Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB
United Kingdom, 1959. Highroad Productions. Screenplay by Roger MacDougall, Stanley Mann, based on the novel by Leonard Wibberley. Cinematography by John Wilcox. Produced by Walter Shenson. Music by Edwin Astley. Production Design by Geoffrey Drake. Costume Design by Anthony Mendleson. Film Editing by Raymond Poulton.
One of the funniest comedies that Peter Sellers ever made, this colourful charmer stars him as a number of different citizens of the tiny Duchy of Grand Fenwick, a tiny, English-speaking country high top a French Alp that is unknown to most of the world and whose main export is their Pinot Grand Fenwick wine. America has long been the wine’s main consumer but has invented its own imitation, which threatens Grand Fenwick’s economy, so the Prime Minister (Sellers) come up with a plan to wage war on America! He believes that if they invade, they will most certainly fail and will then find themselves the beneficiaries of the USA’s financial generosity, having witnessed aid being doled out to the other countries that America has destroyed. Grand Duchess Gloriana XII (Sellers) approves the plan and sends a rag-tag group of chain-mailed soldiers on a ship across the ocean lead by Grand Fenwick’s head forest ranger (you guessed it, Sellers) who unwittingly brings his men in to New York harbour and finds the island of Manhattan completely empty: they don’t know that the Americans are prepping for nuclear bomb testing and have sent their citizens underground. Capturing the scientist who has invented the doomsday device being tested and his beautiful young daughter (Jean Seberg), the troupe go home victorious and arrive to find their fellow citizens devastated that their invasion was successful, as now they cannot expect American aid without having lost a war. The message about the unexamined contradictions of conflict morality is not subtle but is put across without any tiresome smugness, while the anti-nuclear war theme is applied gently. The jokes are genuinely funny, the cinematography beautifully colourful and the manner in which the story plays out always feels light and spontaneous.