Rixflix A to Z: After the Fox (1966)

Director: Vittorio De Sica // United Artists; 1:42; Color
Crew Notables: Neil Simon (play and co-screenplay), Burt Bacharach (music), Hal David (lyrics - title song), The Hollies (vocals - title song), Maurice Binder (titles)
Cast Notables: Peter Sellers (Aldo "The Fox" Vanucci aka Federico Fabrizi), Victor Mature (Tony Powell), Britt Ekland (Gina Vanucci aka "Gina Romantica", Martin Balsam (Harry), Akim Tamiroff (Okra), Maria Grazia Buccella (Miss Okra), Lydia Brazzi (Mamma Vanucci), Maurice Denham (Chief of Interpol), Vittorio De Sica (himself)

Cinema 4 Rating: 6


Pity poor Maria Grazia Buccella. Miss Italy in 1959, Miss Buccella seemingly parlayed the beauteous charms of her youth into a 40-year career in the Italian modeling, film and television industries, though she never became much of a name outside of her native country. But when she did make an English-language film (albeit one directed by a famous Italian), somehow, in a scant few seconds in a scant few strips of clothing, she managed to steal an entire film from the talented clutches of not just her director, four-time Oscar winner Vittorio de Sica, but also from comedy masterminds Peter Sellers and Neil Simon. That the film is one about
an elaborate, preposterous heist is only the final touch of irony; Miss Buccella doesn't even give Mssrs. Sellers, De Sica, Simon or the rest of the cast and crew even the slightest chance to win the film back. It is hers from the opening scene of the movie.

The facts are that in the course of stealing Egyptian gold before the credits have rolled, Miss Buccella disrobes in an attempt to distract the guards in the truck containing the gold. She stands before them in exactly the sort of modified bikini that would not only distract the guards, but would also cause the pharaohs to rise from their tombs in the pyramids that surround the area. (That this actually occurred I have no doubt, but the film crew failed to
capture the event and thus there is no proof on record.) The guards nearly drive off the road, but their way is blocked by a series of markers and their vehicle is therefore forced to drive up the ramp and into the back of another conveyance, the doors of which are locked behind the first vehicle, and the film is off to the credits.

The remainder of the film concerns first the escape of Aldo Vanucci, a master criminal known popularly as "The
Fox", played by Sellers, back into society, and then his laborious attempts to gain the gold from Okra, the master criminal (played with grimy elan by Akim Tamiroff) who swiped it in the first place. Vanucci is supposed to transfer the gold from Okra by posing as Federico Fabrizi, a phony film director supposedly making a neo-realism film (a genre which De Sica himself made world famous with The Bicycle Thief) in a tiny Italian hamlet, where the port designated for the switch is located. To get his cover just right, he hires an incredibly desperate ex-film star played good-naturedly by Victor Mature, in on the joke and more than willing as always to poke holes in his own fame. Mature is great, and by normal standards, he would be the one who steals the picture from Sellers. He may even be meant to, but a little something happened in the desert at the start of the picture, and whisked away any thought of such a thing occurring. Because, truly, after the opening, one waits for that girl to appear again. She is in with the thieves, and she will surely arrive.

Arrive she does, and in what is probably the cleverest bit in the film. A restaurant set up for tourists (amongst
whom Sellers is hiding) is the meeting place for Vanucci and Okra, only Okra is seated with his back Vanucci, so Sellers' crook has to pretend he is speaking to the voluptuously clad Miss Buccella. While she lip syncs perfectly to the crime scheme that the raspy Okra spills out, Sellers practically mauls her (and who wouldn't?) while listening and then adding to the plan. The scene seems to go on forever, but one never gets tired of it. Ah, these Italian beauties of the 1960s! Even watches are at their mercy!

The wait is then on for her next appearance, and therein lies the problem with the film. If After the Fox were
living up to its promise, one wouldn't spend the time waiting for a second-string sex symbol to pop up and swing her hips. While Sellers is vibrant and alive with passion and an incredibly bouncy physical performance, the cast consistently hits their marks, and there are numerous wonderful one-liners, this farce never quite works in the way that it is clearly intended to work. One has the feeling at several turns that the film is going to turn into something quite special, and then it peters out into an ending so rote and predictable that when I first watched the DVD (though I had seen the film before) that I threw the DVD case at the screen. The plotline with Vanucci's little sister, of whom he is psychotically protective, never pans out to the full extent that it could, and neither does that of Mature or of his agent Harry (Martin Balsam). In fact, so many scenes seem to be waiting for that extra punch, that extra note that will make them perfect. The courtroom scene, the filming of the neo-realism masterpiece, the prison escapes... all of these scenes start out well, but end up flat. And then there's the ending: I don't know how Neil Simon (who based the screenplay on his own stage production) meant for this to play out (never having read the play), but if I attended a staging of this particular script, I would hope that there was a DVD case in my pocket to throw at the performers at the show's conclusion. Because in the end, this hardly satisfies, no matter how much fun one is having along the way.

When one looks back at the comedies of the Sixties, one notices some incredibly bloated productions, many of which would probably be better off with an half hour or so lopped off. (It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, even my beloved The Great Race etc.) After the Fox is probably the rare film where that bloat would be most welcome, where an extra half hour added would be desirable. Because, it seems someone made off with about that much of the film. It certainly wasn't Miss Buccella. She heisted an hour and forty-two minutes already, and all with just the drop of a burka...

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