Directed by Jack Arnold
Starring Peter Sellers and Jean Seberg
Written by Roger MacDougall and Stanley Mann based on the novel by Leonard Wibberley
Years ago, my father recommended this film to me on several different occasions. I was finally able to see it thanks to Turner Classic Movies a couple of years ago and I fell for it. So, on this occasion of the sixth anniversary of his death, I put forward my review of the film. Six years ago, just after he died, I posted a review of his favorite film, The Magnificent Seven that can be seen here (along with some other reviews I made at the same time).
This film is absolutely hilarious. Peter Sellers is on full display here, in his first multiple-part role as the Grand Duchess Gloriana XII, Prime Minister Count Rupert Mountjoy and Tully Bascombe. The script is smart and the look is a bit ahead of it's time. Though made in 1959, the color employed makes it look like it was made in the mid-'60s.
The plot centers around the smallest country in the world, the Duchy of Grand Fenwick. The film is set in 1959 but the country is interminably set in Elizabethan times, using bows and arrows, chain mail armor and the like, yet being fully aware of the times and issues of the world at the time. Grand Fenwick is broke. The Prime Minister (Sellers) decides the best way to get money is through war relief from the U.S., so the country declares war on the United States to surrender and collect the aid money.
The task of surrendering is put upon Tully Bascombe (Sellers again), a well meaning but more or less simple man. He lands upon the shores of the United States and somehow manages to steal the Q-bomb, a bomb so powerful an H-bomb is used to detonate it, and taking hostage the scientist who built it, his daughter, and a U.S. General thereby winning the war. This is bad news for Grand Fenwick.
Eventually all the world's powers want to hold on to the bomb. The U.S. shows up to bargain a surrender...the U.S.' surrender. The Prime Minister tries to salvage his plan of losing the war by stealing off with the bomb, the girl and the general in an old car from the early '20s which is probably the most advanced bit of technology in the entire country. This sets up a laugh-out-loud race with the car in the lead and Tully Bascombe trying to keep up.
The subplot is that Tully Bascombe has fallen in love with the scientist's daughter, Helen (Seberg). As soon as he sees her, he is smitten. She tries hard, but eventually realizes she's in love with him...just before the Prime Minister pulls her out the window and places her in the car with the bomb...leading to Tully Bascombe to chase the car. "My girl, my bomb" he says.
I have heretofore not mentioned Sellers as the Grand Duchess of Grand Fenwick. He as she is the funniest part of the film. She is aloof and entirely unaware of much what is going on. She knows they are going to war with the US and thinks it's a charming idea. If none of this sounds funny to you, please watch for Sellers as the Grand Duchess. That alone is worth the price of admission.
The film wraps up with Grand Fenwick keeping the bomb safe from the larger countries who may use it. Part of the peace treaty was that the small countries keep an eye on it to prevent it from ever being used. This is a grand statement, not only for 1959 but now as well. The general idea of disarmament is sometimes thought of as a weakening of a country, but in reality it would be a strengthening of humanity. Enough of that I suppose. See this film, you won't regret it.