AFTER THE FOX (directed by Vittorio De Sica) is my favorite Peter Sellers film - besides A SHOT IN THE DARK and BEING THERE - of the films he made in color. (I also loved him in the b/w DR. STRANGELOVE, of course.) People say, 'what, no PINK PANTHER? Well, yeah, that was a good film, but A SHOT IN THE DARK was better, at least in my view. I laughed so hard I cried, watching ASITD. Sellers also made many black and white British films in the late 50's that were funny as hell, but for whatever reason I can never remember any titles.
In AFTER THE FOX, Sellers plays Italian perfectly - he was a brilliant guy who easily disappeared into a role - a true chameleon. This time out he is Aldo Vanucci (LOVE that name!) a small time con-man known as The Fox, who, after many years of...well, small time conning, is in an Italian prison finishing out a sentence for a con gone awry. As the film begins, Aldo gets news from his merry band of inept hoodies who visit him regularly and bring him gossip of the old neighborhood where his mama and sister still live. The news is this: his little sister Gina, played by Britt Ekland, has grown up. AND worst of all, she wants to be an actress!
Upon hearing this dreadful news, Aldo realizes he must escape from prison and rush to the old neighborhood to save his sister from a fate worse than death. How he goes about this is so diabolically hilarious that I won't spoil it by giving the thing away.
Anyway, once on the outside and reunited with his small band of merry men - as beautifully cast a band of assorted bunglers as you will ever find in a film - Aldo decides to masquerade as a film director. He immediately casts his sister in the lead role (of a non-existent film), this way he can keep an eye on her since she insists she will be an actress or ELSE! There's a scene previous to this, set in Rome, where Aldo, disguised as a carabinieri thinks he is saving Gina from the attentions of an oaf at an outdoor cafe - too, too hysterically funny. It results in Gina - now known as Gina Romantica (don't you love it?!) - being fired from a film in which she played a minor role.
So Aldo invents a film in which to star his sister to save her from the clutches of 'real' movie people. The con takes on a life of its own when Aldo begins to seek backers and hires a lead actor played by an aging Victor Mature. (Hey, if Gina can be named Romantica, Victor can be named Mature.) The thing I like so much about Mature's performance in this film is that he is playing a caricature of himself (named Tony Powell) and playing it with gusto. He knows he's too old, we know he's too old, everyone knows he's too old. Everyone except silly little Gina. Aldo plays to Mature's movie star ego and manages to make him believe he can do this one last film and even possibly win an Oscar. Aldo has convinced him that he - Aldo - is a new wave Italian movie director, a genius with no script, working purely on instinct and vision. Federico Fabrizio. Kind of a Fellini clone - he even looks like him. Funny stuff.
Okay, so here is where it all gets complicated. Enter Akim Tamiroff (a wonderful character actor) and his gorgeous accomplice Maria Grazia Buccela. Tamiroff, playing an Egyptian named Okra, is planning the heist of an armored car carrying millions in gold ingots and is looking for a way to get the stuff to a seaside port town where a ship will be waiting to pick it up. Aldo and Okra will work together to steal the gold while supposedly making a film entitled, "The Gold of Cairo." Yeah, makes perfect sense - right? Aldo knows that villagers in small Italian towns up and down the coast all want to be in films and will bend over backwards to help his 'film company' in any way they can. If he has to, he'll 'cast' the whole town in the movie. Hopefully no one will notice that the cameras have no film in them.
How all this turns out is so much fun to watch that you never worry that most of it makes no sense. Who cares when you're having such a good time? And surprise of surprises, Victor Mature is quite wonderful in this. Kind of pathetic, but knowing he is a has-been and playing it. A Best Supporting Oscar nod would not have been amiss, had I been in charge.
The film ends with a repeat of a major incident in the film's beginning which is a very funny full circle touch.
Really one of Seller's best performances and yet, for whatever reason, the film is not as popular as it should be (in my humble opinion). Possibly because it was badly publicized to begin with. I think the critics of the time were not all that thrilled with it either. Shows you what some critics know about funny: Nada.