Monday, December 26, 2022

After the Fox

Another person who was honored in Summer Under the Stars this past August was Peter Sellers, which gave me the chance to record a couple of his movies that I had not seen before. Among these is After the Fox, which I recently watched.

After an opening credits sequence that confirmed my suspicion that the titles were designed by Maurice Binder, we get into an establishing scene to set up the main part of the story. Among the great heists ever committed is an Egyptian bullion robbery, masterminded by a man named Okra (Akim Tamiroff). However, having robbed the bullion, there's a problem: How do they actually move it so they can get the money that it's worth? Interpol is on the case, and they know that the robber is going to need somebody to get it into Europe. The criminal who would seem to have the greatest capacity to do it is Aldo Vanucci (Peter Sellers), nicknamed "The Fox", but he's currently in prison.

Not for long, His gang breaks him out, and he goes home to his mother and his sister Gins (Britt Ekland, who was Sellers' real-life wife at the time). There, he finds out that his sister has a scandalous job -- she's an actress, horror of horrors! However, this and another event helps give Aldo an idea.

Aldo has decided to take on the job of smugling the bullion into Europe because he wants to give his sister a respectable job, yet doesn't know how to do it until he sees another actor, Tony Powell (Victor Mature). Tony is the stereotype of the American who is better known for his name than being a truly good actor, and going to Europe for the big pay check. When Tony goes out on the streets of Rome, he's mobbed by Italians who are fans of old Hollywood movies and have seen Powell's work. (The movie actually uses snippets of one of Mature's old movies, Easy Living to show Powell's old work.)

Aldo, having seen this, realizes that he can smuggle the bullion into Italy under the guise of making a movie about smuggling gold! Everybody else involved will think that they're acting out a scene from a movie, not knowing that what they're handling is real gold and not prop gold. Posing under the name of Federico Fabrizi, Aldo goes to a small seaside fishing village where the boat carrying the bullion can anchor offshore, and gets pretty much the entire population of the town to play extras in the movie. After all, they're so star-struck that they want to be in the movie. Likewise does Tony Powell, who thinks it will be great to be in something so avant-garde.

The only person who realizes the obvious is Tony's agent, Harry Granoff (Martin Balsam). You'd think that the residents of this little Italian town would have heard of a "Federico Fabrizi" if there were an actual famous director by this name and recognize that this is an impostor. But for whatever reason they go along with the con, with only Harry suspecting Fabrizi might not be real. The question then becomes whether those Italian authorities from outside the village, not involved with the fake movie, will find out what's going on and catch Aldo before he can get away with robbery.

I've long felt that from Dr. Strangelove on, a little bit of Peter Sellers goes a long, long way. That's certainly the case here. The comedy is designed to be mostly a farce, with a bit of social commentary courtesy of director Vittorio De Sica (who even appears as himself) about greed messing up "art". But Sellers has a tendency to be too forceful in his comedy to the point that for me at least, it can become grating and obnxious. Martin Balsam follows along in this line. Perhaps surprisingly, the acting honors go to Mature, parodying his own image. Like Broderick Crawford a decade later in A Little Romance, Mature looks like he's having a blast skewering the idea of the Hollywood star.

After the Fox may not be for everybody, especially if, like me, you're not the biggest fan of Peter Sellers. But if you do like Sellers' work, then I think you'll enjoy After the Fox.

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