity" in the entire film.
And, as Hesera recounts events, the film's gloomy setting under cloudy skies seemed to foretell the film's fate.
Even though the first-time filmmaker had the good fortune of working with Polanski and Paramount, his misfortunes started to pile up once the movie was in the can. After one screening for the filmmakers in Paris in 1970, the negative was shipped to Paramount vaults in London, where it was reported lost due to a mix-up in paperwork.
Having no cachet, Hesera hoped that Polanski, a close friend of then-Paramount production chief Bob Evans, would be able to spur a search for lost film cans. But, as Hesera remembers the time, Polanski was "incapable" of much of anything--the Polish-born director was still consumed with the traumatic emotional aftershocks of wife Sharon Tate's brutal murder by the Charles Manson clan in 1969.
Hesera gave up feature film directing as a result of the experience--turning instead to writing and commercial directing--but said he had a change of heart last year and decided to pursue the search again, crediting Paramount's cooperation in the nine-month effort that ended in December. The movie's timely theme was a big factor for why Hesera felt a renewed zeal to put pressure upon Paramount after so many years had gone by.
"This problem of child abuse and abandonment . . . it is so contemporary," he said.
Paramount thought differently, however. After viewing the film, the studio determined it was not commercially viable enough for them.
"It is absolutely enervating--unwatchable," said the Paramount source, noting its standout characteristic is Polanski's "minimalism." He termed Sellers' appearance as "a cameo."
Now that "A Day at the Beach" has been restored, Hesera, through his Cinema Group Co., will shop for a theatrical and video distributor.
For Sellers fans, they'll be at least one chance to see it on the big screen in April, when it will be included in the American Cinematheque's upcoming Sellers retrospective.