However, in Soft Bed, Hard Battles* the vocal skills of Sellers are most noticeable. The setting is mainly a high class brothel in Paris during the period of WW2. The story concerns the way in which the brothel, the madam and the girls are used by the occupying Germans and the French Resistance, supported by the British, to promote their own ends. In this film Sellers plays:
- A gently lecherous old French General - General Latour
- A, casual, upper class, British army major with little concern for the disasters he leaves behind for others to deal with – Major Robinson
- The head of the Gestapo in Paris – Herr Schroeder
- The post-war President of France
- Prince Kijoto, son of the Japanese war-time emperor, Hirohito
- Adolf Hitler
Even a cursory glance at this list will reveal the enormous range of characters that he creates. However, his performances are no party trick by a talented mimic. For each character Sellers creates an individual walk, a separate voice and a character that bears no resemblance to any of the others. Major Robinson’s tactics leave us sympathetic with his cause, but taken aback by his carelessness as to the consequences for others: while Herr Schroeder is portrayed as ruthless, devious, scheming and nasty in every possible way.
Part of the theory of Stanislavski method acting is to find within yourself an element of the character you are playing, and then to enlarge it to fit the total part. I don’t know if this is how Sellers went about creating his characters. But he is totally convincing, and what the student of acting should notice is the complete conviction with which each character is played, the enormous vocal changes that are evident from character to character, and the hard work that went in to creating each role.
*The two films mentioned, along with an earlier Sellers film, The Naked Truth, can be obtained as a triple DVD from JB Hi Fi for a paltry $15 or thereabouts.