Thursday, December 1, 2022

#2,873. The Mouse That Roared (1959) - Peter Sellers Film Festival


Years before taking on three roles in Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, Peter Sellers played a trio of characters in The Mouse That Roared, a 1959 comedy about a tiny country that declares war on the United States, and damn near comes out on top!

The Duchy of Grand Fenwick, an English-speaking dot on the map situated in the French Alps, has one chief export: wine! It seems their wine is a big hit in the United States, and this has kept the Duchy’s economy afloat for years. But when a vineyard in California knocks off their recipe, then charges less per bottle, Grand Fenwick finds themselves facing financial ruin.

In an effort to save his country, Prime Minister Count Rupert Mountjoy (Sellers) hatches a crazy scheme: declare war on the United States! Duchess Gloriana XII (also Sellers), the ruler of Grand Fenwick, and Benter (Leo McKern), leader of the opposition, have serious reservations, noting they do not have a prayer of winning such a war.

To their surprise, Count Mountjoy agrees with them. What’s more, he’s hoping they lose!

Familiar with U.S. history, Mountjoy believes that, once they are defeated, the United States will flood Grand Fenwick with millions of dollars in war reparations, at which point they will not only have secured their financial independence, but might also be able to afford that new coffee maker they have had their eye on!

Soon after mailing off their declaration to the U.S., Game Warden Tully Bascombe (Sellers, yet again) is named Field Marshall of the Grand Fenwick military, which consists of his second-in-command, Sergeant Will Buckley (William Hartnell), and twenty troops armed with bows and arrows. Boarding a small French steamer heading to New York, Tully and his platoon start their “invasion”, intent on surrendering the moment they hit U.S. soil.

Alas, things do not go according to plan. The day they arrive, New York is in the midst of a city-wide air raid drill, which means the streets are deserted. Then, while looking for a military H.Q., Tully and his men instead stumble upon Dr. Alfred Kokintz (David Kossoff) and his daughter Helen (Jean Seberg). Dr. Kokintz is the reason the city is practicing for an air raid, due to the fact he has just created the dreaded Q-Bomb, an atomic device powerful enough to destroy an entire continent!

Not only does Tully take the Dr. and his daughter prisoner, but he also confiscates the Q-bomb and, in the process, even captures a U.S. General (MacDonald Parke) and four New York policemen, taking all of them back to Grand Fenwick as his prisoners.

Their plan a shambles, Mountjoy and the others must scramble to get themselves out of this mess, and hopefully do so before the dreaded Q-bomb, which is highly volatile, explodes and takes all of Europe with it!

Directed by Jack Arnold and based on Leonard Wibberley’s novel of the same name, The Mouse That Roared is a very funny movie. The scenes in which Tully and his men are walking through the streets of an abandoned New York, wearing chain mail and carrying bows, is quite a sight. But it is when the “invasion” goes awry, and Tully returns a conquering hero, that things really spiral out of control. To get their greedy mitts on Kokintz’s Q-Bomb, practically every other country in the world lines up to support Grand Fenwick in their war against the United States, a war that Mountjoy and the others had hoped would be over already! There is also a romantic subplot, with Tully falling in love with Helen, whose initial annoyance at being taken prisoner eventually gives way to genuine affection.

Sellers, as expected, is quite good in all three roles. He is likable as the nebbish Tully, who makes a complete mess of things by winning the war; and even gets to camp it up a bit as the elderly Duchess. That said, it’s Sellers’s turn as Mountjoy that is his best, playing a devilishly clever character who is equally as conniving.

Yet as impressive as Sellers is, The Mouse That Roared would have been just as funny had another, or even three other actors, played his parts. This is a situational comedy, and it is what transpires over the course of the movie that has us laughing. Sure, Sellers is good. He always is. But unlike Dr. Strangelove, where he shines and even steals the film’s later scenes as the title character, it’s the story in The Mouse That Roared, and not Sellers’ patented madcap physical humor, that keeps us in stitches.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10

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