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