Saturday, December 3, 2022

#2,874. After the Fox (1966) - The Films of Peter Sellers


Written by Neil Simon (The Odd Couple, Seems Like Old Times).

Directed by Vittorio de Sica (Bicycle Thieves, The Children are Watching Us).

Starring Peter Sellers (Dr. Strangelove, The Pink Panther).

Now, that’s a hell of a pedigree for any movie!  And After the Fox is a hell of a movie. Not perfect, mind you, but with a manic energy that is infectious, and a story that’s just madcap enough to keep you laughing.

Master criminal Aldo Vanucci (Sellers), whose nickname is “The Fox”, has escaped from an Italian prison. After stopping home for a quick reunion with his bitter mother (Lydia Brazzi) and younger sister Gina (Britt Ekland), Vanucci goes into hiding, during which time he is contacted by fellow crook Okra (Akim Tamiroff).

Okra recently masterminded the theft of hundreds of gold bars in Cairo, and promises Vanucci half the loot if he can figure out a way to get that gold into Italy.

So, Vanucci devises an ingenious scheme. Posing as a film director named Federico Fabrizi, Vanucci will make a “movie” about a fortune in gold being smuggled into the country! He even manages to cast American star Tony Powell (Victor Mature) as the lead, much to the chagrin of Powell’s longtime manager Harry (Martin Balsam).

Aided by his gang, and with Powell in tow, Vanucci heads to the small seaside village of Sevalio, where the gold will be brought ashore. A fast talker, Vanucci convinces all of the locals, including the chief of police (Lando Buzzanco), to appear as extras.

With so many people helping, getting the gold loaded onto a truck will be a piece of cake. But two detectives (Tiberio Murgia and Francesco De Leone) are hot on his trail, meaning Vanucci will have to work fast if he is to have any chance of pulling off his elaborate scheme.

Having scored hits on Broadway with Barefoot in the Park and The Odd Couple, After the Fox was Neil Simon’s first original screenplay, and features much of his patented wit. But the movie is more a showcase for Peter Sellers’ unique brand of comedy than it is Simon’s. The first half of the film, which features Vanucci’s escape from prison and his attempts to suppress the movie star aspirations of his pretty sister, are funny enough. But it is the later scenes, where the character is in full “director” mode, that the actor’s talents shine brightest.

At one point, everyone in town is on the beach, waiting for the gold to arrive so they can shoot the “big finale”. Unfortunately, Okra learns the boat is running late, which means Fabrizi / Vanucci has to stall. With no idea what to do, he “shoots” an impromptu scene with Powell and Gina (who is posing as the film’s starlet) sitting at a dinner table, which has been hastily set up in the sand. When Powell asks what he and Gina are supposed to do in this scene, Vanucci says “do… nothing”. So, the two stare at one another.

Fabrizi follows this up by having them do “something”: he orders Powell and Gina to run through the entire town. When Powell asks who they’re running from, Vanucci replies “yourselves”. All at once, everyone witnessing these exchanges, Powell included, are convinced Fabrizi is an arthouse genius!

Also great is the film’s opening song, written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David (who scored a hit the year earlier with the title track for What’s New Pussycat) and featuring a duet between Peter Sellers and the rock group The Hollies!

A funny movie that takes potshots at egotistical directors (De Sica makes a cameo as himself, shooting a biblical picture in Egypt and telling his assistants the desert needs “more sand”), extreme fandom (Powell is mobbed by adoring fans everywhere he goes), and film snobs (there’s a late scene involving a movie critic that is hilarious), After the Fox is a ‘60s heist film and spoof of the cinema rolled into one. And despite a few slow spots in the middle, it does a damn good job with both.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10

1 comment:

Eric Gilliland said...

I've never heard of this one - I'll have to check it out. Peter Sellers was such an otherworldly presence on film, there's never been anyone quite like him.