The Mouse That Roared, the Football and the Marshall Plan
“My idea was sound. Only an idiot could have won this war, and he did.” — Prime Minister Count Rupert Mountjoy
In one of the books I was reading this summer, a book about the White House Chiefs of Staff, the crazy events surrounding the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan were detailed. There had been no protocol in place when the shooting occurred so things got chaotic. A frazzled Alexander Haig, clearly rattled and out of breath from running up a flight of stairs, announced in the press room, “I’m in control here.”
Another fragment of the story had to do with a reference to the “Football.” In Cold War parlance the Football is a briefcase containing the nuclear release-code sequences that is always at the President’s side. Was the stressed out Haig saying he had the Football so everything was under control? That was a scary thought.
Reading this prompted me to seek out the satirical 1959 film The Mouse That Roared, because I seemed to recall a football being part of the story in a significant way. I had no idea that the movie’s football-shaped Q-Bomb was actually a reference to something in real life.
When I first saw it in the early 60s, the The Mouse That Roared made an impression on me not so much for the satire, but because Peter Sellers humorously played three roles in the film. I was too young to fully appreciate the deeper story, and it would be a couple more years before I understood what air-raid drills were about.
The movie’s storyline goes like this. The happy people of Grand Fenwick, whose economy is based entirely upon Pinot Grand Fenwick wine, have suddenly had their economy thrown into a tailspin due to a lower-priced California knock-off. They appeal to the U.S. government to do something about it, but our government is indifferent.
The solution to the problem is to declare war on the U.S., which they assume they will lose within a day. And just as with all the other countries that our country defeated in World War II, they could count on massive revenue streams to flow to Grand Fenwick and thereby save the nation.
Just as I was unaware of the real-life Football, I was similarly unaware of the Marshall Plan when I watched this farce as a boy.
While reading Don’t Know Much About History by Kenneth C. Davis this past week, the Marshall Plan was explained. Essentially, the Marshall Plan, a.k.a. the European Recovery Plan, was conceived by Undersecretary of State Will Clayton and proposed by Secretary of State Dean Acheson. Under the ERP more than $12 billion was pumped into war-torn Europe over a period of four years after the war. In addition to economic aid it also had a displaced persons component.
West German and Austria were both recipients of our largesse, as was Japan later in the same spirit. The aims weren’t entirely altruistic. By rebuilding these economies, our country’s manufacturers would have markets for the goods we produced. This would also help keep our Cold War adversaries from moving in to take over these nations’ economic turmoil.
In short, the leaders of Grand Fenwick (all played by Peter Sellers) were counting on a similar outcome by attacking the United States.
Unfortunately, they accidentally won the war by kidnapping the creator of the Q-Bomb, a weapon multiple times more powerful than its predecessor the H-Bomb. The simpleton nincompoop Tulley Bascomb, who had been assigned to lead the army to defeat, screwed up everything. He brought home the Q-Bomb and won the war. (There’s more, but I’d prefer not to spoil it for you.)
While entertaining, the low budget black and white buffoonery is just the beginning as regards films featuring Sellers in multiple roles, chiefly Lolita and Dr. Strangelove. The deadpan empty-headedness of his role as Tulley also eventually comes to full fruition in films like Being There, Shot in the Dark and the Pink Panther series.