Director: Vittorio De Sica
Script: Neil Simon
Cast: Peter Sellers, Victor Mature, Britt Ekland, Martin Balsam, Akim Tamiroff, Paula Steppa, Lydia Brazzi, Tino Buazzelli, Mac Roney
Running time: 104 minutes
Back in the seventies, when I was but a mere nipper, I used to watch many films with my mother of an afternoon while she did the ironing and peeled vegetables ready for the evening meal. I guess you could say that my mother was the one who got me into movies – thanks mum! Anyway, the point I’m making here is After the Fox could well have been one of those many films I saw on our old black and white TV, its cathode-ray tube getting hotter by the minute as it pumped out lively images for my ever-hungry young eyes to devour. Obviously, if I had seen After the Fox back then my younger self would have been less discerning and I would have probably enjoyed the mix of slapstick and farcical humour running throughout the movie, like lettering within a stick of seaside rock. However, nowadays, my viewing palate is more sophisticated (well, kind of!), and more discerning (Mmm?), hence my review of this film, as an adult, can only be more critical than it would have been forty years ago…
During a mad-cap prologue a sizable amount of over-sized gold bars are stolen in Cairo and then mysteriously disappear. The legitimate owners of the gold understandable want it back and try to work out who might have stolen it or at least fenced it on the black market. Their short-list of possible felons includes ‘the Cat’, but he’s now in a wheelchair and therefore just limited to purse-snatching, and he’s not very good at that either! Their second possibility is ‘The Panther’ (aka Michael O’ Reilly) who’s unlikely to have pulled the heist off as he’s now almost blind – we see him trying to hold up a police station, mistaking it for a bank! There’s also Felix Kessel, of Berlin, but he’s become too fat to exit the places that he’s robbing from, which leaves ‘The Fox’ (Peter Sellers), but he’s in prison, so it can’t have been him…
The Fox (aka Aldo) is now semi-retired, and breaks out of prison when he hears that his younger sister, Gina (Britt Ekland), has deserted their mother for a life on the streets. It soon becomes apparent that the information that he’s received is only partially true – she’s become an actress and is shooting a film on the street, which Aldo ruins by ‘rescuing’ his beautiful sister from a man who’s seemingly hitting on her, but who is only really acting.
With the police after him and the owners of the gold looking out for him, the Fox decides to retrieve the gold for himself, (with his gang), and he wants to make this big job his last. However, as we all know, life is never simple and he finds being hunted makes trying to steal back the gold hard, that is until he comes up with the perfect plan – a reason for him to be in the area that the gold is reportedly being delivered to – he turns film producer and enlists the aid of down-on-his-luck actor Tony (Victor Mature) to star in his film and become his perfect cover.
If the aforementioned plot seems reasonable, then that’s because it is, at least on paper, but the execution is sloppy and there are gaps in plot logic that I struggled to get my head around. In fact, the storyline is really just a rough tale to hang Sellers’ nutty antics and gurning on and around. A few of the scenes made me smile a little, but I didn’t laugh out loud once so I can’t really describe the film as being a comedy.
Peter Sellers is trying his best to mimic Alec Guinness in his multiple personalities role here, but sadly he over does things, forgetting the ‘less is more’ rule and therefore his ‘over-egging the pudding’, I feel, somewhat ruins the film. The other actors – Ekland, Mature and Balsam play it straighter and therefore generate more chuckles. In fact, the performances are all rather fun in After the Fox, especially Mature’s, which reminded me of how much I used to like the actor as a kid, in films such as Demetrius and the Gladiators (1954) and The Robe (1953). He’s clearly enjoying sending himself up here. As for Britt Ekland – she’s clearly enjoying herself and looks amazingly gorgeous…
De Sica makes good use out of some excellent Italian locations and the colours really ‘pop out’ at the viewer, so well done to the British Film Institute on the restoration; excellent work. Burt Bacharach’s film score and songs are playful and fun, although don’t always work in every scene, but I enjoyed the title song over the fun animated credit sequence, which was possibly the highlight of the film for me; apart from falling for Ekland’s many charms, obviously. The director is also clearly good at working with crowds as there are some impressive crowd scenes, which must have taken a lot of organisation to pull off as well as they have.
After the Fox is clearly a film that has the best of intentions but, sadly, doesn’t quite manage to follow-through off the back of its excellent pedigree and therefore, ultimately, is something of a disappointment.
The BFI are distributing After the Fox on Blu-ray. The extras on my review disc were as follows:
After the Fox (15 mins) – A socially-distanced interview with Britt Ekland who talks about her career and her idyllic upbringing in Sweden;
Peter Sellers: Master of Disguise (14.5 mins) – Vic Pratt revisits the enigma that is Peter Sellers, whom he describes as the first ‘3D comic’.
DDR Magazine Number 11 (12 mins) – Director Vittorio De Sica made this piece of Pathė news style propaganda produced during the Cold War;
Robbery (35 secs) – A fragment of a Victorian novelty reel, which might just be the first heist comedy captured on film;
The Man with the Velvet Voice: Maurice Denham – Two shorter films featuring Maurice Denham, both from the BFI archive, including The Last Rhino (55.5 mins), which is a rather dated, but still fun, Children’s Film Foundation featurette, and Go as you please (17 mins), which is kind of an extended tourist infomercial following an older couple around as they take part in various activities including some brass rubbing;
Trailer (3mins) – This effectively focuses on the title song by Neil Simon and the animated credits and is all the better for it.