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Mouse, Caretakers

At the Harvard Square through Wednesday

By Hendrik Hertzberg

The Mouse on the Moon is a very comforting movie, especially if you are worried about the World Situation. There they are: clean-shaven Americans, rumpled Russians and quaintly inefficient Englishmen, and the preposterous Duchy of Grand Fenwick which foils them all and finally saves the world.

Grand Fenwick is the same country that won World War III in The Mouse that Roared and more or less the same principality which Peter Ustinov presided over in Romanoff and Juliet. This time the Fenwickians win the space race in a rocket supplied by the Soviet Union, financed by the United States, and fueled with the wine of Grand Fenwick. But the story isn't crucial; it's simply an excuse for a machine-gun-fast series of gags satirizing such juicy targets as international diplomacy, German scientists, student peace marchers, and American grammar.

Since Mouse was produced by Englishmen, it's not surprising that Grand Fenwick is slightly British. Its tiny parliament is divided into exaggerated Tories in morning clothes and cravats and stereotyped socialists in identical, ill-fitting brown suits. Its Duchess, charmingly played by Margaret Rutherford, calls herself "we" and suggests that the matter of indoor plumbing be referred to the Privy Council.

If the humor isn't always subtle, at least it makes you laugh. Grand Fenwick's prime minister, delivering a fireside chat, destroys his country's television network by sticking his finger through the camera. When the rocket is about to be launched, the Fenwickians interrupt the countdown at four for tea. And so on for an hour and a half. Terry-Thomas, Ron Moody, Roddy McMillan and half a dozen others help Miss Rutherford make Mouse on the Moon a delightful escape.

In The Caretakers, we move to another kind of insanity. Robert Stack is the good psychiatrist who thinks patients should be understood. When he speaks, nothing in his entire body moves but his mouth, which is usually saying something like "Don't you see, Miss Terry, what a little affection would do?" Stack's evil opponent is Joan Crawford, the tough head nurse who favors "the intelligent use of force." There are numerous other wooden people: the cute nurse who tells an earnest young doctor, "You talk like a poet," the very sick girl, who talks for the first time in years when Polly Bergen says "We love you."

"Get away from those crazy people," a father at one point warns his son, who has innocently made friends with an inmate. And somehow that is just what we want to do.

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