After the Fox (Blu-ray Review)21 Mar, 2016 By: Mike Clark
$19.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray
Stars Peter Sellers, Victor Mature, Britt Ekland, Martin Balsam.
Quickly, now: Name the movie in which the creative-collaboration lines of Neil Simon, Vittorio De Sica (as director) and Victor Mature intersect — and where The Hollies also perform the title song (you can even get it on iTunes) with Peter Sellers. As a subjective option, you can also throw in Akim Tamiroff’s supporting cast show-up if you want.
A Sellers vehicle that the mighty Vic out-and-out steals in a caper that seems even bigger than the one on screen, After the Fox is a high-end trifle that gave Sellers his second lead role after recovering from a near-fatal heart attack he suffered while having poppers-laced sex with real-life wife Britt Ekland. In this farce, she plays his sister, as if the project needed even more off-the-wall subtext.
Set near the Mediterranean against an Italian cinema milieu that Simon and De Sica can’t wait to satirize, the picture casts Sellers as a chronic jailbird and master of disguises who uses the latter dimension of his personality to talk himself out of the pokey and back onto the streets. Worried about little sis working those same avenues in a literal way, he’s taken aback to discover her appearing in a local filmmaker’s cinema verite exercise, which provides some inspiration when it comes to sniffing out his own share from a recent $3 million gold bullion robbery in Cairo pulled by someone else. With its perpetrator in need of a way to get the stash ashore and into Italy, Sellers’ character (aka “The Fox”) brainstorms a way to have the ocean transport incorporated into a bogus film he plans to shoot with his comely as one of the stars. Now, all he needs is a male lead.
I’m not sure exactly when it was that Victor Mature became a punch line, but as far as my formative movie years go, it was probably around the time I read some critic of the day noting that the stars of 1959’s Hannibal (though it was ’60 in the U.S.) were “Victor Mature and some elephants.” Leaving aside the good Mature performances that everyone concedes (My Darling Clementine and Kiss of Death), I always liked the rogue-ish “Hi, Doll” self-parody that a lot of his performances oozed — the kind that Dean Martin had a lot of, Rory Calhoun had more than a little of and the kind Burt Reynolds might have been able to finesse to greater degree had so many of his movies not stunk up the joint. This, of course, always found me fighting the tide because too often Mature found himself a victim of gonzo casting: as Cecil B. De Mille’s Samson (where Groucho Marx noted that Vic’s boobs were bigger than co-star Hedy Lamarr’s), as Chief Crazy Horse and in turban epics like Zarak and The Bandit of Zhobe.
Fox was Mature’s first movie in five years after playing a Viking in The Tartars, a non-starter that even co-star Orson Welles couldn’t ignite. So by the time the new picture’s producers got him off the golf course long enough to enhance the Neil Simon script, maybe he figured that turning himself into an all-out farcical figure was the only way to go — and you can bet this is why he was cast. As fading action star “Tony Powell,” we see Mature take a sock to his corseted stomach by his manager (Martin Balsam) — maintaining the phony smile all over his face before he can hustle into a nearly closed-door bedroom and nearly puke his guts out. And then there’s the matter his black hair dye, which is always threatening to drip all over his face like a melted tin of black Kiwi.
I can’t exactly figure what De Sica was doing here, especially with his former neorealist right hand Cesare Zavattini contributing to the script (the latter likely did some Kiwi polishing himself here). But between his Oscar nods and nominations with Sophia Loren in the early ’60s and his foreign-language win for The Garden of the Finzi-Continis in 1971, De Sica was involved in some strange projects (counting both directorially and in front of the camera, he worked with Robert Wagner twice). Though the picture is somewhat more ragged than we’re used to seeing from De Sica at his best, everyone here seems to be having a good time — even Sellers, who seems somewhat subordinate to everything else, including some sun-baked cinematography that gets an OK if not spectacular (by any means) rendering.
I coincidentally saw a Facebook discussion the other day about all the bad Neil Simon stage-to-screen adaptations, where one of the country’s A-plus biographers and film historians noted that Simon didn’t like strong directors for his movies, which is why so many were ruined by the likes of Gene Saks. There’s about a zillion miles between Elaine May’s all-timer The Heartbreak Kid (from a Simon script) and the other movies that carry his name, unless you’re counting Ten From Your Show of Shows (an assemblage of Sid Caesar-Imogene Coca-Carl Reiner-Howard Morris skits from TV’s glory days). But of the others, this one is spotty but sweet — a lovely lead-in to Mature’s casting as “The Big Victor” two years later in the Bob Rafelson-Jack Nicholson Head. In that one, the actor played a kind of Gulliver’s Travels giant who literally had The Monkees in his hair — as dandruff.