After the Fox (1966)

“If only I could steal enough to become an honest man!”

Synopsis:
A renowned thief (Peter Sellers) known as The Fox concocts an ingenious gold-stealing heist, in which he pretends to direct a movie co-starring his aspiring-actress sister (Britt Ekland) and an aging matinee idol (Victor Mature).

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Review:
The unlikely teaming of Italian neo-realist director Vittorio De Sica and American comedic playwright Neil Simon resulted in this uneven but occasionally laugh-out-loud spoof of heist films and cinemania. Peter Sellers delivers a typically stellar performance in the lead role, playing a man so utterly self-confident in his skills as a world-class thief that he openly predicts his own ability to break out of jail at a precise time — and gets away with it. Unfortunately, the story itself takes far too long to kick into gear, with much of the first half-hour of the film — as we’re introduced to Sellers, his movie-obsessed sister (Ekland), and his eternally lamenting mother (Lydia Brazzi) — simply tiresome, given that it’s primarily concerned with Sellers’ over-protective efforts to prevent Ekland from entering into a career as a starlet.

Suddenly, however, the film takes a comedic turn for the better. After witnessing the true hysteria generated by the presence of an aging movie star (Mature) in a small Italian town, Sellers gets his inspiration: he and his cronies will hijack the “gold of Cairo” by pretending to direct a movie in which the gold is stolen, assuming that they will be so surrounded by police protection that they will easily get away with it. From this point on, the film hits its comedic stride, with Simon and De Sica mercilessly satirizing society’s obsession with fame and cinema — as demonstrated by an inspired sequence in which Sellers cleverly secures the good graces of the town’s chief of police (Lando Buzzanca) by flattering him into accepting a bit role in the “film”. Meanwhile, Victor Mature (as “Tony Powell”) gives a consistently fearless performance spoofing his own image as an aging screen idol taken in by Sellers’ sweet-talking persuasions; his performance alone makes this one worth a look.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Victor Mature as Tony Powell
  • Peter Sellers as Aldo Vanucci
  • An amusing skewering of cinematic idolatry

Must See?
No; while it possesses a legion of loyal followers, this one is ultimately too uneven to fully recommend. But it’s certainly recommended for at least one-time viewing. Listed as a Cult Movie in the addendum to Peary’s book (titles he mistakenly left out of the film’s first printing).

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2 Responses to “After the Fox (1966)”

  1. A must.

    I don’t share the feeling that ‘ATF’ is uneven. Quite the contrary, to me it’s a rather consistently satisfying comedy – if the film seems to take a little while getting started, I can understand how some might feel that way; but I see the film’s first half as a very nice build-up to a rollicking payoff in the latter half. (I love how Sellers is introduced as one in a line of ‘infamous’ criminals before we meet him in his terrific opening jail scene with his co-horts.)

    If for no other reason, this is one to catch for Sellers’ performance (with Mature running a very-close second). Guided by De Sica with ease (apparently), Sellers’ take on the Italian stereotype (smooth operator, braggart, possessive brother, etc.) is nothing short of hilarious and you pretty much can’t stop watching him. (I have a slight suspicion that Sellers’ performance could have been a little too OTT had the film been directed by a non-Italian.)

    Must-see comedies can be among the hardest to designate. Sure there are classic screwball comedies that everyone agrees are not to be missed, as well as classic sophisticated comedies. Camp classics can be easy to spot for recommendation. But as we get into more contemporary territory, American comedies often take on something of a forced or silly nature, can be less witty and are, therefore, more difficult to fit into the must-see category. Which is why, to me, ‘ATF’ is a breath of fresh air. I find that additional visits to it just leave me with a big ol’ grin from start to finish – along with the laugh-out-loud moments. It seems to me one of Simon’s most relaxed scripts and Simon’s ‘marriage’ with De Sica seems an inspired one.

    If I don’t find it uneven, I’ll admit the film has a few imperfections: overall, it runs smoothly, I think (even if I wish poor Martin Balsam, as the agent, had been given some better lines), but a number of the jokes merely bring forth a slight smile. I don’t particularly find that troublesome (tho I do think the film’s final moment is something of a missed opportunity – but, oh well…).

    Special mention should be made of Burt Bacharach’s wonderfully wacky and, therefore, appropriate score. (Apparently the film had a completely different score when released in Italy. Hmm…)

    Fave scene: Sellers in a restaurant ‘talking’ with Akim Tamiroff through a gorgeous woman, whose back is to Tamiroff’s yet she’s mouthing every single word Tamiroff says…as Sellers seduces her! …Brilliant. Second fave scene: Sellers charming the pants off of Police Chief Buzzanca. Elegantly done. Third fave scene: the Bingo sequence (wonderful pacing there and some very funny bits). Gee, I suppose I could on… 😉

  2. I can imagine that knowing where the film is about to head would help one appreciate the (to me, tiresome) opening half-hour more easily.

    My problem is that I had no idea what Simon/De Sica were up to — so, once things definitely kicked into high gear (and I found myself more and more tickled with the state of cinematic affairs), I was already feeling a bit too soured to go full hog with a “yes” vote at the end.

    Then again — as I think back to both Mature’s and Sellers’ performances, part of me is tempted to shift my vote just on their behalf… And you do point out some delicious fave scenes… And this IS decidedly a film for cineastes… so perhaps you’re right.

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