Friday 11 May 2007

The Mouse on the Moon (1963) Richard Lester

Grand Fenwick was awesomely memorable in the 1959 Peter Sellers triumph The Mouse That Roared and there really wasn't much chance that the sequel wasn't going to still be at least seriously good in his absence. Two of his famed three roles were taken by Margaret Rutherford, who I last saw as a memorable Miss Marple, and Ron Moody, who also appeared in one of those Miss Marple movies and who is probably the most famous Fagin of them all. The story is reasonably similar.

The tiny duchy of Grand Fenwick, nestled somewhere in the middle of Europe, now needs indoor plumbing because hereditary prime minister Rupert Mountjoy wants hot baths, but of course it has no money to pay for it. Even their one single export, a particular wine, is failing to travel properly and turns instead into an dangerous explosive mixture. So he decides to pretend to enter the space race in order to obtain money from both the Americans and the Russians, who can't pretend that there even is such a thing as a space race and certainly can't afford to appear to be against an international space coalition.

As a comedy, you simply can't fail with people like Margaret Rutherford, David Kossoff, Bernard Cribbins, Terry-Thomas, John Le Mesurier, Peter Sallis and Clive Dunn in the film. Rutherford is the suitably dotty Grand Duchess; Ron Moody is the sneaky prime minister; and David Kossoff, the only actor returning from the first film, plays the same character too. He's Professor Kokinz, atomic scientist, and he's one of only a few people to take all of it seriously. While the prime minister is only after his new plumbing, Kokinz is busy making it all completely viable. His only compatriot in crime is the prime minister's son, Vincent, played by Bernard Cribbins, who has always dreamt of being an astronaut.

As a political satire, it deconstructs the space race both astutely and hilariously at the same time. Novelist Leonard Wibberley really has a solid grasp of international relations, based mostly on the fact that in a race the Americans and Russians are, for international purposes, exactly the same thing with exactly the same motivations. This is demonstrated superbly in the film by conversations in American being followed by precisely the same conversations in Russian, which is completely obvious even without any subtitles; and by completely parallel plans by both sides to catch up the Grand Fenwick ship on the way and then by both sides to return.

As a demonstration of technical detail and understanding of international accents, it's of course a complete failure but in a film like this really who gives a monkey's? Terry-Thomas is perfect as a bumbling English spy but the so called Americans are terrible as Americans and who thought up Peter Sallis as a Russian? No wonder he didn't say much except 'Da!' It's simply a perfect example of comedy from the days when filmmakers had progressed to colour but not so far as the time when every comedy had to do nothing except swear a lot and offend anyone possible. Ron Moody is marvellous and David Kossoff isn't far behind, the former as a dynamo whose every plan is perfectly set but goes haywire anyway, and the latter as the infuriatingly patient and perennially right scientist, even when he sounds insane. It isn't up to the original film because some of the jokes are dumb, however funny they are, but it isn't far behind.

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