The Mouse That Roared (1959) poster

The Mouse That Roared (1959)


USA. 1959.


Director – Jack Arnold, Screenplay – Roger MacDougall & Stanley Mann, Based on the Novel by Leonard Wibberley, Producer – Jon Penington, Photography – John Wilcox, Music – Edwin Astley, Makeup – Stuart Freeborn, Art Direction – Geoffrey Drake. Production Company – Open Road.


Peter Sellers (Prime Minister Tully/Field Marshal Mountjoy/Grand Duchy Gloriana), Jean Seberg (Helen Kokintz), David Kossoff (Dr Alfred Kokintz), William Hartnell (Will Buckley), Leo McKern (Benter), MacDonald Parke (General Snippet)


The world’s smallest country The Duchy of Grand Fenwick is devastated when its principal export, its wine, is ruined by a cheap imitation on the American market. The Prime Minister of Grand Fenwick announces an ambitious plan – to declare war on the USA, not in order to win the war, but because the USA is always financially generous to the losing side. However, when the Fenwickian army sails into New York to surrender, they find the city deserted by an air-raid drill and claim victory. By accident, they end up in possession of the ultra-powerful Q-Bomb and the entire world suddenly in fear of them.

The Mouse That Roared was a very popular film in its time. There is a charming idea behind it – the same kind of imaginary countries fantasy that inspired the great British comedy Passport to Pimlico (1949) or the famous Ruritania in The Prisoner of Zenda (1894). Leonard Wibberley, who wrote the original 1955 book that the film is based on, spun the basic idea out for a total of five books about the Duchy of Grand Fenwick. (I have an essay here on Films About Imaginary and Magical Lands).

Unfortunately, the idea is played out with considerably less whimsy and charm than it sounds like it should have in synopsis. The quaint concept turns into a good deal of running around with the Q-bomb instead of going where it should have and conducting a farce on the political machinations. Peter Sellers certainly has fun playing a mere three screen roles – the country’s Prime Minister, the Fenwickian military leader and in drag as the Fenwickian Queen.

The Fenwickians invade New York - Jean Seberg, David Kossoff, Peter Sellers and William Hartnell in The Mouse That Roared (1959)
The Fenwickians invade New York (front l to r) – Jean Seberg, David Kossoff, Peter Sellers (as Prime Minister Tully) and William Hartnell (a few years before becoming the first Doctor in Doctor Who) carrying the Q-Bomb

The Mouse That Roared was directed by Jack Arnold, director of such 1950s science-fiction classics as It Came from Outer Space (1953), The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) and The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957). Comedy is clearly not Jack Arnold’s forte and the film lumbers about loud and unsubtly and is not terribly funny. On the other hand, the film’s sequel Mouse on the Moon (1963) wherein the Fenwickians accidentally launch a Moon rocket, directed by comedy specialist Richard Lester, is a considerably better delight.

Jack Arnold’s other genre films are:– It Came from Outer Space (1953), The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), Revenge of the Creature (1955), Tarantula (1955), The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), Monster on the Campus (1958), The Space Children (1958) and Hello Down There (1969), as well as the story for The Monolith Monsters (1957).

Trailer here

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