One of the greatest robberies ever has been the theft of a huge amount of gold bars from a security van outside Cairo, and now the bullion is on its way to Italy. The only man fit to receive the loot is Aldo Vanucci, also known as The Fox, a master criminal with a penchant for disguise. The trouble is, Aldo is in prison, but when he hears that his sister Gina (Britt Ekland) is growing into a rebellious young woman, he ingeniously escapes and heads home. There he finds his mother has disowned him, and Gina is making money on the streets - but not in the way that Aldo fears.
Peter Sellers was fond of dressing up and adopting different accents and comic traits, so he is a natural to play the Fox, a slippery customer if ever there was one. Written by Neil Simon and Cesare Zavattini, the film is, on the surface, a broad comedy about thievery and deception, but as Aldo devises his plan to get his hands on the gold, a satire about the movie industry emerges, with a disillusioned resolution that you wouldn't expect from the all the light hearted shenanigans that have preceded it.
Aldo's big plan is inspired by his sister's dreams of being a movie star. Once he arrives home, he immediately jumps to the wrong conclusion and discovers Gina apparently propositioning a man on the street, but she's actually been hired for a small role in a film. When real life movie star Tony Powell speeds into town to promote his latest role, Aldo knows what to do. He will pretend to shoot a film in the village where the cargo ship full of bullion will land, and dupe the villagers - and Tony - as a cover for his crimes.
After the Fox isn't exactly subtle, but the excellent cast draw out good laughs from the material, and even the supporting players are well chosen, some of them apparently for their distinctive faces. I like the way the proud, passionate Aldo throws open the window of his apartment and yells, "I am Aldo Vanucci!" just as the two detectives hot on his trail are passing by. And the way his contact for the robbery (Akim Tamiroff) uses a young woman to lip synch his instructions so as not to arouse suspicion. For perfect comic timing, watch Sellers' business with the ice cream.
However, the best performance in the film is from Victor Mature, in great form as the vain, past his prime Tony. Obsessed with proving he is just as good as any younger man, he will, for example, ask his agent (Martin Balsam) to punch him in the stomach, laugh heartily, then walk to his room and double up in pain. Tony believes Aldo's bullshit about film making because he wants to reinvent himself as a great actor, but while he is just as pretentious as Aldo, the Fox is under no illusions - he simply wants the money.
As the film draws to a close, it acknowledges the cruelty of Aldo's deception. Interestingly, from the director of The Bicycle Thief, it takes a bitter view of how the movie industry exploits not only the actors, but the ordinary people who are dazzled by the magic of cinema. All the villagers are delighted to be in a proper production, including the Chief of Police ("Good morning!") and the Mayor, and when they finally see what fools they have been, you genuinely feel sorry for them, and especially Tony, who sees himself for the sham he is. It's a sour note to end on, but it's a provocative one, yet still sympathetic to the losers. Listen for the fine score by Burt Bacharach, including the catchy theme song.