Chance lives a peaceful life as the gardener for the “old man” until the time of the “old man’s” sudden death. Chance has no real comprehension of the situation, and lacks the capacity to show or feel emotion because he has been closed off to the world for his whole life, learning catchphrases and mannerisms from watching television. An attorney finds Chance waiting for his meal in the home and has to tell him that he is required to leave the house, so Chance packs a suitcase, dons one of the “old man’s” business suits and walks out the front door for the first time in his life. He encounters urban Washington DC life first hand until his fortunate encounter with Eve (Shirley MacLaine). He is watching television through a store window when her limousine backs into him, harming his leg.
Fearing litigation and financial woes, and perhaps in a gesture of good nature, Eve offers to take Chance back to her home where her father has private physicians to take care of him. He meets the sick father Benjamin (Melvyn Douglas) and they hit it off immediately. Chance is completely misunderstood, so everyone around him thinks he’s a profoundly brilliant businessman. There is enough ambiguity, metaphors and euphemisms taken from his vast knowledge of gardening that they can be applied to most any question being asked of him. People develop suspicions, but Chance’s good intentions and elementary dialogue keeps those suspicions from developing further.
The President of the United States comes to a meeting with Benjamin, and he invites Chance to meet him as well. The discussion is regarding the economic state of the country and in an uncomfortably awkward scene, Chance describes the cycle of gardening. Of course, the President and Benjamin see this as a metaphor for economic growth and his advice is put into national policy. He unknowingly rises to political superstardom overnight and everyone is both entranced with his simplistic personality, and intrigued with figuring out where this man came from.
From there, the subtle humor really takes effect. This simple, ignorant gardener is winning the affection of dignitaries, politicians, television personalities, and most importantly, Eve. The search for his true identity intensifies and the unintentional façade seems to be destined for a terrible fate until the very end, where in a not-so shocking revelation, Chance shows his true colors.
This movie epitomizes what so many character driven films are searching for. Peter Sellers delivers his typical brilliant performance. He plays the character so well, and in winning a Golden Globe for Best Actor and Academy Award nomination, you begin to understand why he was hounding Kozinski for eight years to play the part. The film is the character of Chance, a man unaffected by the surrounding ugly world. He impacts everyone around him with a positive touch, and although his identity is a complete sham (not by his intent) you empathize with him and find yourself rooting for him to succeed. The film stays true to its form from the beginning, and the main character remains the same up until the very end, which seems to be a rarity in so many films.
I would recommend this film as a classic. It is relatively unknown in the mainstream moviegoer community, but it is worth the time if you are a fan of Sellers, or clever subtle comedies.
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