film

Hoffman | 1970 | Peter Sellers, Sinéad Cusack

Hoffman put a fresh spin on the sexual revolution with its story about a middle-aged boss who blackmails his young secretary into spending a week alone with him. Its sharp observations on the theme of youth being wasted on the young struck a chord with the generation who missed out on all the fun.

Thirty years on and Hoffman is, at times, positively creepy. Like Miss Jones (Cusack) we fear the worst and, to begin with at least, the cold, unlovable Mr Hoffman (Sellers) does little to dissuade us of this assumption. He admits to his secretary that he is sexually frustrated, calls women "fallopian tubes with teeth" and when she visits the bathroom tells his quarry to "get ready to be fertilised". Yet, despite all the sexual insinuation it transpires that all Mr Hoffman wants is to be with her, admire her legs as they stand at his kitchen sink and breathe in her smell.

Hoffman is odd; it’s also wickedly smart. Slowly, and sweetly, the reasons for all the strange behaviour reveal themselves and the odious Mr Hoffman becomes a moderately likeable human. As the mood lightens so does the comedy – but it is hardly romantic comedy as we know it today. Sellers is at the peak of his powers, wonderful in a bittersweet role that demands him to be both darkly comic and gentle, mournful yet mischievous. Cusack offsets him brilliantly – skittish and ditzy against his hound dog solemnity.

cast
Peter Sellers as Benjamin Hoffman
Sinéad Cusack as Miss Janet Smith
Jeremy Bulloch as Tom Mitchell
Ruth Dunning as Mrs. Mitchell
David Lodge as Foreman (uncredited)
George Hilsdon as Ticket Collector Kings Cross (uncredited)
John Tatum as Man in Restaurant (uncredited)
Kay Hall as (uncredited)

crew
Director: Alvin Rakoff
Script: Ernest Gebler from his novel.

UK | 113 minutes | 1970

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