Most international audiences warmed to Peter Sellers’ comic nimbleness after his three-faced hijacking of Stanley Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove,” where he did goofy (the president), wacky (the advisor) and straight (the group captain). But he’d actually revved up the triple a few years earlier in director Jack Arnold’s charming little satire that has none of Kubrick’s ambition but lots of British wit.
The world’s smallest country, Grand Duchy of Grand Fenwick, has run out of money. Prime Minister Count Rupert Mountjoy (guess who) tells Grand Duchess Floriana (guess who) that the appropriate solution is a war on America, since America always tends a helping hand to losers (take that, Marshall Plan). Off goes Field Marshall Tulley Bascombe (guess who) to “attack” New York, 20 soldiers and longbows in hand, intent on surrender. But Tulley gets to the city in the middle of an atomic air raid drill. With no one to surrender to, it’s victory.
Plot summaries aren’t necessary in a satire that does what it’s intended: poke fun at pretense, power, and European helplessness in the midst of the 50-year Cold War standoff. There’s the Q-Bomb, standing in for the A- and H-, and some good-natured if unexpectedly relevant jabs. “There isn’t a more profitable undertaking for any country than to declare war on the United States and to be defeated,” announces Tulley, saying then what Iraq says now. Four words: See it for Sellers.
Jean Seberg, then 21, has a small but off-kilter part as the woman scientist behind the Q-Bomb. Her next film was Godard’s “Breathless.”