The Celluloid Pantry: Plagiarized Pinot and The Mouse That Roared
It wasn’t until the celebrated Paris Wine Tasting of 1976 that California wineries finally won the world’s respect. Back in the era of the playful, Cold-War satire, The Mouse That Roared (1959), West Coast vintners had a reputation for wines with misappropriated names like “Burgundy” and “Chablis” that were more cheap than chic.
The smallest country in the world, the fictional Duchy of Grand Fenwick is distinguished by its limited gene pool and quaint, medieval ways. Pinot Grand Fenwick, “a small but sturdy local wine with a virile but friendly bouquet,” is the country’s sole export. But when a California vintner markets a copycat “Pinot Grand Enwick” at a lower price point, backed by a flashy advertising campaign, the Duchy plummets into bankruptcy. The only solution is to declare war.
In a triple turn as the Grand Fenwick’s Grand Duchess Gloriana XII/Prime Minister Count Rupert Mountjoy/groundskeeper and military leader Tully Bascombe, Peter Sellers (left, right, center), pontificates, ponders, and spearheads an invasion of New York. Clad in chain mail and carrying crossbows, the 20-man army is dwarfed by modern skyscrapers, but charges straight ahead.
The reasoning here is that after the Duchy declares war, it will be instantly and painlessly defeated, and then “rebuilt” by the U.S. All the Duchy’s problems will be solved. But complications arise when the Duchy’s overzealous Bascombe captures the U.S.’s latest weapon of mass destruction, the Q-Bomb, inadvertently winning the war.
Full disclosure: the novel (originally titled “The Wrath of Grapes” before a shrewd editor changed it) on which the film is based was written by my grandfather, Leonard Wibberley. In a case of life imitating art, a California winery came out with its own unlicensed version of “Pinot Grand Fenwick,” cashing in on the success of the film. Although threat of a lawsuit quickly put production to a stop, the author kept a few prized (and, as I remember, empty) bottles as a souvenir.