After The Fox is a film that Peter Sellers and Vittorio De Sica made in the mid-’60s, at the heigh of Sellers’ fame. Allegedly it wasn’t the easiest shoot thanks to star and director butting heads, although Sellers nonetheless appeared in De Sica’s next project, the anthology film Woman Times Seven. Maybe that segment was actually part of the After The Fox shoot? They never worked together again after that.
The film also stars a hopelessly miscast Britt Ekland as the Sellers character’s younger sister, an Italian film actress. Ekland is Swedish and was Sellers’ wife, so the couple were a package deal.
The playwright Neil Simon was the mind behind the screenplay. He was a hot-shot at the time, with Barefoot in the Park, Little Me and The Odd Couple all playing Broadway simultaneously when he starting writing the screenplay. It was always intended as a spoof of European arthouse films of the time, such as Last Year at Marienbad and the films of Michelangelo Antonioni. However, it ended up being this zany heist comedy about the Italian film industry, which isn’t as zany or as funny as they thought it was. De Sica, of course, was one of the best of the Italian neo-realists, with films such as The Bicycle Thief and Umberto D., but in the early ’60s he moved away from those types of films into more comedy—and although generally good, he ain’t no Fellini.
Sellers plays Aldo Vanucci, a criminal who is locked up in a prison but, through convoluted ways, escapes and helps these thieves smuggle gold out of Cairo into Europe. He becomes the director Federico Fabrizi (an obvious reference to Federico Fellini), and the plan is to film an elaborate scene involving the gold as a cover for the smuggling. Victor Mature as American movie star Tony Powell is basically playing himself as this was the end of his career—Mature actually came out of retirement to appear in this.
It’s a perfectly enjoyable film, but nobody is firing at their full capacity. Despite some amusing gags—and Sellers was always a pleasure to watch on screen—he did much better comedic work before and after this film. The problems probably stemmed from De Sica demanding that Simon work with his go-to screenwriter Cesare Zavanttini, for whom comedy was not a strong point.
The release from BFI is nice as always, although the interview with Britt Ekland is frankly a bit weak—a third if not half of the conversation is about Coronavirus (it was recorded remotely. She says little about the production, like “I was asked to be in it” and nothing more than that when asked about A Carol for Another Christmas, Rod Sterling’s radical reimagining of A Christmas Carol, which was one of her three collaborations with Sellers, the final one being The Bobo. Vic Pratt supplies a video essay on Sellers, there is a archival East German newsreel with De Sica visiting the eastern side of Berlin, an early comedy heist short from 1897, and two shorts with Maurice Denham, who has a small part in After The Fox. The booklet includes essays from Dr. Deborah Allison, Howard Hughes and Vic Pratt.