After The Fox
After The Fox is a bright, light comedy that is principally of interest for the names involved – directed by Vittorio de Sica, starring Peter Sellers, Victor Mature, Britt Ekland, written by Neil Simon, with music by Burt Bacharach. It has no grand ambition other than to entertain, and it does so in the manner of a gentle farce that is mostly unforced and amusing.
A huge amount of gold has been stolen from Cairo, one of the biggest robberies ever committed. Only one man is capable of handling the job of smuggling it into Europe – Aldo Vanucci, aka ‘The Fox’ (Peter Sellers), one of the world’s greatest master criminals. Unfortunately Aldo is in prison, and is taking a fairly relaxed attitude to his confinement and the potential to get involved in the big job. However, when he hears that his little sister, Gina (Britt Ekland), is growing up, he realises she needs a ‘poppa’ for guidance (well, he is an Italian male) and protection from the attention that her rather obvious attributes are attracting from young men (well, they are Italian males) as she walks the Via Veneto in Rome. He immediately makes his escape and, while avoiding the police who are searching for him, hits on a plan to both look after his sister and do the gold smuggling job. Disguising himself as a famous film director he enlists the services of aging movie-idol Tony Powell (Victor Mature) to play alongside his movie-loving sister, Gina Romantica and the whole population of a small town to help him bring the gold in from a ship just off the coast.
You might think that this is a bit of an unusual film for Vittoria de Sica, the father of Italian neo-realist cinema and director of The Bicycle Thief, but de Sica (also known for his acting performances and his delightful Marriage Italian Style) not only fully enters into the playful spirit of a typically Sellers comedy slapstick farce, he even puts himself in the film as the victim of one of The Fox’s schemes. There is a great deal of amusement to be had from the parody of Italian cinema in the film. Sellers disguises himself as the flamboyant Federico Fabrizi, not a million miles away from Federico Fellini, both in appearance and in his rather improvisational filmmaking techniques. The making of ‘Gold of Cairo’ also recalls the Fellini’s delightful The White Sheik in the Italians’ love of the entertainment industry and its stars. Burt Bacharach moreover delivers a delightful score which manages to be a pastiche of Nino Rota while retaining a swinging Bacharach beat and melody. Victor Mature is marvellous as Tony Powell, the famous movie-idol in denial about his age and fading looks, determined to wear his trenchcoat and enter into Italian neo-realist filmmaking. The leading ladies unfortunately have little more to offer than just being eye-candy, but it has to be said that they successfully bring that touch of 1960’s Italian glamour to the film.
The humour is a little bit scattershot, and the underlying crime plot disappears for a while as Sellers indulges in various Pink Panther-style disguises at the slightest pretext. Sellers however is quite restrained elsewhere – which is when he works best – feeling no need to overplay his part and letting the humour of the situation and the script do the work for him. Neil Simon’s script delivers on this account, both in its playfulness with Italian cinema and in its finally drawing the crime subplot back into the film with some mildly absurdist comedy antics and some very funny lines.
Released as one of the much-maligned MGM back-catalogue titles, After The Fox suffers from the same lack of attention as the other releases in the catalogue. On the plus side we get an anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer, but both the print and the digital transfer are rather lacking. The print itself is in reasonable condition, colours are a little dull and lifeless, but the image is clear and sharp. There are only a few signs of damage with long scratches in a few early scenes, but this is less noticeable in later scenes. The worst aspect of the transfer problems however is in the broken, jagged, stepped lines seen throughout and constant moiré shimmering on grilles and checked suits. This really shouldn’t be a problem in a transfer nowadays and its presence here just underlines the studio’s lack of care in transferring its films to DVD.
The audio track is fine, Dolby Digital 2.0 mono and clearly audible in the English version. Some of the other language dubs are not so clear however, and not all of them have subtitles. The Italian track for example is particularly unclear and there is no choice of Italian subtitles – demonstrating another of MGM’s cheapskate policies in generally providing either a dub or subtitles for most foreign languages, but not both. The film does however thankfully contain English subtitles for hard of hearing.
There are no extra features on this release. The lack of extras is not really an issue with this particular film, but a trailer might have been nice, as would some biographies, filmographies and background information on the film. It wouldn’t have taken much effort either to provide proper menus with titles rather than the generic icons on the DVD. There is not even a chapter selection option with this release, which I suppose has one benefit in reducing the amount of obscure icons you have to figure out the meaning of.
Well, you know by now what to expect from an MGM back catalogue release – a pretty slapdash and barebones transfer of the film to DVD, but if you are prepared to put up with that, After The Fox is a decent little comedy with a strong cast and crew who all deliver if not their best work, at least one of their most effortlessly breezy and entertaining films.