WALTZ OF THE TOREADORS, a Peter Sellers romp from 1962, didn’t fare well at the box office in the States, idling at 103rd place with a gross of $1,800,000. It did well in Britain, though Sellers slagged it off and director John Guillermin carped that the producer messed it up. Possibly because it didn’t do well in America, it quickly migrated to TV. After Sellers became a big deal, in order to grab some extra-mileage off his fame it was briefly re-released in the U.S. in 1967, retitled The Amorous General. *
His storied military career over, ‘Gen. Leo Fitzjohn’ (Sellers) retires to his manor in Sussex, where he can frolic with the maids while he pens his memoirs. Long a womanizer, he can barely tolerate his pestering daughters and cannot abide his hypochondriac wife ‘Emily’ (Margaret Leighton) who baits him mercilessly (volley returned). When his longtime French mistress-in-all-but-bed ‘Ghislaine’ (Dany Robin) appears, their attempts to finally consummate a 17-year platonic dalliance are complicated by any number of things, including the presence of young ‘Lt. Robert Finch’ (John Fraser), who has the noblest of intentions with her and bears loyalty to the old rake. But Ghislaine is, well, beautiful, French and frustrated….
Shifting the setting from France to England, Wolf Mankowitz wrote the screenplay freely based on the 1951 play written by Jean Anouilh (Becket), which had successful runs in Paris, London and on Broadway. Part bawdy farce, part sly satire, ultimately a bittersweet drama as well, it offers plum roles for the leads. The prideful but pitiful general and Sellers characterization (aided by makeup, he was just 37) naturally dominate, and he’s great fun, though most reviews seem duty-bound to favor him and ignore the others. Fetching and bright, Dany Robin is sweetly intoxicating as the spur to the general’s vanity. She also looks to have the tiniest waist since Scarlett O’Hara. On the more serious side, Leighton excels as the shrewish but devoted wife, so hurt by infidelity she can only respond by refusing divorce. **
With Cyril Cusack (choice as ever), Cardew Robinson, John Le Mesurier, Catherine Feller and Prunella Scales. Attractive production is nicely scored by Richard Addinsell. 105 minutes.
* I vividly recall seeing it when I was maybe 10, late on a weekend night, probably starting at 11:30, the “adult” content presumably safer from kids. I thought it was hilarious. Nice to see it’s still fun going on six decades later, and the less-humorous scenes have a sting that’s appreciated now that I’m somewhat beyond ten. Perhaps the TV showings were regional things—this was on a local Seattle station—with the allotment of films shown for a while then shifted to the Midwest or wherever: it was many years before I was able to find it again. Along with Your Past is Showing, it was my first look at Peter Sellers, and it coincided with exposure to other comic actors from England like Lionel Jeffries and Terry-Thomas. Anyone out there remember The Smallest Show On Earth or All At Sea?
** Art v. Life: during the making of the picture, Sellers first marriage (to Anne Howe) was falling apart, largely due to his philandering. His on-screen distressed wife, Leighton, had just divorced uber-cad Laurence Harvey, so she had no little venom on tap to release into the role.
Along with Sellers, who died from a heart attack in 1980 at just 54, both actresses came to tragic ends. Dany Robin perished in a fire with her husband in 1995: she was 68. Margaret Leighton passed away from multiple sclerosis in 1976, only 53.