AFI Catalog of Feature Films
Movie Detail
Name Occurs Before Title Offscreen Credit Print Viewed By AFI
The Mouse That Roared
Director: Jack Arnold (Dir)
Release Date:   Nov 1959
Premiere Information:   Geneva, Switzerland premiere: 23 May 1959; New York opening: 26 Oct 1959
Production Date:   27 Oct--22 Dec 1958 at Shepperton Studios, London
Duration (in mins):   83 or 85
Duration (in feet):   7,459
Print this page
Display Movie Summary

Cast:   Peter Sellers (Duchess Gloriana XII/Count Rupert Mountjoy/Tully Bascombe)  
    Jean Seberg (Helen Kokintz)  
    William Hartnell (Will)  
    David Kossoff (Dr. Alfred Kokintz)  
    Leo McKern (Benter)  
    MacDonald Parke (Gen. Snippet)  
    Austin Willis (U.S. Secretary of Defense)  
    Timothy Bateson (Roger)  
    Monty Landis (Cobbley)  
    Alan Gifford    
    Colin Gordon (BBC announcer)  
    Harold Kasket (Pedro)  
    George Margo (O'Hara)  
    Richard Gatehouse (Mulligan)  
    Jacques Cey (Ticket collector)  
    Stuart Sanders (Cunard captain)  
    Ken Stanley (Cunard 2d officer)  
    Bill Nagy (U.S. policeman)  
    Mavis Villiers (Telephone operator)  
    Charles Clay (British ambassador)  
    Harold De Bray (French ambassador)  
    Bill Edwards (Army captain)  

Summary: In the tiny European Duchy of Grand Fenwick, Duchess Gloriana XII, the Duchy’s reigning monarch, meets with Prime Minister Count Rupert Mountjoy and the parliament to discuss their country’s impending bankruptcy. Fenwick’s economy is dependent upon its export of wine to the United States, and now competition from a California winery named “Enwick” threatens to put the country out of business. To avert bankruptcy, Mountjoy proposes declaring war on the United States, reasoning that once the Americans defeat the Duchy, they will feel obligated to pour financial aid into the country. To accomplish this, Mountjoy sends a Declaration of War to Washington, then appoints Tully Bascombe, who serves Fenwick in the dual capacity of forest ranger and field marshal, to lead a brigade of twenty men to invade the United States. Although Tully is hesitant to abandon the tranquility of the forest for the vagaries of war, he recruits twenty of his reluctant countrymen to carry out their patriotic duty and defend the fortunes of Fenwick. Armed with bows and arrows, the troops hail a bus to Marseilles, where they board a dilapidated freighter bound for New York. Dressed in chain mail and metal helmets, Tully and his troops land in New York on the day of an air raid drill and find the city deserted. Puzzled by the empty streets, Tully picks up a newspaper and reads about the drill, which has been called because of the impending development of the Q bomb, a weapon one hundred times more powerful than the H bomb. As Tully decides to proceed to the arsenal and surrender, Dr. Alfred Kokintz, the developer of the bomb, perfects a football-shaped working model at the New York Institute of Physics. While marching to the arsenal, Tully and his men are mistaken for space aliens by two civil defense squadron leaders who then report an “alien invasion” to headquarters. After taking a wrong turn through Central Park, Tully ends up at the Institute of Physics, where he meets Kokintz and his daughter Helen. Recalling the newspaper article about Kokintz building the bomb, Tully decides to take the scientist, his creation and his daughter hostage and use them as a bargaining chip to win the war. Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., the Secretary of Defense has been apprised of the space invaders and orders Gen. Snippet, the officer in charge of New York City, to investigate. When Snippet, accompanied by several police officers, arrives at the institute, Tully decides to take them prisoner, too. As Tully sails back to Fenwick with his prisoners of war, Mountjoy and Minority Leader Benter, unaware of the surprising turn of events, prepare to welcome the American conquerors. The Secretary of Defense, meanwhile, has belatedly received Fenwick’s Declaration of War and, aware that the bomb is now in enemy possession, immediately declares defeat. Upon docking in Marseilles, Tully purchases bus tickets for the return trip to Fenwick, where he enters the palace proudly to announce that he has won the war and captured the Q bomb. As word of Tully’s victory spreads, mighty countries eagerly offer Fenwick military aid. When Mountjoy, disgruntled by the scuttling of his grand plan, proposes returning the bomb, the duchess insists on billeting the weapon in the dungeon, prompting Mountjoy and Benter to resign in protest. The duchess then appoints Tully the new prime minister. In Washington, meanwhile, the Secretary of Defense decides to fly to Fenwick to broker a peace accord. Mountjoy, determined to return the bomb and lose the war, visits Helen and tells her that he wants to send both her and the bomb back to the United States, then offers to help her escape. As the duchess serenades Kokintz on her harpsichord, and the Secretary arrives to discuss the terms of surrender, Mountjoy and Snippet go to the dungeon to retrieve the bomb. Tully, meanwhile decides to visit Helen, and during a heated argument with her over the fate of the bomb, kisses her and realizes that he has fallen in love. Later, Tully returns to declare his love, and as he pounds on Helen’s bedroom door, Mountjoy pulls her out her window and into the duchess’ antique automobile in which Snippet and the New York police are waiting to escape. Upon discovering that Helen is missing, Tully runs after the car. Meanwhile, foreign diplomats, playing a board game called “Diplomacy,” have lined up outside the palace to vie for the bomb. When the car sputters to a stop on a hill, Snippet, holding the bomb in his lap, orders the others to get out and push. At the top of the hill, the car rolls out of control and crashes into a haystack. Tully catches up just as Snippet climbs out of the hay carrying the bomb. When the bomb begins to emit warning noises, Snippet punts it, and after it is tossed among the police and the diplomats, Tully catches it. Tully then negotiates a peace treaty in which the United States pays Fenwick $1,000,000 and agrees to withdraw Enwick wines from the market. After Tully informs the Secretary that he and Helen are to be married and Kokintz plans to remain in Fenwick to develop a new chewing gun, he warns that he will detonate the bomb unless all “the little nations of the world” are made its guardian. Tully explains that by using the bomb as leverage, the little nations will be able to negotiate worldwide disarmament. After the Secretary grants Fenwick custody of the bomb, Kokintz, accompanied by Helen and Tully, goes to the dungeon to examine it. As Kokintz fondles his creation, he sneezes, dropping the weapon, which falls soundlessly to the ground. Tully, Kokintz and Helen then agree to keep secret the fact that the bomb is “a dud.”  

Production Company: Highroad Productions, Inc.  
  Open Road Films, Ltd.  
Production Text: A Highroad Picture
Distribution Company: Columbia Pictures Corp.  
Director: Jack Arnold (Dir)
  Philip Shipway (Asst dir)
Producer: Carl Foreman (Pres)
  Walter Shenson (Prod)
  Jon Penington (Assoc prod)
Writer: Roger MacDougall (Scr)
  Stanley Mann (Scr)
Photography: John Wilcox (Dir of photog)
  Austin Dempster (Cam op)
  John Wimbolt (2d unit cam)
Art Direction: Geoffrey Drake (Art dir)
Film Editor: Raymond Poulton (Ed)
Costumes: Anthony Mendleson (Cost des)
Music: Edwin Astley (Mus comp and cond)
Sound: Red Law (Sd)
  George Stephenson (Sd)
  Richard Marden (Sd ed)
Special Effects: Maurice Binder (Titles des)
Make Up: Stuart Freeborn (Makeup)
  Joyce James (Hairdresser)
Production Misc: Leon Becker (Prod supv)
  James Ware (Prod mgr)
  Pamela Davies (Cont)
Country: Great Britain and United States
Language: English

Source Text: Based on the novel The Mouse That Roared by Leonard Wibberley (Boston, 1955).
Authors: Leonard Wibberley

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Open Road Films, Ltd. 28/7/1959 dd/mm/yyyy LP15054

PCA NO: 19205
Physical Properties: Sd: Westrex Recording System
  col: Eastman Color by Pathé

Genre: Satire
Sub-Genre: Political
Subjects (Major): Bombs
  Mythical lands
  United States--Defenses
Subjects (Minor): Escapes
  Fathers and daughters
  Marseilles (France)
  New York City
  Washington (D.C.)

Note: The film opens with the figure of "Miss Columbia" (the statue that serves as the studio's trademark) jumping down off her pedestal because she is frightened by a mouse hiding under her dress. The film ends with the written proclamation: "The end. We Hope." Miss Columbia then climbs back onto her pedestal. After the opening credits roll, an offscreen narrator introduces that history of the Duchy of Grand Fenwick and its inhabitants. The scene in which "Helen" and "Mountjoy" drive off with the bomb ends with footage of a nuclear explosion. The narrator then explains that this is not the end of the film, but that the footage was included to "put audiences in the mood." The action then continues as "Tully" runs after the car.
       According to publicity material contained in the film's production file at the AMPAS Library, author Leonard Wibberley had the idea for the novel on which the film is based while working as an editorial writer for the LAT . Wibberley, fascinated by the peace treaty negotiated between the United States and Japan, wrote a satirical editorial in which he suggested that Japan was awarded so much aid for losing the war that perhaps it would be better to lose than win. Wibberley later expanded his thesis into a serialized novel titled The Day New York Was Invaded , which ran in SEP on 25 Dec 1954.
       When the novel was published in book form, the title was changed to The Mouse That Roared . Walter Shenson, who was then working as the head of publicity for Columbia Pictures in Britain, was given a copy of the book by actor Tyrone Power. Shenson was so impressed by the book that he bought the screen rights in 1956 and resigned from Columbia in 1957 to devote his energy to producing the film, which marked his debut as a producer. Shenson went on to produce a 1963 sequel titled The Mouse on the Moon , directed by Richard Lester and starring Margaret Rutherford and Terry-Thomas (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1961-70 ).
       A premiere of the film was held for a group of diplomats in Geneva, Switzerland on 23 May 1959. According to publicity materials, the film's interiors were shot at the Shepperton Studios in England and location filming was done in the English Channel and in Surrey, England. Although an Oct 1958 LAEx news item stated that Columbia had hired Jean Seberg to play one of the female leads and was trying to persuade Kathryn Grant to play the other, the character played by Seberg is the only ingénue in the film. The Life magazine review called Peter Sellers, who was relatively unknown in the United States at the time of the film's release, "the funniest actor England has sent to America since Alec Guinness."  

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   5 Oct 1959.   
Daily Variety   1 Oct 1958.   
Daily Variety   17 Jul 59   p. 3.
Film Daily   2 Oct 59   p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter   26 Oct 1958.   
Hollywood Reporter   1 Oct 59   p. 3.
Life   Nov 1959.   
Los Angeles Examiner   13 Oct 1958.   
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   3 Oct 59   p. 437.
New York Times   27 Oct 59   p. 40.
Variety   5 Aug 59   p. 6.

Display Movie Summary
The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
Advanced Search
Support our efforts to preserve hisotory of film
Help AFI Preserve Film History

© 2017 American Film Institute.
All rights reserved.
Terms of use.