The Mouse That Roared
"What I can't understand is why they had to resort to war! There are many ways of settling differences short of war. We've always been nice to little countries all over the world." Spoken by an American diplomat after the country's "Q Bomb" has been stolen by the ragtag military of the Duchy of Grand Fenwick, the line is indicative of the on-the-nose brand of satire that runs throughout Jack Arnold's The Mouse That Roared (1959). A comedic showcase for Peter Sellers, who is as brilliant as ever playing three different characters the film's protagonist, Tully Bascombe, as well as the country's grand duchess and prime minister the picture is too obvious to ever be gut-bustingly funny, but it's never abrasive, and therefore engenders a gently whimsical goodwill that keeps one from carping over how terribly insubstantial it all is. The trouble starts when a California vintner begins selling a cheap knock-off of Fenwick's national wine, which happens to be its chief export. To keep the country from falling into financial ruin, its parliament dreams up a rather ingenious plan: declare war on the United States, get the tar beat out of them, surrender, and be rebuilt to greater glory by their deep-pocketed conqueror. Charged with organizing and commanding the country's non-existent military is Bascombe, who leads his small company into a ghostly quiet Manhattan the city's populace is dancing their cares away in underground shelters while the aforementioned doomsday device is tested where they win a wholly unexpected victory. They also take prisoner, along with a top general and a few policemen, the bomb's creator, Professor Kokintz (David Kossoff) and his beautiful daughter Helen (Jean Seberg). Unfortunately for Bascombe, his triumph runs counter to the Prime Minister's wishes, and the parliament begins conspiring to find a way to sneak the bomb back to America. Meanwhile, the rest of the world's major powers pledge their support to this can-do speck on the globe that has suddenly acquired this dreaded super-bomb. Putting to use lots of cartoon maps and other silly inserts that often break the fourth wall to the audience, journeyman director Jack Arnold (who, over the course of 20 years, went from making the nuclear-age sci-fi classic The Incredible Shrinking Man to the blacksploitation cult fave Boss Nigger) keeps it all agreeably light, leaving the comedic heavy lifting to his talented star. And Sellers is great, but not in the broad, slapsticky manner of his multi-character masterpieces like Dr. Strangelove or The Pink Panther series. He stays within the parameters of the material and amazes with three very distinct personalities that stand out not for the outrageousness of their behavior, but for the actor's attention to nuance. It's a lesson Mike Myers hasn't bothered to learn. As the love interest, Seberg supplies the beauty but flails at the comedy. The film's secret weapon is Edwin T. Astley's grand score, which sounds as if it was a direct inspiration for Elmer Bernstein's similar sounding work on National Lampoon's Animal House. Columbia TriStar presents The Mouse That Roared in a fine anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with monaural Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. Extras are limited to a few theatrical trailers for this film, Dr. Strangelove and Don't Raise the Bridge, Lower the River. Keep-case.