tells the story of Sam, a street performer with a unique outlook on life. Sam befriends two children who have led hard knock- lives and teaches them to look at life from a new perspective. The novelty of having a song and dance man as a friend soon turns into something much deeper, as Sam realizes that the children have just as much to teach him about life. Set amongst a wonderful London backdrop, Peter Sellers stars in one of his most charming and tender roles ever in The Optimists
Peter Sellers was, and remains, one of Britain's finest comedic geniuses, a member of the legendary Goons (a famous forerunner to Monty Python) and noted character chameleon, able to slip effortlessly into every one of his frequently farcical roles. But what many people fail to recognize is that with said reputation comes an oft-forgotten facet: Sellers was a sensational actor. Because humor seems so inherently a part of a person's makeup, and since laughter can drown out any other critical consideration, few remember how effective Sellers could be outside a joke-filled setting. Granted, he didn't get much of a chance to show it, but the truth is that when driven, he could be as amazing - and difficult - as his equally infamous American counterparts. Case in point - 1973's The Optimists
. Taken from Andrew Simmons' noted novel, this story of a strapped street performer who befriends two children was seen as a chance for the commercially questionable Sellers to stretch his performance wings. Indeed, it remains one of his most fully realized turns ever.
Sam is an aging busker who barely meters out a minor living on the streets of London. His music hall days are long gone, and his old mutt Bella can barely work their crowd. If they manage a few coppers after a long day of performing, it makes the journey back to their dilapidated row house near a landfill less depressing. One day, Sam runs into Liz and Mark Ellis, two urchins looking to escape their poverty-stricken home life. While Mom is taking care of their baby sister, and Dad is working overtime in hopes of earning a council flat, the siblings share dreams of a life across the river. Taken by Bella, the duo eventually work their way into Sam's hardened heart. But when they can't afford a stray dog, and their parents won't pay attention to their needs, Liz and Mark ask the old man for help. What he provides will turn them from desperate and sad into something akin to Optimists. Even among the dirt and decay, they may have a future after all.
A definite product of its time, it's hard to imagine modern audiences cottoning to this collection of urban nightmares and flights of forced fantasy. After all, without action and adventure and plenty of CGI sparkle, it really isn't a family film, is it? But thanks to an amazing performance by Peter Sellers, who stands as a lamentably underappreciated dramatic actor, and a true sense of a pre-punk "No Future" UK, The Optimists easily earns a Recommended rating. Had it been sharper during its near two hour running time, had Anthony Simmons not indulged in every whim derived directly from his own tome, we'd have a certified classic on our hands. As it stands, this film is a considered cult gem, and further proof that there was more to Peter Sellers than slapstick fights with manservant Kato and gags about "Minkeys". If you want to know the true depth of the man's talents, this intriguing film is a fine place to start. --Bill Gibron of DVDTalk.com