Peter Sellers began his career on stage in the late Forties, moved to radio, then to small roles in motion pictures, ever bigger roles in smaller films, and finally full-fledged stardom by the early 1960’s in big Hollywood films. We see him here in one of his bigger roles in a smaller 1957 British movie, “The Naked Truth,” released in the U.S. as “Your Past Is Showing.” Paired with Terry-Thomas and others, Sellers helps make the film a quaintly eccentric black comedy.
Here’s the setup: A suave, slimy, unscrupulous publisher, Nigel Dennis (Dennis Price), who runs a scandal sheet called “The Naked Truth,” pays visits on various famous people he’s about to feature in his magazine. He gives them the choice of either paying him a large sum of money or getting their stories told in print. Sometimes they pay up; sometimes they jump out windows.
The movie opens with a series of such visits, followed by failed or successful suicides. Don’t worry; it’s done in fun. This is a black comedy as I said. Then, it’s on to the main action, where we encounter four people Dennis is currently blackmailing: Lord Henry Mayley (Terry-Thomas), a henpecked peer and womanizer who can’t afford to have his indiscretions publicized; “Wee” Sonny MacGregor (Peter Sellers), the star of a popular television comedy-variety show; Flora Ransom (Peggy Mount), a prizewinning mystery writer; and Melissa Right (Shirley Eaton, several years before her “Goldfinger” days), a world-famous model.
Several of these four people have their own plans concerning Dennis, and none of them involves paying him off. In fact, they attempt, haplessly, to murder him, botching the job with sometimes laugh-out-loud results. When their individual efforts to do away with him fail and they realize they alone are not the only ones out to get the guy, they manage to band together for a group project.
Sellers, Terry-Thomas, and Mount are wonderfully humorous in their roles. Sellers plays the television personality MacGregor as an obvious extension of himself. The character’s stage persona changes constantly, a man of a thousand faces and voices, so he uses these disguises to get to Dennis, often hilariously. This is Sellers years before “The Pink Panther” or “Dr. Strangelove,” yet we can see where he’s going; the man was a genius at creating people completely different from himself. (If you remember, the Academy nominated him for playing three separate characters in “Strangelove.”) Terry-Thomas’s prissy Lord Mayley may remind you of Basil Fawlty, the smug, imperious, perpetually outmaneuvered hotel manager played by John Cleese in “Fawlty Towers.” Cleese no doubt had Terry-Thomas in mind when creating his own character. And Ms. Mount as the mystery author makes a deliciously dotty old lady who may remind you of Margaret Rutherford in the old Miss Marple series. Very funny stuff.
Also in the cast are Georgina Cookson as Lady Mayley, fully aware of her husband’s philandering and constantly reminding him of it; and Joan Sims as Flora’s unmarried, twenty-something daughter, a flighty airhead who may bring to mind Victoria Horne as the loopy Myrtle May in “Harvey.” Then, too, there is that favorite British standby, Miles Malleson, who always seemed to play an older gentleman, even in his younger days. Here, he plays a colorfully eccentric minister engaged to Ms. Ransom.
The characters bungle everything they touch–mistaking identities and ineptly handling every situation they encounter–with a dash of slapstick and a good deal of witty dialogue carrying the picture. A scene involving a series of people and their spiked drinks comes off particularly well.
Mario Zampi produced and directed the movie for the Rank Organization, Zampi the same fellow who did “Too Many Crooks,” “Bottoms Up,” and “Five Golden Hours.” He handles the zany shenanigans with a productive smoothness, without resorting to anything too gross or distorted, aided by Stanley Black’s surprisingly effective musical score. While the ending of “The Naked Truth” gets fairly manic, you’d expect that of what is essentially a screwball comedy. As I say, funny stuff.
VCI video engineers cleaned up the print, digitally restoring it to something like new, retaining the overall dark look of the picture but an altered 1.33:1 screen size (originally 1.66:1). Neither condition may have been their fault, however; the PQ was probably always dark, and they probably could only get hold of a cropped print. In any case, the black-and-white contrasts are fine, and the engineers have done a good job scrubbing the print clean of age damage–lines, flecks, specks, fades, and the like. Grain, too, looks at a minimum, and definition is at least OK. The only serious issue I had was with the darkness of the scenes, things getting a tad murky in the dimmer shots. Well, it is a black comedy, after all, so maybe the filmmakers intended it that way from the beginning. If not, it fits anyway.
You get the choice here of Dolby Digital 2.0 mono or 5.1 enhanced. I tried both and found little difference, actually. The mono is smoother and softer. The 5.1 is marginally wider and brighter (increasing the background noise a bit) and puts little or nothing in the surrounds. Fortunately, both tracks do a good job clarifying the midrange dialogue, which is what the film is all about.
The folks at VCI provide an attractive opening menu; a self-guiding photo gallery that lasts about a minute; twelve animated scene selections; English as the only spoken language; and English subtitles. What’s more, they package the disc in a real, honest-to-goodness, old-fashioned solid keep case, not one of those newer, flimsy Eco-cases with the front and back cut out.
If you’ve never seen “The Naked Truth” but have enjoyed other satiric, dark British comedies of the late Forties and Fifties like “Kind Hearts and Coronets,” “The Man in the White Suit,” “The Lavender Hill Mob,” and “The Ladykillers,” you’ll probably enjoy this one, too. It never became anywhere near as celebrated as these others, but it is pretty amusing and passes an enjoyable ninety-odd minutes.