The nutty screen career of French Police Inspector Jacques Clouseau bumbled from modest beginnings in 1963's The Pink Panther to become a beloved motion picture franchise, at times on the same commercial level of popularity as James Bond 007. Writer-producer-director Blake Edwards created the character with co-scripter Maurice Richlin, but it wasn't until actor Peter Sellers found himself in the role that the intended secondary Clouseau became the star, the hero, the comedic icon.
This second outing is the first all-Clouseau picture. Eager to explore more in the silly detective, Edwards grabbed an unrelated Broadway whodunit and -- with William Peter Blatty (The Exorcist
) -- rewrote the play as sophisticated slapstick for Sellers. The sequel was in the can, but shelved by United Artists as junk, before The Pink Panther
opened in U.S. theatres to enormous success. Talk about buried treasure, Shot
swiftly got its shot, and houseboy Kato and boss Dreyfus came into the light.
The story goes that when Ava Gardner left the cast abruptly, Peter Ustinov followed. He
was the man who would be Clouseau. Needing a warm body, a desperate Edwards hired Sellers. He rushed to location on a Friday and the shoot began Monday. The actor and the director improvised new Clouseau material. It wasn't long before the lead, David Niven, realized his film had been stolen
from under him. The lush, wacky tale of the voluptuous Pink Panther diamond had, it seems, created another gem.
Nearly a dozen years passed before Edwards and Sellers resumed their partnership on the Clouseau front, after this project for British television evolved into a theatrical feature. While the escapade is immensely entertaining, it marked the end of the Inspector's charming subtilty. Where Clouseau was once an innocent, simply employed in the wrong line of work, here he's on a path to increasing insanity, outlandish disguises, explosive gags, and a strange, thick accent he never had before.
The fifth and final Sellers appearance as Clouseau (or so Peter thought) has the world's ruthless assassins plotting his demise. There's no Pink Panther jewel involved. (Only half of these films are actually propelled by the diamond.) The first 50% or so is solid funny, but the ludicrous undercover costumes the detective dons become disjointed, hit-or-miss side sketches in the festivities. We're witnessing creative burnout, especially with Sellers in a Brando fat suit and 1950s Mafioso threads.
I feared this one, the first Pink Panther in three decades not to involve the participation of Blake Edwards. Much has been said of Steve Martin in the Clouseau role, treading on Sellers' domain. Going into the deal, I felt Martin to be the only current comic star who has the chops to pull off the challenge. He does, too, in an hilarious package that has little to do with the caper it pretends to remake. Sadly, we're starting over with Clouseau's previous cases and personal history ignored.
While I admire the fine timing and physical humor of Blake Edwards' comedies, especially the ones with cartoony structures, this episode disappointed me in initial release. It still does, although there are some delightful moments. In an apparent attempt to top all of the Panthers
, Clouseau becomes James Bond-like, tracking Chief Inspector Dreyfus (Herbert Lom), who has gone beyond madness to build a Doomsday machine to blow up major cities if someone, anyone doesn't kill Clouseau.
Edwards did the unthinkable. He made a Peter Sellers Inspector Clouseau movie long after the actor's death, a cheater, like a bad TV clip show. Using outtakes, largely from The Pink Panther Strikes Again
, and previously seen footage, series characters share memories of their encounters with the missing detective. Several of the Clouseau sequences are amusing, but the bulk are desperation strokes to exploit Sellers. His widow agreed, says Internet Movie Database. She sued, winning $1,475,000.
8. Curse of the Pink Panther (1983)Produced at the same time as Trail of the Pink Panther, the search continues for the elsewhere sleuth. Chief Inspector Dreyfus does not want the "idiot" found, of course, so he rigs the investigation to be led by the second worst detective of all, the NYPD's Sergeant Clifton Sleigh (Ted Wass). Undistinguished, go-through-the-motions bedlam follows until Jacques Clouseau is found, portrayed by Roger Moore(!), billed as Turk Thrust II. This attempt to reinvigorate the franchise failed with a thud.
Ten years passed without a spawn of Blake Edwards' misguided post-Peter Panthers
-- until he materialized with another bastardization: the love child of Jacques Clouseau, also a police officer and a bungler, played by the black hole of comedy, Roberto Benigni. (Apologies for the insult to black holes.) The animated title sequence is the undisputed high point of this movie, a developing trend over the several preceding vehicles. Edwards' last hurrah is a PP
that trickled far too long.
Hoo, boy. Perhaps, the deadliest major motion picture comedy I have ever seen. After A Shot in the Dark
, Edwards and Sellers declined a third turn. You know, artistic integrity and all that (until they needed a hit and/or money). So, UA brought in TV's Bud Yorkin as director and Alan Arkin as our man. Let me sum it up with a quote from my dear wife, who never, ever talks during a film, yet she screamed in exasperation at Arkin: "You're not funny! YOU ARE NOT FUNNY!" She damn near woke me up.