||After the Fox holds an odd position in star Peter Sellers' canon, for it marked the point when his career started to go on the wane, although this was only in comparison to his superstar status of the early nineteen-sixties with blockbusters like The Millionairess and of course, The Pink Panther. All seemed to be going well, but this little item was judged not up to snuff by the critics and audiences alike, and it took Sellers a while to regain his previous celebrity success internationally, though all credit to him, he did manage it. However, there will always be champions of this film who will highlight the fact that not only was this a very funny comedy, courtesy of Neil Simon's screenplay, it was as profound as any of director Vittorio De Sica's dramas that had made his name.
The premise was simple enough: Sellers played The Fox, Aldo Vanucci, a master thief who is recruited by a criminal syndicate led by Akim Tamiroff (in a fez) to transport a horde of stolen gold bars from a ship in the Mediterranean to land without the police finding out. His solution is indeed ingenious, as he is inspired by a visit to a Victor Mature movie (playing Tony Powell, ageing Hollywood heartthrob, to superb effect) to stage the heist under the guise of making a film himself. Thus he and his cronies arrive in this seaside town and fool the starstruck locals, as well as Tony, into helping out with the crime, bringing his sister, rechristened Gina Romantica (Britt Ekland), to essay the leading lady role, which as Ekland was Sellers' new wife, was kind of what he had done on this film.
Although not a nightmare production, there were tensions: the newlyweds with a new baby were having rows (as their characters were), and Sellers could not communicate well with De Sica as they spoke different languages, but by and large everyone appeared to be happy with the results until the reviews came in. But while the laughs were not a mile a minute, they were present and many of them were extremely amusing, with Sellers in his element as a character who uses disguise as one of his methods - Sellers loved dressing up as other people, though here was only using his Italian accent throughout. Martin Balsam as Tony's agent who suspects all is not well was also excellent, and the local cast of less familiar faces were highly effective in their roles.
But what genuinely made After the Fox something special was curious: its humanity. The Fox basically pulls the wool over these gullible folks' eyes, yet they were complicit for they wanted to believe they could be movie stars just like Sophia Loren or Marcello Mastroianni, who had starred in De Sica's recent comedy hit, Marriage Italian Style. That had a sour tone missing in this, for there was great sympathy in its humour and the characters' self-deception, extending to Vanucci who gets one of the weirdest, philosophically provocative punchlines in film comedy. Add to that Burt Bacharach's wonderful musical score (Sellers and The Hollies performed the theme) and you had a cult classic with some great gags (the ice cream!) and a fascinating, oddly moving conclusion.
The Blu-ray released by The BFI has a selection of extra features, as well as looking gleaming and sounding sharp. First up is After the Fox: A Socially-Distanced Interview (2020, 15 mins) where Ekland from her home in Sweden, under coronavirus lockdown there, reminisces about her early career where she seems to have been discovered completely by chance while having a cappuccino, then to marriage with Sellers and finally starring in two movies with him (the other was The Bobo). Her memories of After the Fox are vivid, but she doesn't expand on them too much, though it was valuable to hear from someone who was there, making the film, especially as she proved herself surprisingly adept at comedy in the movie for someone who was untrained.
Peter Sellers: A Master of Disguise (2020, 14 mins) has BFI curator Vic Pratt giving his assessment of Sellers and where he was professionally and personally at the time of After the Fox, all illustrated by promo stills from the project, pointing out how close to home the star's love of disappearing into character was, yet also how he does not entirely vanish here: we always know it is him. Then DDR Magazin Nummer 11 (1962, 12 mins) is an Cold War era East German magazine reel which features De Sica for about thirty seconds - but he is in there - where he is emotionally engaged with a staging of Bertolt Brecht's The Threepenny Opera. The tunnel bit is intriguing, too, where the authorities have discovered what they describe as a secret route for spies into Berlin (really?).
Robbery (1897, 1 min) is a snippet of a Victorian film about a man getting his clothes stolen off his back, described as perhaps the first heist movie, though that is debatable on at least a couple of fronts. But a special section entitled The Man with the Velvet Voice: Maurice Denham (1961 + 1975, 72 mins) holds a couple of rarities from the archive featuring the character actor who appears briefly in After the Fox, and was one of the kings of the voiceover back in his heyday. Here it is the Children's Film Foundation favourite The Last Rhino (Click here for a review of that title) and British Transport Films short Go as You Please... in Britain that are blessed with his presence. Then to end on, the original theatrical trailer, which in truth doesn't show off the film to its best advantage. That's the disc, but on the ***FIRST PRESSING ONLY*** you get an Illustrated booklet with new essays by Dr Deborah Allison, Howard Hughes and Vic Pratt and full film credits.