Hoffman is one of the most obscure films in the career of Peter Sellers, who hated the 1970 comedy-drama so much that he asked to buy up all of the prints and start over again from scratch. He needn’t have bothered, as the strange little movie was barely released in UK theatres at all and had its debut American screening in 1982 after he was already dead. I caught it on a low rent UHF channel that ran old B&W TV shows, wrestling, Tom Baker-era Doctor Who, Marx Brothers and WC Fields movies, Australian women in prison soap operas, and flop films like this one in the late 70s or I probably would never have heard of it myself. Hoffman is a cult film with a very small cult.
Some people say it’s Sellers’ “best” performance” but I think that’s a contrarian film snob taking it way too far. Having said that, it is, for sure, one of his most interesting roles and a fascinating film that is basically just two very, very fine actors at work. Most of the film takes place in the same rooms. (The somewhat play-like material had been done before on television by director Alvin Rakoff with Donald Pleasance.)
Sellers’ intense dislike of Hoffman apparently stemmed from what he regarded as this being the closest he got to his revealing his true self onscreen. When not hiding behind an accent or make-up, the actor often claimed that he had no identity whatsoever outside the roles that he played. If, in fact, the odd, manipulative, somewhat psycho aging businessman Sellers played in Hoffman is close to how he saw himself, well, that’s… well… it’s very interesting.
Dull, creepy—even sinister-seeming—Benjamin Hoffman has an unrequited crush on his pretty secretary, Miss Smith, played by a young Sinéad Cusack at the very beginning of her career. When he discovers that her fiance is involved in a criminal activity, he blackmails her into spending a week with him, with just three weeks to go before their wedding when he will lose her forever. She reluctantly agrees and Hoffman behaves cruelly, playing mindgames with her until revealing himself to be a very lonely and pathetic soul. If Sellers saw a too-close for comfort version of himself onscreen in Hoffman, it would speak volumes about his legendary pathologies! What must the man have been like in private if THIS performance disturbed him so much? Yikes! (It’s worth noting that Sellers’ former writing and performing partner Spike Milligan sent Britt Ekland a congratulatory telegram when her divorce from Sellers became final in 1968!)
I’ve read Hoffman described as an “offbeat” love story, but I don’t know how many would agree with that, especially women.
Hoffman‘s moody music was composed by Ron Grainer, he of the Doctor Who theme fame.