"I would rather get laughs than sympathy." - Tony (Victor Mature)
I have seen very few Peter Sellers movies. I always have to be dragged kicking and screaming to a picture that I end up loving. It was like that with Dr Strangelove, one of my favorite movies of all time. This was one that I heard about a few months ago but only got to watching this morning. It's a terrific picture.
This broadest of broad comedies was written first as a play by Neil Simon so it has that great Simon energy and wit. The jokes are very adult and sophisticated for the time and the movie is full of great little comedic touches. The laughs come at you fast and furious and once you buy the premise, it's a funny, sweet little ride to the end.
The story is simple - Master Italian thief Aldo escapes from prison (which he can do at will) to take care of his poor Mama and wild sister (Britt Ekland). To pay for his new life he plots and schemes to make millions off a stolen shipment of Egyptian gold. Aldo, also called The Fox, is a master of disguise. The film heavily plays into the joy Sellers obviously took at playing multiple characters as he has done in multiple movies.
Burt Bacharach provides the jazzy soundtrack. It's full of the pops and beeps of the electric organ.
Of course, my main reason for seeing this movie was that it's a Victor Mature movie that I have yet to see. As you know I NEVER miss a good Victor Mature movie. Here he plays an aging movie star that Aldo recruits for the fake movie he is going to make. The movie will be the vehicle by which he will move the stolen gold. The plan's brilliance is that it's improvised by Aldo as he goes along. You are so impressed with his resourcefulness and charm that you want him to succeed. It's a feel good story.
Mature's Tony Powell plays totally against type. He hardly has movie star good looks but he plays this role like he is the most handsome man in the world - only one that is not accepting aging very well. Tony is the not the brightest bulb in the box but he so totally buys into the madness of the situation that he actually pulls off the performance of his life. Brilliant.
I understand that Brit Ekland got a lot of heat at the time for her performance. She's not the greatest actress ever but she does have some nice comic timing. She can hardly be accused of being over the top in the presence of all the other insane performances around her. She's really just one of the boys.
Sellers is deliciously insane when he goes full retard as a Felini-esque film director. His scenes where he plays totally to Mature's actor's ego are scenes of unparalleled comic brilliance. I can't say enough good things about Peters Sellers in this film. His performance brings up the level of everyone else a notch and that made all the difference for me.
Martin Balsam rounds out a great cast as Powell's stressed agent. I have seen Balsam play this kind of role a thousand times but somehow here he has a whole little movie going on in his own head that I would love to see removed from the film and put on You Tube. Just give me the Martin Balsam parts of this movie and I could weave you such a tale of Hollywood insanity that it would make your hair curl.