Before watching the movie:
There are only so many ways I can say “I hardly know a thing about this movie.” I’m sure that just means I’m getting more comfortable with blank pages than that I’m running out of movies to review that I know all too much about. I know there still exist films that I’ve wanted to see but haven’t gotten around to it, I’m just running out of ones I can think of or access. Also, I’m trying to stay out of the 80s and 90s for a while, so reputations are much more filtered.
Not to say that I’ve heard absolutely nothing about the movie. I recall it being recommended to me in conversation a few times. If it’s the one I’m thinking of, I’m surprised that I remembered the plot but not that it starred Peter Sellers.
In preparation for this movie, I tried to remember how many Sellers movies I’ve seen before, and couldn’t think of any outside the Pink Panther series other than Being There. However, on looking him up, I found at least half a dozen. I suppose he really does blend into comic roles completely. Someday I will watch his Muppet Show appearance, where he comments that he had his Self surgically removed.
I expect… that this film will be good. My preconceptions are too blank for much more.
Millions of dollars of gold bricks are stolen from Cairo in a magnificent heist, but the criminals need a man to smuggle them ashore in Italy. They turn to the very best con man in the business: Aldo Vanucci, AKA “The Fox”. He is currently in jail, though that doesn’t stop him from living a relatively luxurious life, and initially turns down the job for the honor of his mother and sister. But when he finds out that his sister may be entering her teenage years with low moral standards, he breaks himself out. Finding his mother running a bingo parlor in their home and his sister trying to become an actress, he decides he has to stay and be the head of the household and bring in money, so he takes the job. With the police on the hunt for him, he eventually crafts a scheme to pose as a filmmaker, possibly his biggest dupe ever.
I got the idea that this movie was either almost entirely the film scam, or several failed scams leading up to the film idea. In fact, the first half of the film is about Vanucci and his family. The writing managed to make me care about them while I was laughing about it, or perhaps because I was laughing about it. I was surprised to find that it was written by Neil Simon, and in fact his first film. I found it hilarious, even if Simon considers that the best parts were cut by editors who didn’t understand English.
Somehow, no matter what he looks like, Peter Sellers always looks like himself and acts like someone completely different every time. I expected his con man master of disguise character to be many characters combined, but he is only really in full masquerade for one deception, the director Federico Fabrizi. Apparently I’m not the only one who was reminded of Phil Silvers by this performance. Victor Mature has a face I seem to recognize as well, but nothing in his filmography looks familiar.
I didn’t get as much satire on filmmaking as I expected out of it, but I don’t know all of the directors that were specifically spoofed. De Mille was obvious and Fabrizi is clearly named after Federico Fellini, but I don’t know much more than that. Once the Fabrizi act gets going, there is certainly a very strong spoof of film artists, which is so much fun as played by Sellers I didn’t care that the focus had gone from Vanucci’s family issues.
The movie appears to have been shot in English and Italian, but all of the Italian was dubbed over in English by the original actors. On the one hand, I generally prefer multilingual films to retain their original languages, but on the other, I think that would have put at least half the movie in subtitles.
At times hilarious, occasionally compelling if not moving, this was an enjoyable film with plenty to entertain film buffs and casual moviegoers alike. Also, the title song features Peter Sellers almost singing!
Watch this movie: because your chance has gone to try to be in it.
Don’t watch this movie: if you were expecting an “animal picture.”