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The Mouse That Roared

The Mouse That Roared(1959)

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teaser The Mouse That Roared (1959)

SYNOPSIS

Faced with an insurmountable financial crisis, the Duchy of Grand Fenwick decides to declare war on the United States so they can lose and collect financial aid. The Prime Minister's plan goes awry, however, when the invading army of 20, led by the inept Field Marshall Tully Bascombe, manages to kidnap the inventor of the world-shaking Q-bomb. Bascombe's bungling of the scheme suddenly puts Fenwick and its doddering grand duchess at the center of international intrigue, while the Field Marshall finds himself drawn to the inventor's beautiful daughter.

Director: Jack Arnold
Producer: Carl Foreman, Jon Penington, Walter Shenson
Screenplay: Roger MacDougall, Stanley Mann
Based on the novel by Leonard Wibberley
Cinematography: John Wilcox
Editing: Raymond Poulton
Art Direction: Geoffrey Drake
Music: Edwin Astley
Cast: Peter Sellers (Tully Bascombe/Grand Duchess Gloriana XII/Prime Minister Count Mountjoy), Jean Seberg (Helen), David Kossoff (Prof. Kokintz), William Hartnell (Will), Monte Landis (Cobbley), Leo McKern (Benter), Bill Nagy (U.S. Policeman)
C-83m.

Why THE MOUSE THAT ROARED is Essential

After years of supporting roles and outstanding work on radio and television, Peter Sellers shot to international stardom with his three roles in The Mouse That Roared.

The film was the first feature in which Peter Sellers demonstrated his versatility by playing multiple roles, thus paving the way for similar acting stunts in the classic anti-war comedy Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), as well as such later comedies as Undercovers Hero (1974), The Prisoner of Zenda (1979) and his last film, The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu (1980).

With its satire of the nuclear arms race, The Mouse That Roared anticipated such Cold War comedies as Dr. Strangelove, The Russians are Coming, the Russians Are Coming (1966) and The President's Analyst (1967).

After starting his career as a documentarian and then spending years at Universal-International making science fiction films, director Jack Arnold moved into comedy with this film, the genre in which he would specialize for the rest of his career, mostly directing television sitcom episodes. The film's opening, a mock documentary on the history of Grand Fenwick, and the scenes in which New Yorker's mistake the invaders for Martians, echo the director's earlier work.

by Frank Miller

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teaser The Mouse That Roared (1959)

The film's title - The Mouse That Roared - has entered common usage as a description of an unexpected triumph scored by something or someone small and/or unheralded. It has been used to refer to everything from the American craft beer industry to, most recently, the country of Kyrgyzstan, site of a strategic American airbase used in the war in Afghanistan.

Leonard Wibberley published four sequels to The Mouse That Roared: Beware of the Mouse (1958), The Mouse on the Moon (1962), The Mouse on Wall Street (1969) and The Mouse That Saved the West (1969).

In 1963, Walter Shenson produced a sequel, The Mouse on the Moon, based on Wibberley's third Grand Fenwick novel. Peter Sellers was unavailable, so Margaret Rutherford and Ron Moody played the Grand Duchess and the Prime Minister, respectively. David Kossoff returned to play Professor Kokintz, who this time discovers a new rocket fuel that puts Grand Fenwick into the space race.

While working as an executive for CBS, Jack Arnold shot the pilot for a TV series based on The Mouse That Roared, with Sid Caesar cast in Sellers' three roles. The pilot did not sell.

The 1970 stage version of The Mouse That Roared by Christopher Sergel is a popular item with community and high-school theatres.

Henry A. Giroux titled his 2001 study of the influence of the Disney Company's growing power in the media The Mouse That Roared.

The rock group The Mouse That Roared released the 2006 CD Excommunicator, with music written by Stephen Kozik (aka Cloister Maximus III), former drummer for Minmae. They followed a year later with Pop Tomorrow.

John Fumasoli and the Jones Factor titled a 2007 jazz number "The Mouse That Roared."

by Frank Miller

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teaser The Mouse That Roared (1959)

The British edition of Leonard Wibberley's book has the author's original title choice, The Wrath of Grapes.

In addition to the three roles he played in The Mouse That Roared, Sellers was the model for all of the historical figures whose statues were shown around the Duchy of Grand Fenwick.

Eventually, Sellers disowned his work in The Mouse That Roared, particularly his work as the relatively normal Tully. He would later say, "I enjoyed myself more as the Grand Duchess than I did playing myself in the love scenes."

Although the opening narration states that the Duchy of Grand Fenwick is the world's smallest country, at 15 square miles it is actually larger than Monaco and the Vatican.

The Mouse That Roared has earned $50 million to date. It was filmed for $450,000, a low budget even in 1959.

The film premiered in a special screening for diplomats held in Geneva May 23, 1959.

The Mouse That Roared opened officially at the Guild Theatre in New York, where it played for two years.

Columbia Pictures sold the film with the tagline "The Hilarious Story of How the Duchy of Grand Fenwick Waged War on the U.S. -- and Won." Also used was the line "All Is Fair in Laughs and War!"

Memorable Quotes From THE MOUSE THAT ROARED

"The Americans always rush to the aid of the people they defeat....They pour money into the country of their former enemies and do anything to save the people they've beaten." -- Peter Sellers, as Prime Minister Mountjoy, explaining his plan to Peter Sellers, as Grand Duchess Gloriana XII.

"You must remember that the Americans are a very strange people. Whereas other countries rarely forgive anything, the Americans forgive everything. There isn't a more profitable undertaking for any country than to declare war on the United States and be defeated." -- Sellers as Prime Minister Mountjoy.

"We declare war on Monday, we are defeated on Tuesday, and by Friday we will be rehabilitated beyond our wildest dreams." -- Sellers as Mountjoy.

"I don't want anyone hurt." -- Sellers, as Grand Duchess Gloriana, accepting the Prime Minister's plan.

"Maybe it's a holiday." -- Sellers, as Tully Bascombe, wondering why New York City is deserted.

"Fine thing. The United States and the Grand Duchy of Fenwick are at war, and it takes the FBI to find out about it." -- Austin Willis, as the U.S. Secretary of Defense.

"How am I gonna tell the President that we've been invaded by a bunch of 15th-century Europeans." -- Willis, as the U.S. Secretary of Defense.

"Well, Your Grace, we're home. Actually, there's been a slight change of plan. I know it will come as a surprise, a pleasant one, I hope, but we sort of won." -- Sellers, as Tully, to Sellers, as Gloriana.

"I warn you, madam. I know the Geneva Convention by heart."
"Oh, how nice. You must recite it to me some evening. I play the harpsichord." -- MacDonald Parke, as General Snippet, crossing swords with Sellers, as Gloriana.

"Of course we invented the Q-bomb 20 years ago, but the working people of this great democracy are greatly interested in seeing that your Q-bomb does not fall into the hands of the capitalist war-mongering hyenas" -- Message from Soviet Union to the Duchy of Grand Fenwick.

"Ladies and gentlemen, this is not the end of the film. However, something like this might easily happen, and we thought we should put you in the proper mood. And now, back to our story." -- Narrator, after the Q-bomb seems to have gone off.

"You are a dud?" -- David Kossoff, as Dr. Alfred Kokintz, on dropping his bomb.

"The end. We Hope." -- Final title.

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teaser The Mouse That Roared (1959)

While working at the Los Angeles Times, Leonard Wibberley was so struck by the peace treaty between the U.S. and Japan that ended World War II he wrote an editorial suggesting that Japan's peace settlement suggested it was more profitable to lose a war than to win. He expanded on his idea in a serial, The Day New York Was Invaded published in the Saturday Evening Post in 1954. He published it in book form a year later as The Mouse That Roared.

Tyrone Power brought the novel to the attention of Columbia Pictures head of publicity Walter Shenson, who was so impressed he optioned the film rights himself in 1956. He also quit his job to devote himself full time to getting a film version made.

Shenson captured the interest of Carl Foreman, the blacklisted writer who had been working under a series of pseudonyms in England. Foreman had recently begun working under his own name again through his High Road Productions. In between films and the extensive pre-production planning on The Guns of Navarone (1961), he agreed to help get the movie made partly so he would have a project against which to charge office expenses.

Claiming he wanted to give The Mouse That Roared to an inexperienced director, Foreman offered the directing job to Jack Arnold, who had recently finished a lengthy stay at Universal International, where he directed such popular science fiction classics as It Came from Outer Space (1953), Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) and The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957). He had not directed any feature comedies, however, but that didn't pose a problem for Foreman.

Shenson turned the script over to Roger MacDougall, who had written the stage and screen versions of the British comedy classic The Man in the White Suit (1951), and Stanley Mann, primarily a television writer at the time. Shenson and Foreman revised the screenplay, and then allowed Arnold to make his own changes.

Sellers was eager to take on three roles in one film. His hero was Alec Guinness, who had played eight roles in the classic comedy Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949).

Columbia executives insisted that Arnold cast Jean Seberg in the female lead. Even though she had only made two other films (Saint Joan in 1957 and 1958's Bonjour Tristesse), both of which had bombed, they insisted The Mouse That Roared needed a box-office name.

by Frank Miller

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teaser The Mouse That Roared (1959)

Used to working with Otto Preminger, who would scream at her even before the first take to get the performance he wanted, Jean Seberg had trouble adapting to Jack Arnold's gentler directing style. It often took as many as 20 takes for her to get through a scene.

Seberg only had one line in the first scene shot, which she shared with Peter Sellers and Leo McKern. For the first several takes, she stepped forward for her line, then back when she was finished. When Arnold pointed this out to her, she said she didn't even know she was doing it. By the time she got her movements under control, she couldn't remember the line. After 25 takes, Arnold postponed the scene until a few days later.

Arnold soon learned that Sellers did his best work on the first take and was usually useless by take three. The actor, schooled in improvisation, couldn't keep the lines fresh if he had to say them over and over.

Sellers modeled the Grand Duchess on his grandmother, but also used shtick he had developed for the radio series Ned's a Laugh, on which one of the characters he played was an eccentric old woman named Crystal Jollibottom. The Prime Minister was modeled on Alec Guinness' interpretation of Disraeli in The Mudlark (1950).

While filming The Mouse That Roared, Sellers was acting on stage in the comedy Brouhaha, which also dealt with a mythical kingdom whose ruler develops an outlandish plot to secure U.S. aid. Five days a week, he had to be at the studio at 6:30 a.m. for makeup and wardrobe, then get himself to the theatre by 7 p.m. During location shooting, a driver picked him up at the theatre after the performance and he slept in the car on the way to the film shoot.

The scenes in the ports of Marseilles and New York were both shot in Southampton. By luck, the Queen Elizabeth was just landing there at the time, so Arnold had extras on the Fenwick tugboat get as close to the luxury liner as possible and fire arrows at her. Later he added a scene with Stuart Sanders as the Queen Elizabeth's captain reacting to the attack.

The castle of Grand Fenwick was a faade built on the back lot of England's Shepperton Studios. Arnold also used the surrounding countryside as the forests of Fenwick.

The invasion of Manhattan in The Mouse That Roared was shot in a section of London that had been completely rebuilt after being bombed heavily during World War II. The glass and concrete high rises provided a perfect stand-in for New York. Arnold also filmed background shots on the streets of New York early one Sunday morning, when traffic was at a minimum.

Although Arnold and Shenson thought the dailies were hilarious, Foreman and Columbia's European head didn't get it. Their lack of response was so discouraging, Arnold stopped going to the daily screenings.

Arnold did not ask the studio's permission to make fun of the Columbia logo, convinced they would say no. At the film's opening, "Miss Columbia" discovers a mouse under her skirts and runs off screaming. At the end she returns to her pedestal. Studio executives first heard of the joke when they attended the New York previews, where it got a huge laugh. After that, there was no thought of cutting it, though it is absent from some television prints.

Columbia previewed The Mouse That Roared at two different New York theatres, the Trans-Lux, which was an art house, and Loew's 84th Street, which showed more popular entertainment. Both audiences roared with laughter. As a result, Foreman recalled the prints so the titles could be changed from "High Road presents" to "Carl Foreman presents."

by Frank Miller

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teaser The Mouse That Roared (1959)

"Only the British could be so funny," declared the Motion Picture Herald in its review of The Mouse That Roared (1959). That statement gave Jack Arnold and Walter Shenson a laugh, for they were the very American director and producer of said motion picture. The Mouse That Roared was made in England, however, and with a British cast. It has since become a comedy classic.

The story imagines a fictitious country called Grand Fenwick going bankrupt because its one export, a wine, has been duplicated by a California company which sells it cheaply. Prime Minister Count Mountjoy (Peter Sellers) tells Grand Duchess Gloriana XII (Peter Sellers, again) that tiny Grand Fenwick must declare war on the United States, lose immediately, and then reap the foreign aid that the U.S. always bestows on countries it defeats. In a tour de force, Sellers plays a third role of Tully Bascombe, the officer who leads Fenwick's 20-man army into New York City. Their plan of defeat goes awry when Bascombe wins the war by capturing the inventor of the United States' "Q-Bomb," which has the capacity of 100 hydrogen bombs. International complications ensue as other countries now want the bomb for themselves.

The screenplay was based on a novel by Leonard Wibberley first serialized in the Saturday Evening Post as The Day New York Was Invaded. Wibberley came upon his story idea while writing an editorial for the Los Angeles Times about the fact that Japan was receiving a windfall of aid from the U.S. after losing WWII. Perhaps, he hypothesized, it was better for a country to lose a war with America than to win. Wibberley's novel found its way to Walter Shenson, who was working as a publicist for Columbia Pictures in England at the time. Shenson loved it, personally bought the screen rights, and pursued producing it. Eventually, Carl Foreman agreed to finance it through his High Road Productions because he saw it as a small, inconsequential film to which he could charge office expenses for The Guns of Navarone (1961), which was entering pre-production. (Foreman, another American, was the blacklisted screenwriter of High Noon, 1952, and had re-established himself in London.)

Columbia Pictures agreed to distribute the picture, and Foreman and Shenson hired Jack Arnold to direct. Though best-known for his sci-fi films like Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) and The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), Arnold would later call The Mouse That Roared his favorite film. It's filled with outrageous jokes, starting right off the bat with a visual gag involving the Columbia Pictures statue of liberty logo. She hikes up her skirt and runs off the podium, frightened by a mouse. "I didn't ask them for permission, I just shot it," Arnold later said. "The audience laughed so hard, without even the story beginning, that we were home free. It set the tone for the whole film."

Beneath the movie's comedy is a serious statement on the absurdity of war and the danger of nuclear weaponry. Arnold recalled: "It was a way of making a social comment I felt was important. The most effective way to make a social comment is by satire and comedy... Luckily there was no pressure on me from anybody, except to make a good film from Walter Shenson who was the line producer and who was in complete agreement with what I wanted to do... The producers left me alone because (1) they didn't think it meant anything, and (2) they were just writing it off for expenses anyway."

Columbia did insist on casting Jean Seberg, however. She had just done two pictures for Otto Preminger and was a known "name," unlike Peter Sellers at this time. Arnold described Sellers as "a marvelous improvisational actor, brilliant if you got him on the first take. The second take would be good, but after the third take he could really be awful. If he had to repeat the same words too many times they became meaningless."

The director improvised as well. When he was in Southampton shooting a tugboat scene, "I saw the Queen Elizabeth coming in to [port]. I was on the cameraboat and over the radio I told the captain of the tug to get as close to the Queen Elizabeth as she could get, and tell all the boys to shoot arrows at her. I had three cameras on the boat itself and we got a sensational little sequence." Later on, a replica of the Queen Elizabeth's bridge was constructed on a sound stage and a scene was written for the ship's captain and first mate.

Not everyone was so gung ho during production. Arnold recalled: "Walter and I laughed a lot at the dailies in London, but Carl Foreman and Whiteman, head of Columbia in Europe, weren't laughing. They thought it was a disaster. It was so discouraging I quit going to dailies and asked Walter to watch them for me... When we previewed the finished film, they laughed so hard...that Foreman immediately had all the prints recalled and changed 'High Road Presents' to 'Carl Foreman Presents.'" The Mouse That Roared slowly became a word-of-mouth sensation. It played in small arthouses for a full year before going into general release - something which would be unheard of in today's quick-to-DVD marketing schedules.

A sequel entitled The Mouse on the Moon (1963), directed by Richard Lester, did not star Sellers and is forgotten today. Walter Shenson again produced it, then went on to produce A Hard Day's Night (1964) and Help! (1965) for The Beatles.

Producer: Jon Penington, Walter Shenson
Director: Jack Arnold
Screenplay: Roger MacDougall, Stanley Mann, Leonard Wibberley (novel)
Cinematography: John Wilcox
Film Editing: Raymond Poulton
Art Direction: Geoffrey Drake
Music: Edwin Astley
Cast: Peter Sellers (Grand Duchess Gloriana/Prime Minister Mountjoy/Tully Bascombe), Jean Seberg (Helen Kokintz), William Hartnell (Will Buckley), David Kossoff (Professor Alfred Kokintz), Leo McKern (Benter), MacDonald Parke (General Snippet).
C-83m. Letterboxed.

by Jeremy Arnold

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teaser The Mouse That Roared (1959)

AWARDS & HONORS

The Mouse That Roared is the eighth best selling DVD satire on Amazon.com.

The Critics' Corner: THE MOUSE THAT ROARED

"The joke about the small country that declares war on the United States in expectation of being quickly defeated and then rehabilitated by the conqueror is snowballed into a rambunctious satiric comedy in The Mouse That Roared.... Although it doesn't have Alec Guinness in it, it has a clear Guinness comic quality, and as the next best thing to Mr. Guinness, it has Peter Sellers playing three broad roles."
- Bosley Crowther, The New York Times

"Screen satire can be as risky as a banana-skin on a sidewalk. There are a few occasions when The Mouse That Roars gets oversmart, but on the whole it keeps its slight amusing idea bubbling happily in the realms of straightforward comedy. It's a comedy in the old Ealing tradition."
- Variety

"The kind of irrepressible topical satire whose artistic flaws become increasingly apparent but whose merits outlast them."
- Peter John Dyer

"Twenty Grand Fenwickians, dressed in armor and toting bows and arrows, set sail for New York in a ramshackle tug. That's about as far as the comedy gets. The film abandons its small, amusing idea and goes off on a wearying tangent about a scientist (David Kossoff) with a big bomb and an ingnue-daughter (Jean Seberg), but it was hugely and inexplicably popular."
- Pauline Kael, 5,001 Nights at the Movies

"Hilarious satire...gag before opening titles is a masterpiece."
- Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide

"Lively comedy which sounds rather better than it plays, but has bright moments."
- Halliwell's Film & Video Guide

"Engaging Ealing-ish comedy...Sellers is brilliant as the graciously melancholy Duchess (less good in his other two impersonations as prime minister and army chief), but the script veers wildly between satire and slapstick."
- Tom Milne, TimeOut Film Guide

"On its surface, Mouse conflates alien takeovers, nuclear holocaust, political machinations and military conflict as much as any other Red Menace film of the period. But unlike those films - and unlike Kubrick's Strangelove, which sets off the Doomsday explosion at the film's finale - Mouse is actually a comedy, not just a laughable exercise in paranoia. And so all this satire, conspiracy, and madness are just the backdrop for what remains a sweet love story, as well as another tour de force for Sellers' comic gifts. It's Austin Powers without the bathroom humor, except that it predates Mike Myers' franchise by 40 years. The Q bomb is a dud, a mere plot device to bring Sellers and Seberg together, punish Mountjoy for his lunacy, and make the audience feel safe at home. Because of that, the satirical thrust of the film is dampened considerably."
- Scott Thill, Bright Lights Film Journal

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