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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The Mouse on the Moon
The Mouse on the Moon
MGM Limited Edition Collection // Unrated // January 15, 2015 // Region 0
List Price: $19.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted February 9, 2015 | E-mail the Author
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Pleasantly if mildly satirical, The Mouse on the Moon (1963) adapts Irish author Leonard Wibberley's 1963 novel of the same name, a sequel to his earlier The Mouse That Roared (1955), itself filmed in 1959. British comedies in the Ealing manner had become popular in the U.S., mostly on the art house circuit, and the movie of The Mouse That Roared appears to have been a conscious attempt to find a wider, more mainstream American audience for that type of low-key, eccentric comedy. Columbia Pictures helped finance The Mouse That Roared, and possibly insisted on American leading lady Jean Seberg and American journeyman director Jack Arnold. Their gamble paid off, and the inexpensive movie (probably less than $300,000) was a minor hit, earning around $2 million in the U.S. and Canada.

The Mouse on the Moon once again takes place in the world's tiniest (and fictional) principality, the Duchy of Grand Fenwick, a pre-industrial microstate located somewhere in the French Alps and long ago established by Englishmen. In The Mouse That Roared, Grand Fenwick declares war on the United States after a cheap knockoff of the miniscule nation's sole export, Pinot Grand Fenwick, threatens to collapse its economy.

In The Mouse on the Moon, the current vintage of Pinot Grand Fenwick proves unsuitable for export - it explodes as soon as it's uncorked - prompting the government to ask the United States for a loan in the guise of space program development money. This fuels Cold War competition and concern among the American, Soviet, and British powers, especially when Grand Fenwick's improbable moon rocket proves space-worthy.

The Mouse That Roared starred Peter Sellers in three roles: the Grand Duchess Gloriana XIII, Prime Minister Rupert Mountjoy, and mild-mannered game warden Tully Bascombe. Sellers was just beginning his ascent as an international film star, and by 1963 he stopped appearing in little British comedies to appear in bigger, American-financed productions. (The Pink Panther and Dr. Strangelove were filmed around this time.) In his place, Margaret Rutherford, halfway through a series of Miss Marple movies, was cast as Duchess Gloriana; Ron Moody, soon to be famous as Fagin in Oliver!, played Mountjoy; while Bernard Cribbins was cast as Mountjoy's Tully Bascombe-like son, Vincent. The only returning actor was David Kossoff, who plays unassuming scientific genius Professor Kokintz in both films.

Both movies stay true to the spirit of their literary source, and as such both have the same problems and attributes. Both The Mouse That Roared and The Mouse on the Moon suffer from amusing but repetitive little vignettes in their first half, funny as self-contained bits (one scene has German scientists working for the Soviet and American programs each reflexively saluting "Sieg Heil!" a year before Dr. Strangelove did) but which neither move the story forward nor flesh out its characters much beyond caricature and national stereotypes. The Mouse That Roared becomes memorable only after Tully and his contingent of about 20 soldiers prepare to "invade" the American continent. In the second half, Tully becomes the main character and his befuddled nature, as well as his sweet romance with Kokintz's daughter (Seberg), is appealing.

The same thing more or less occurs in The Mouse on the Moon. The first half of the picture is dominated by absurd pomp and circumstance by the tiny, backward country; Count Mountjoy's plotting to secure American funding which he secretly plans to use to install indoor plumbing; and by American, Soviet, and British confusion and panic over Grand Duchy's space program plans.

Once the "story" gets underway - Vincent and Kokintz's preparations, launch, and journey to the moon - the picture becomes more engrossing if slightly more conventional, yet still very funny.

The Mouse on the Moon, while generally good, is also a tad disappointing given its cast and director. It was director Richard Lester's second feature. His first, It's Trad, Dad! (1962, released in the U.S. as Ring-A-Ding Rhythm), was an entertaining programmer notable for Lester's stylistic flourishes filming various traditional jazz acts (Acker Bilk, The Temperance Seven, etc.), scenes that anticipate Lester's next film after The Mouse on the Moon, A Hard Day's Night (1964), as well as Help! (1965), both starring The Beatles and likewise produced by Walter Shenson.

Strangely, though, The Mouse on the Moon has a very ordinary look and sluggish pace at odds with Lester's style, instead mirroring the flat, let-the-actors-get-on-with-it plainness of Jack Arnold's direction of The Mouse That Roared.

The movie appears more lavish than The Mouse That Roared but it may actually have been even cheaper to make, and possibly quickly conceived to take advantage of big exterior sets of Grand Fenwick were left over from another movie, Sword of Lancelot (also 1963). Further, several of the bigger stars, notably Terry-Thomas (he playing a British spy) and top-billed Margaret Rutherford have relatively minor roles. Rutherford's brief scenes couldn't have taken more than a few days to shoot, while Terry-Thomas's are confined to about 15 minutes in the middle of the film.

Rather, the bulk of the movie focuses on characters played by Cribbins, Moody, and Kossoff, whose fame at the time was confined to Britain. Amusingly, both Moody and Kossoff play characters much older than they actually were. Moody was just 39 and just four years older than the actor playing his son. Kossoff, made-up to resemble a man in his late sixties, was 43.

The film has other noteworthy credits, such as Maurice Binder's title designs and Ron Grainer's lively musical score. Either Wibberley or screen adapter Michael Pertwee knew a thing or two about science: Professor Kokintz's solutions for astoundingly complex challenges like escaping earth's gravity and providing enough oxygen for the capsule are extraordinarily simple yet sound perfectly plausible, better than the gobbledygook that turned up in most "serious" science fiction movies of the period.

Video & Audio

MGM's earlier DVD of The Mouse That Roared was 4:3 standard format matted to 1.66:1 widescreen, but their new "Limited Edition Collection" manufactured-on-demand release is in enhanced widescreen, also 1.66:1. Unfortunately, the transfer remains unimpressive. The film elements sourced are worn, soft, and generally blah; it's possible this might even be a conversion from that same master. The mono audio, English only with no subtitle options, is equally bland, though at least the disc is region-free. No Extra Features.

Parting Thoughts

Satire and whimsy, particularly of the type that works in literary form, is extraordinarily difficult to pull off in a movie, but The Mouse on the Moon succeeds in this regard usually. Every time I see it I can't escape the nagging feeling that it should have been so much better than it is but, on its own terms, it's still a wittily amusing picture. Recommended.

Stuart Galbraith IV is the Kyoto-based film historian and publisher-editor of World Cinema Paradise. His credits include film history books, DVD and Blu-ray audio commentaries and special features.

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