The Mouse That Roared (1959)


(director: Jack Arnold; screenwriters: Roger MacDougall/Stanley Mann, based on the novel by Leonard Wibberley; cinematographer: John Wilcox; editor: Raymond Poulton; music: Edwin Astley; cast: Peter Sellers (Grand Duchess Gloriana/Prime Minister Mountjoy/Tully Bascombe), Jean Seberg (Helen Kokintz), William Hartnell (Will Buckley, sergeant), David Kossoff (Professor Alfred Kokintz), Leo McKern (Benter), MacDonald Parke (General Snippet); Runtime: 83; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Jon Penington/Walter Shenson; Columbia; 1959)
“Sellers distinguished himself only in his role in drag.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This popular film at the time, first released in arthouses, is more of a dud when viewed today than the explosive comedy initially thought. Telling about the stupidity of American foreign policy should be funny enough (think Vietnam and Iraq!), except this film just wasn’t that funny on the screen as it was on paper. It was the unknown Peter Sellers’ first starring role in a feature film. The Brit actor was a wannabe Alec Guinness and copied his idol by playing three different roles-as the gracious Grand Duchess, prime minister and army chief. Sellers distinguished himself only in his role in drag. In “Kind Hearts and Coronets” Guiness played eight roles. The American Jack Arnold (“It Came from Outer Space”/”The Creature from the Black Lagoon”/”The Incredible Shrinking Man”) directs this silly slapstick satire in a lumbering way proving comedy is not the genre he’s best suited for. The cast is mostly British, though for name recognition purposes the American Jean Seburg was given a starring role. It’s based on the novel by Leonard Wibberley that was first serialized in the Saturday Evening Post as The Day New York Was Invaded. It’s written by Roger MacDougall and Stanley Mann.

The plot revolves around how a country can prosper by losing a war to the United States. When the fictitious smallest country in the world, the Duchy of Grand Fenwick, located in the French Alps and founded some five hundred years ago by an English nobleman (making it the only European country where English is spoken), is going bankrupt because it lost its only export, its wine, as a California company put out a cheaper imitation and stole its American market, the prime minister proposes that they declare war on the United States and quickly surrender to receive aid under the Marshall Plan.

The 20-man Fenwickian army, armed with bows and arrows, sails into New York to surrender but finds the city deserted due to an air-raid drill and instead accidentally ends up possessing the experimental most powerful weapon in the world, the Q-Bomb (has the capacity of 100 hydrogen bombs), as they take hostage its droll loner atomic scientist inventor Professor Alfred Kokintz (David Kossoff) and his feisty pretty daughter Helen (Jean Seburg), and also several city policemen and a pompous, idiotic, corpulent general named Snippet. While back in Fenwick, the surprised victors find the United States suing for peace and the entire world backing them in the hopes of getting their hands on the bomb while also fearing their new power.

The film’s funniest bit comes as a visual gag in the opening screen credits involving the Columbia Pictures statue of liberty logo. It has her hike up her skirt and run off the podium, frightened by a mouse. An inferior and now forgotten sequel entitled The Mouse on the Moon (1963) was directed by Richard Lester, as Sellers was replaced by a number of characters who just weren’t funny.