Gold off Naples

In DR STRANGELOVE, Peter Sellers is getting at least some of his vocal inflections from Kubrick when he plays Merkin Muffley, and in TOM THUMB he’s doing George Pal. The third in the trinity of directorial impersonations is AFTER THE FOX, where he reportedly patterned his performance as Italian master criminal Aldo “the Fox” Vanucci on Vittorio De Sica, who he’d already acted alongside in THE MILLIONAIRESS.

It makes sense, when cast as an Italian, to have an actual Italian as model, especially if that Italian is going to be close at hand. And especially since your character masquerades as a great Italian film director. But the movie’s self-referencing doesn’t end there. Vanucci plans to smuggle stolen gold into Italy under cover of a fake film shoot — a film about smuggling gold into Italy — so he enlists real movie star Victor Mature, playing fictional movie star Tony Powell (but with a clip of Mature in Jacques Tourneur’s EASY LIVING to illustrate his career). Mature, who had been semi-retired from the screen, evidently found the experience as invigorating as his character does. It’s quite an early case of an actor sending themselves up with vicious glee, and Mature is not only a good sport but a proficient farceur.

Oh, the title of the fake movie (below) is a broad reference to an earlier, real De Sica film.

And here’s De Sica as himself, directing a movie. Rather excellent gag where a fake sandstorm is produced for the scene, and when the storm dies down, all the equipment has been stolen. This fake movie the real director is making stars another real director, John Huston, but confusingly/hilariously, he’s not played by John Huston. Maybe they’d assumed that Huston, like De Sica a serious gambler, would need the money and agree to play himself playing Moses. Bizarrely, he eventually did play a different Lawgiver in BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES.

And is it a reference to Italian movie dubbing when Akim Tamiroff (whose presence in caper movies seemed to be de rigeur — OCEAN’S ELEVEN, TOPKAPI) is lip-synched by Maria Grazia Buccella? It’s quite funny, anyway.

Neil Simon, who scripted, reckoned that the film was only fair, and that there was more funny stuff on a cutting room floor in Rome somewhere (including Sellers disguised as a Beatle). But, going into it with low expectations — I’d seen it once, years ago, and hadn’t laughed much, and we watched the other De Sica-Sellers collaboration, WOMAN TIMES SEVEN, and didn’t laugh at all — we actually found it very enjoyable indeed. It doesn’t really have a second act, just a bunch of stuff, but it has one of the best closing lines in history.

OK, maybe not top ten best end lines, but top hundred. I like it because it destroys the reality of what we’ve been watching, it FORCES THE FILM TO STOP.

AFTER THE FOX stars Pearly Gates; Samson; Goodnight; Det. Milton Arbogast; ‘Uncle’ Joe Grandi; Pope Alexander III; Nero Wolfe; Lucrezia Borgia; Professor Henry Harrington; Kreacher; Baron Fabrizio Donati; Sgt. ‘Muscles’ Dunn; Capannelle; and Fran Garland (archive footage).

6 Responses to “Gold off Naples”

  1. Jim Cobb Says:

    I love the Bacharach/David title song which pairs Sellers with the Hollies. For me the highlight of the film.

  2. Yes, Tony, that goes double for me.

    And yes, the theme song is good. Bacharach did his best to glue several of Sellers’ more incoherent films together.

  3. Saw this in a theater as a preteen. The lip-syncing beauty made an impression (“I don’t smoke. But the girl does.”); I was just old enough to wonder why the fact of her being somebody’s sister was a deal breaker for Sellers.

    Our parents took us to “racy” comedies and James Bond films, back when it was a reasonable judgment call. Mom pulled us out of “Castle Keep” upon seeing two adults in bed but somehow we were permitted all of “Coogan’s Bluff” and “Firecreek”. By the time ratings were introduced here (G, M, R, & X) we were largely picking our own movies, but the only time I recall the folks taking us to R-rated fare was a double feature of “Blazing Saddles” and the wretched Richard Burton – Lee Marvin “The Klansman” (there was curiosity about “Klansman”, because it was shot in Northern California). “Klansman” ran first, so mercifully Mel Brooks washed out most of the aftertaste.

    It was an interesting transitional time for mainstream movies. Intelligent and capable people with vast resources were creating things like “Casino Royale”. Bob Hope and Jerry Lewis were still around, but their kind of movie was increasing irrelevant except on television. Within a few years the extravagant, smirky comedies were just as antiquated. Spielberg’s “1941” was probably the last true specimen of the breed, a crazed attempt by addled youths to do old Blake Edwards excess.

  4. Hollywood’s current attitude seems to be that comedies should be small and bland-looking. Only Wes Anderson, who has only one foot in the genre, brings a really distinctive visual sensibility to things.

    I kind of agree with the feeling that epic and comedy are an ungainly match, with Keaton’s The General the towering exception. Tati found ways to make comedies big and costly but avoided the large-scale destruction which characterises the field.

    One thing that hurts After the Fox: it ends with a fairly dull chase, with the mass collision that concludes The Pink Panther’s chase, and follows it with a trial scene, making the deja vu very hard to miss. (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum’s chase, the same year, also ends with everybody colliding: Lester felt it wasn’t a very organic climax.)

  5. chris schneider Says:

    I’ve often wondered which stone tablet it was written upon that pictures — comedies, mostly — must end with a chase. A Sixties phee-nom, mostly? The first example that comes to mind, Quine’s SEX AND THE SINGLE GIRL, is certainly Sixties.

    Really tiresome, in any case.

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