Peter Sellers first successful dramatic role of any stature is as General Leo Fitzjohn in this version of the play by Jean Anouilh. Although a success in the military (we see over the years as he rose to his present rank) he was married to a woman who was bed-ridden due to emotional problems, and he was never quite able to carry out his lifelong romance with his French girlfriend. His wife (Margaret Leighton) is a shrew, but she is one who never stopped loving her unfaithful husband - so she will never give him the divorce he'd want. His mistress (Dany Robins) is attractive, and ever hopeful. Unfortunately she has met the General's adjutant, Lt. Finch (John Fraser), who she finds available and able to return her love. So this four sided parallelogram develops as the center of the plays plot.
Sellers has had other affairs, all of which Leighton has had to live through. In one it turns out he had a child. Yet he is unable to break the chain linking him with this woman, who is both sympathetic and neurotic. He yearns and schemes to be with his mistress, but every time something (from a broken leg to a drinking contest) interferes. In the end he watches as he loses her, and he considers suicide.
Sellers had never had such a sad character before. Maybe the alcoholic movie projector operator in "The Smallest Show on Earth" came closest, but he was not the central figure of that film. Sellers showed the depressing effects of aging on the general, once a gallant physical specimen. He is fully aware of his aging, and his failure to attain true happiness (just the temporary enjoyment of sexual pleasure). As he contemplates his mortality, and plans suicide he tells his closest friend (Cyril Cusack), "I don't want to die." But he can't prevent that inevitability.
He did well with the role of Fitzjohn, and it paved the way for some of those bright figures such as his too Christian minister in "Heaven's Above", his triple roles in "Lolita" and in "Dr. Strangelove", and his final great part of Chance in "Being There". Fitzjohn was a taste of what was to come.
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