Tuesday, October 04, 2005

AFTER THE FOX (1966) - Vittorio de Sica

This playful crime caper first entered my VHS collection by virtue of its purported heist plot, rather than the fact that it starred Sellers. I’ve done A LOT of heist movie viewing over the last few years, primarily for screenwriting gigs, and have collected them all, the good and the bad, from the amazing Grand Slam to the lackluster The Split. Even if it’s bad, the movie generally stays in my closet for its heist scenes alone – and encyclopedia of thefts if you will.

After the Fox has a great heist movie premise. A large cache of gold from Cairo has been stolen off a transport truck, one of the largest gold thefts in history. The problem is, word gets out before the gold can arrive to its destination and all the ports and airports around Europe have been blocked off in an attempt to intercept the gold. Enter Peter Sellers, playing master Italian criminal Aldo "the Fox" Vanucci (more of a master of disguise, really) who’s just escaped from prison and stumbled on a way to get the gold into the country right under the police’s noses. He will pose as an Italian film director making a movie about a small Italian fishing village that has just found gold, thereby bringing the gold in through the actual production with police protection instead of police interference.
Realistic? No. But a promising caper movie premise? Yes. And that’s what this movie is. A “caper” movie rather than a “heist” film. To me, heist movies are generally serious, sometimes even bleak, and concern themselves with the details of the crime and, very likely, the fallout after the crime (Rififi is the prime example). Caper movies generally just use the heist as a backdrop and concern themselves with the humorous situations that arise among the disparate characters who are usually much less skilled than the job requires (Small Time Crooks, for example). Some ride the line like Topkapi or Ocean’s Eleven in that they are serious about the details yet playful in tone. After the Fox is most definitely a caper film in that it completely glosses over the details and goes for the comedy. It’s all Peter Sellers show. In fact, it’s more about Sellers lampooning the film biz and, more specifically, pretentious Italian film directors than anything else. It’s playing off the fact that people are so star struck by movies stars and film productions that even the town’s local police wouldn’t think twice that the gold bars coming off the ships during the big “action sequence” aren’t props but the real thing.
As usual, Sellers is spot-on in his impersonations and gets a lot of mileage out of milking the pretension of European auteurs, most likely doing De Sica himself here. There’s also fun to be had with Victor Mature playing a washed-up matinee idol vacationing in Italy who buys into all Sellers’ arty mumbo-jumbo thereby becoming the sham production’s main star. The best line in the movie comes when Mature asks his ornery agent Martin Balsam what Neo-Realism is anyway. Balsam replies: “It’s when they don’t have any money.”
Although perfectly amusing, After the Fox does seem like a bit of a missed opportunity. They have this great premise – sham movie production as elaborate cover for a heist – but the Sellers agenda doesn’t really allow them to use it to its full potential. Though I’m not a proponent of needless remakes, I’d have to say to say this movie cries out for one. And if any producers out there with large discretionary funds happen to hear that cry…well, hey…I’m very available.

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