The Mouse That Roared [DVD] [1959]

The Columbia-TriStar DVD of Jack Arnold's The Mouse That Roared (1959) looks infinitely cleaner, brighter, sharper, and more inviting than the movie looked in television showings of the middle-late 1960's. The movie was the first big budget success of publicist-turned-producer Walter Shenson -- who was later responsible for A Hard Day's Night -- and drew from the tradition of the Ealing comedies of mid-1950's England, but with a few important twists and variations. Through the use of split-screen effects and careful editing, Peter Sellers plays a triple role that was one of the best comedy showcases of his career (and an eerie precursor to his work in Dr. Strangelove), as well as recalling Alec Guinness's work in the Ealing-produced Kind Hearts And Coronets. There were some differences from the Ealing movies, however, mostly as a result of the American influence in the creation of The Mouse That Roared -- Walter Shenson was an American, of course, as was his chosen director, Jack Arnold, and their approach imparted more energy to go with the script's satirical elements; Arnold, who was known as an action director with a solid record in suspense movies, crime films, and science fiction (best known for It Came From Outer Space,Creature From The Black Lagoon, Revenge Of The Creature, Tarantula and The Incredible Shrinking Man, at Universal; and the classic teen exploitation movie High School Confidential), proved equally adept at comedy, intermingling live action and cartoon images and showing a special flair for visual humor and sight gags. He managed to work jokes into just about every corner of the screen, in a way that was closer in spirit to, say, Monty Python's Flying Circus than to the Boulting Brothers at Ealing. This all comes to life in the crispest transfer the movie has ever had in a home video format. The letterboxed image of 1.85-to-1 is so sharp that the chain mail worn by the troops that "invade" New York shimmers in the close-ups, and the masking frames the humor and the action very tightly. The care taken with the picture and the sound -- which is a little low in volume but not obtrusively so -- is matched by the chapter encoding, which gives us a whopping 28 plot-point markers in an 83 minute movie. There are no other special features,apart from a selection of Columbia trailers and option English and French subtitles, all accessible through a simple menu that opens automatically on start-up.
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The Mouse That Roared
The economy of the teeny-tiny European duchy of Grand Fenwick is threatened when an American manufacturer comes up with an imitation of Fenwick's sole export, its fabled wine. Crafty prime minister Count Mountjoy (Peter Sellers) comes up with a plan: Grand Fenwick will declare war on the United States. Grand Duchess Gloriana (Peter Sellers again) is hesitant: how can meek little Grand Fenwick win such a conflict? Mountjoy explains that the plan is to lose the war, then rely upon American foreign aid to replenish Grand Fenwick's treasury. Bumbling military officer Tully Bascombe (Peter Sellers yet again) leads his country's ragtag army into battle. They cross the Atlantic in an ancient wooden vessel, then set foot on Manhattan Island, fully prepared to down weapons and surrender. But New York City is deserted, due to an air raid drill. While wandering around, Sellers comes upon atomic scientist David Kossoff and the scientist's pretty daughter Jean Seberg. Kossoff has been working on the deadly "Q Bomb," a football-sized weapon with the destructive capacity of a hundred hydrogen bombs. Suddenly seized with patriotic fervor, Tully captures Kossoff, his daughter and the bomb and brings them all back to Grand Fenwick. Tully has "won" the war-precisely what he'd been told not to do. The upshot of this "victory" is that every world power converges upon Grand Fenwick to claim the Q Bomb for themselves. The satire is heavy-handed at times, but The Mouse That Roared contains several unforgettably hilarious moments, including one startling "false ending." One of the best gags involves the Columbia Pictures logo--a bit frequently cut from TV showings, worse luck. Based on one of the many "Grand Fenwick" novels by Leonard Wibberly, The Mouse That Roared was a success, yielding a Peter Sellers-less sequel, 1963's Mouse on the Moon. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Cast & Crew

  • Peter Sellers
    Peter Sellers - Tully Bascombe
  • Jean Seberg
    Jean Seberg - Helen Kokintz
  • David Kossoff
    David Kossoff - Prof. Kokintz
  • William Hartnell
    William Hartnell - Will Buckley
  • Leo McKern
    Leo McKern - Benter

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