Blast From The Past

Mr. Topaze
(originally released on April 4, 1961 in the U.S and titled “I Like Money.” Now restored from 35 mm from the BFI Archives) 
Stars: (the year after the name is the year of their death)
Peter Sellers (1980), Nadia Gray (1994), Herbert Lom (2012), Leo McKern (2002), Martita Hunt (1969), Michael Gough (2011), Billie Whitelaw (2014), John Neville (2011), Joan Sims (2001), John Le Mesuier (1983) and Michael Sellers (2006)
Director: Peter Sellers
Scriptwriters: Pierre Rouve and Johnny Speight from the play by Marcel Pagnol called “Topaze”
Composers: George Martin and Georges Van Parys
Cinematography: John Wilcox
Demetri De Grunwald Productions/20th Century Fox 

“Mr. Topaze” may be the only film in which the late Pete Sellers both starred and directed. Peter’s son, Michael Sellers also has a role in the movie. Critics in the early 1960’s, didn’t care much for the film and thought it rather boring.  Fast-forward 59 years and “Mr. Topaze” has charm, wit, Peter Sellers and the comedic talents of Herbert Lom, who acted in the “Pink Panther” films with Sellers.  Remember Lom as the Police Inspector resting his hand on a large globe for disastrous results.  In “Mr. Topaze,” Lom’s timing is on top of his game. 

“Mr. Topaze” is adapted from a play and the acting is slightly exaggerated as would befit watching a play. There is never a gesture, but a grand gesture. Or, in the case of Mr. Topaze, keeping a stuffed skunk on his desk as part of a biology lesson.  The story is basically one of a man who strives for perfection in himself and would seem to have no faults. We see people around him, who do have faults and lie to cover them. Topaze (Sellers) is a teacher in a small private school.  The boys tease him and the Headmaster (Leo McKern in broad comic turn) has a beautiful daughter, also a teacher.  She wants someone to grade her classroom papers, so turns the charms on Topaze, who is smitten.  This is noticed by Topaze’s close friend Tamise (Michael Gough), who tries to guide him through courtship.  In the meantime, we meet the parents/guardians of some of the students, including the Baroness (Martita Hunt who steals her scenes). Topaze will not give her grandson a good grade, so he is fired. Halfway through the film, we encounter Herbert Lom as Castel Bernac, as clever a swindler as you can imagine, and with his wife, sees in Topaze, the perfect fool and one to ensnare in his schemes.  From here on, it is Herbert Lom’s film, and the rest of us are along for the ride.  Will Mr. Topaze retain his splendid morals? Does honesty and integrity have a price? Can the smile of a beautiful woman change one’s mind? 

Composers George Martin and Georges Van Parys score adds much to this film.  With each nuance on the screen is appropriate music to accompany it.  There is a tug of war going on here, can a man be honest to the nth degree and retain that honesty through life? On the other side of the coin, are all people dishonest and even the students in school? The audience can watch the to and fro in front of them as Topaze goes through life with patience. Favorite scenes are the ones with Topaze in the classroom with mischievous students, any scene the Baroness is in and the little black book that Castel Bernac keeps for “just in case.” 

The amount of honesty in a person can be 100% or less and how much of “less” can that person tolerate within himself/herself.  We can look into ourselves and see what we are and have been and will become. What is our honesty level? Such is the story in this film, which takes the audience from dealing with students and their parents to dealing with the world and all the foibles, thereof.  Choices, decisions, pathways, it is all in the game called life. 


Copyright 2020 Marie Asner