Volume 20, Number 47 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | November 17 - 23, 2010
Downtown in the movies: The Mouse That Roared
BY Jeff Rovin
Author Leonard Wibberley’s Cold War satire The Mouse That Roared was published in 1955 and filmed four years later. The European Duchy of Grand Fenwick comes up with an audacious scheme to stave off bankruptcy: to declare war on the U.S., lose quickly, and collect generous war reparations. A tiny invasion force armed with bows and arrows lands by boat in Lower Manhattan, coincidentally during an air raid drill, and wins the war by inadvertently capturing a Q-bomb super weapon.
The invaders’ first view of Manhattan is from below Battery Park looking north, showing the Whitehall Building on the left, the 20-story forward section of which was completed in 1904 and the larger structure behind it, Greater Whitehall, finished in 1919 — then the largest office building in New York. To the right is the under-construction 2 Broadway which replaced the Produce Exchange Building and was completed in 1959.
Their boat takes a turn along the Hudson River, where the Lehigh Valley pier is clearly visible. Manhattan still burned a lot of coal before the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Resource Conservation and Recovery Acts of the 1960s, and much of that came from Pennsylvania. In 1889 the Lehigh Valley Railroad extended its rail line to Jersey City, whence the coal was barged to Lower Manhattan.
The film also offers the iconic view of Trinity Church seen from the east at a time when traffic could still move freely along Wall Street. The invaders’ trip to Foley Square shows a site that has barely changed in more than a half-century.
What is perhaps most memorable about the film, however, are the timeless reactions of the chain-mailed Europeans to the city: they are no different than most modern tourists. Their “invasion map” is a copy of Cook’s Guide to New York, they perceive gum on the sidewalk as “germ warfare,” and they have the fear and hubris that is typical of the breed. When one soldier frets, “There’s 175 million people in the United States!” another responds reassuringly, “Yes but only 10 million in New York. We’ll outsmart them, that’s all!”
The film is available from Columbia Pictures Home Video (www.SonyPictures.com).