The late American writer Leonard Wibberley occasionally ventured into the crime genre, but he is best remembered for the series of satirical books starting with The Mouse that Roared, set in the tiny European country called the Grand Duchy of Fenwick. I’ve just seen the 1959 film version of the book, which (despite its fame) I’d never seen all the way through before.
I’m glad I did, for the Cold War satire has worn surprisingly well, given the passage of more than half a century. The premise of the film is that the Grand Duchy’s prosperity is threatened by the loss of its lucrative wine trade to the US. The government devises a plan to declare war on the US in retaliation, surrender quickly, and benefit from aid given generously by the US, as to other defeated enemies. The plan misfires when, through a series of wildly unlikely events, to put it mildly, the invasion of New York proves successful.
One of the strengths of the film is an excellent cast, led by Peter Sellers, who takes three roles. Jean Seberg is the love interest – she is the daughter of the scientist who has built the ‘Q bomb’. William Hartnell (the first Doctor Who) helps conduct the invasion, while Leo McKern (aka Horace Rumpole) is a populist politician.
The appeal of the script is that it combines two timeless elements, which are often used to good effect in thrillers. The first is the ‘David versus Goliath’ story-line, which always has an audience rooting for the underdog. The second is the cunning plan that misfires. The political issues that underpin the satire may seem dated now, but The Mouse that Roared remains a very enjoyable film indeed.