by Timothy Lane
I’ve never seen this in a movie theater, so I can’t be sure if I’ve actually seen the complete movie. It’s based on a novel by Leonard Wibberley, the first in a series of 5 about the independent duchy of Grand Fenwick (including a historical novel that contradicts the history given in the first). Wibberley was often a very humorous satirist, including one (Adventures of an Elephant Boy) that updates Voltaire’ s Candide by detailing the vicissitudes of an elephant boy after President Pangloss of the Best of All Possible Nations wants to meet him.
The novel is a humorous satire, but the movie takes this further, becoming an outright farce. This may be a more reasonable way of using the situation (though the movie The Mouse on the Moon, based on the second book in the series, more closely resembled the original). The characters generally are the same, but there are differences. Duchess Gloriana is a young woman in the novel, an old woman modeled on Queen Victoria in the movie. (She’s also one of 3 characters played by the great Peter Sellers.) Tully Bascomb (also played by Sellers) is a serious fellow in the book who suggests that going to war is the only legitimate method by which one country can gain money from another. (Gloriana realizes that winning a war would be hopeless, but also realizes that the US is a peculiar country, making it more profitable to lose than to win against them.) In the movie, the idea (including the desirability of losing and being rehabilitated) is by the hereditary Prime Minister, Count Mountjoy (also played by Sellers).
Grand Fenwick, it turns out, has a legitimate grievance against the US – a California vintner producing a rip-off of their prime product (Pinot Grand Fenwick) with a nearly-identical name and logo. So they send Bascomb off to attack New York with a small group of longbowmen (still the country’s military reliance) in order to lose. But a funny thing happened on the way to defeat: In the middle of a nuclear test alert, Bascomb discovers that a Columbia scientist (Dr. Kokintz) is working on a new weapon, the Q-bomb – and if they capture him, they can actually win. (As von Moltke once observed, no military plan survives contact with the enemy, though he probably didn’t mean it this way.)
Bascomb and his group, with Kokintz, the latter’s daugher (added for the movie to provide some romantic interest and played by Jean Seberg), and the Q-bomb, as well as a few military prisoners captured on the way, finally arrive back in Grand Fenwick, where everyone is still expected to surrender. There’s a certain amount of amusement as the soldiers visit the museum (with its medieval torture devices) before finding out that this was a tour. In the end they get literallyl feted as prisoners, except for General Snippett (who insists on the letter of the Geneva Convention).
Once other countries find out the situation, they start offering to assist Grand Fenwick (in return for custody of the Q-bomb, of course). One amusing scene involves a viciously anti-American message from China, and when one pol says that can’t have any dealings with Red China, Mountjoy points out that, “It’s not from Red China. It’s from the other one.” Eventually, an American diplomat turns up to arrange a surrender, and finds himself with a group of other diplomats playing a world politics game that the British represenative’s chauffeur had brought along.
Eventually, the movie becomes a chase as Mountjoy tries to get rid of the Q-bomb and the unwelcome prisoners and Bascomb tries to recover it. At what point a nuclear explosion is shown – not because the Q-bomb went off, but because it might and they wanted to prepare the viewers. Eventually, as in the book, a diplomatic solution is arranged with Grand Fenwick keeping its not-so-secret weapon (which at the end proves to be a dud – though only Kokintz, his daughter, and Bascomb know it).
A plot synopsis can’t really convey the humor very much; it’s been a long time since I’ve seen the movie listed on TV, so I don’t think I’ve seen it since about 1985. But I will note that the farcical nature starts out with the woman in the movie company logo being frightened off by a mouse. The opening credits are accompanied by an aminated mouse that surprises itself by roaring, and followed by a narrator trying to locate the tiny country on a map of Europe. • (730 views)