If you are going to build an enormously destructive weapon, then please follow the rules laid out in The Mouse That Roared. Make it warble alarmingly when it moves, place an alarm clock inside it to scare people and make it small enough to throw around a papier-mâché dungeon.

Is this a comedy about the essential futility of the nuclear arms race?
It is.

And does it mock the senseless posturing of the Cold War?
It does.

And does it feature Peter Sellers playing lots of different parts?
That’s correct.

Directed by Stanley Kubrick?

Yes it was.
No it wasn’t.

Doctor Strangelove was directed by Kubrick!
You’re right.

See, I told you. It’s a classic!
This isn’t Doctor Strangelove.

It’s The Mouse That Roared.

Oh, that’s not so good, is it?
No. No it isn’t.

So this is the one in which a tiny, impoverished nation takes on the United States in an unconventional war and wins?
That’s it.

And the conflict is caused by a trade dispute over a dark coloured liquid?


So it is a sharp satire of American foreign policy in the Cold War era, then?
Well, Leonard Wibberley’s books might have been, but this script, or perhaps the emphasis put on it by Peter Sellers, William Hartnell, Leo McKern and the rest of the predominantly British cast make it seem like a gentle poke in the ribs for down-at heel, post-imperial Britain. The Duchy of Grand Fenwick is genteel but bankrupt and while there’s a little fun to be had at superpower pomposity, most of the jokes are at the expense of Grand Fenwick.

Proto-typical Brit-bashing from the yanks then.
Hardly! But there is a sense that Europe with all its old-fashioned ways and ancient traditions is the subject of this satire not the big powers with their vast arsenals. This feeling is reinforced by the way people keep turning to the camera and saying how much they love America and Americans.

In 1959 it probably wasn’t wise to appear “un-American”.
True. No one involved in this is taking any risks, that’s for sure.

So, is it any good?
Not bad. There are some nice moments, especially near the start. The mouse chasing the Columbia logo woman off her perch is funny. So is the discovery that everyone looks so alike (Sellers plays three parts) because “the founder was, in every way, the father of his country.” Sellers’ shifty Prime Minister announcing that: “There isn’t a more profitable undertaking for any country that to declare war on the United States and to be defeated,” raises a wry smile today.

And the DVD?
Dismal. The only extra is the trailer though the print of the film is clean enough. I know this isn’t a classic but there must be something out there on Leonard Wibberley, his books were best sellers in the 1950s. The Mouse that Roared is still in print. And this film was a big enough hit for there to be a sequel – the Sellers-less The Mouse on the Moon.

(Originally published in Matrix 162, July/Aug 2003)

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