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Being There (1979)

Peter Sellers plays a mentally handicapped gardener named Chauncey Gardiner (“Chance”), raised and protected by a rich old eccentric who dies and leaves him bewildered and homeless.

Chance can’t read or write and everything he knows he has learned from watching TV.

Wandering the streets of Washington DC he gets hit by a limousine carrying Eve Rand (Shirley MacLaine), the wife of dying billionaire financier Benjamin Rand (Melvyn Douglas) who is also one of the chief advisers to the President of the United States.

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Eve takes him home to heal and because his stoic blankness convinces everyone he’s deep and wise, Benjamin Rand wants to make him head of a new institution to distribute financial assistance to businessmen.

The President (Jack Warden) wants to make him a personal assistant in a White House advisory capacity. Eve just wants to make him.

Before Chance can get his thoughts organised to the point of telling them he needs a job as a gardener, the financial editor of the Washington Post is calling him for quotes, the TV talk shows are making him a celebrity, and the computers, the CIA, and the research morgues at the newspapers are all baffled.

He has no identification, no Social Security number, no driver’s license, and the “man of mystery” ends up the front runner in the political chess game.

All he wants is food, a nice bed, and a TV set that shows Big Bird, Hollywood Squares, and commercials for Posturepedic mattresses. Instead, there is a good chance he’ll be the perfect closed-mouthed candidate for the next election.

Without a single gag or punch line, Being There is hilarious. Some of the funniest moments in the film occur when nobody is saying anything at all. This is an accomplishment every comedy writer in Hollywood should be forced to study.

Chance (Chauncey Gardiner)
Peter Sellers
Eve Rand
Shirley MacLaine
Benjamin Rand
Melvyn Douglas
President ‘Bobby’
Jack Warden
Dr Robert Allenby
Richard Dysart
Vladimir Skrapinov
Richard Basehart
Louise
Ruth Attaway
Thomas Franklin
David Clennon
Sally Hayes
Fran Brill
Johanna Franklin
Denise DuBarry
Lolo
Oteil Burbridge
Abbaz
Ravenell Keller III

Director
Hal Ashby