#220) The Pink Panther (1963)

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#220) The Pink Panther (1963)

OR “I’m All Right Jacques”

Directed by Blake Edwards

Written by Edwards and Maurice Richlin

Class of 2010

The Plot: The Pink Panther is the world’s largest diamond, now controversially in the hands of Princess Dala of Lugash (Claudia Cardinale). While on holiday at a ski resort in Cortina, Italy, she is wooed by Englishman Sir Charles Lytton (David Niven), who is secretly notorious jewel thief “The Phantom”. Also mixed up in the attempted theft is Sir Charles’ highly Americanized nephew George (Robert Wagner), and the inspector assigned to the case, the very clumsy and very French Jacques Clouseau (Peter Sellers). Clouseau brings along his wife Simone (Capucine) who, unbeknownst to him, is The Phantom’s secret accomplice/lover. Come for the international intrigue, stay for the beginnings of Sellers and Blake Edwards’ beautiful/rocky friendship.

Why It Matters: The NFR calls it a “comic masterpiece” and praises Edwards, Sellers, and composer Henry Mancini.

But Does It Really?: I’ll argue that “A Shot in the Dark” is the funniest of the “Pink Panther” films, but it’s always fun to watch the first film in a franchise before it became formulaic. As a standalone ‘60s caper comedy it’s fun, but the real joy is watching Blake Edwards realize that Sellers is the MVP. Having Clouseau as a supporting character makes for a film that’s not a complete laugh-fest, but the physical comedy more than makes up for that, and at times is still laugh-out-loud funny. “The Pink Panther” led to a ripple effect that influenced film comedy for the next 20 years (to say nothing of what it did for Peter Sellers), and is one of the more fun entries on the NFR.

Everybody Gets One: Lead performers Capucine (who led a sadly tragic life) and Robert Wagner (who will always be Number Two).

Wow, That’s Dated: This film very much has that ‘60s jet-setting vibe to it. Throw in Italian star Claudia Cardinale and you’ve got yourself 1963!

Seriously, Oscars?: “The Pink Panther” snagged one nomination, but if you only get one, it should be for Henry Mancini’s score. Mancini lost to the Sherman Brothers’ song score for “Mary Poppins”. But you don’t need to feel too bad for Mancini; he had already won three of his four Oscars at that point.

Other notes

  • This film’s most famous piece of trivia was its original casting. Ava Gardner was tapped to play Simone, with Peter Ustinov as Clouseau. When Gardner’s demands could not be met, she left the film, and Ustinov soon followed suit. Sellers was an eleventh hour casting choice, and it was his idea to turn Clouseau from the clueless straight-man to the clueless comic relief. Edwards agreed, and revised the film accordingly.
  • No offense to Saul Bass, but this may be the best animated opening credits sequence ever. Great animation under the direction of David H. DePatie and Friz Freleng, and an iconic score by Henry Mancini. This may be the only movie with a credit for “tenor sax solos” (shoutout to Plas Johnson).
  • Claudia Cardinale: Because Sophia Loren costs how much?
  • Speaking of, Claudia Cardinale didn’t speak English, so her entire performance is dubbed by singer Gale Garnett; who was a few months away from her biggest hit: “We’ll Sing in the Sunshine”.
  • As Clouseau, Sellers is doing lowest common denominator physical schtick. But it’s so well choreographed and perfected, it works. It helps that Blake Edwards knows how to film physical comedy: Long uninterrupted takes, with everything you need in the frame (or comically coming into the frame).
  • There is a long stretch of this movie without Peter Sellers in it, and it is, unsurprisingly, not very funny. It doesn’t help that most of this time is Sir Charles trying to get Princess Dala to pass out from drinking while discussing antiquated gender politics. More pratfalls!
  • Shoutout to ‘60s singer Fran Jeffries performing “Meglio stasera (It Had Better Be Tonight)”. It’s essentially a music video wedged into the middle of this film, but it’s impressively shot and a lot of fun. Points deducted, however, for clapping on One and Three.
  • The centerpiece of the movie is the farce happening in the Clouseaus’ hotel room. Niven, Wagner, and Capucine don’t get the funniest lines, but they are very game for the physical comedy.
  • Blake Edwards loves his party scenes.
  • A few logistical questions about the Phantom. He always leaves a glove embroidered with a “P”. Does he have them custom made for each robbery? Or does he have a bunch made in advance? And is it always the same hand? Did his tailor have to sign an NDA?
  • “The Pink Panther” is in the vein of “The Thin Man” where the title of the franchise is a plot-point from the first film only (although the actual Pink Panther does pop up in some, but not all, of the sequels).
  • They are so clearly setting up the ending to be the first in a series of “Charles and George Lytton” films. What an interesting little “Sliding Doors” moment in film history.

Legacy

  • Peter Sellers’ Inspector Clouseau was so well received, Blake Edwards immediately started rewriting his next film, an adaptation of the stage play “A Shot in the Dark”, to incorporate Clouseau. It’s also the film that brought Herbert Lom’s Commissioner Dreyfus and Burt Kwouk’s Cato into the fold.
  • 1964 was the year that Peter Sellers went from British comedian to international superstar. “Dr. Strangelove” was released in January, “The Pink Panther” in March, and “A Shot in the Dark” in June. None of his other ‘60s films packed the same punch as these three, but it was enough to keep his momentum going.
  • Sellers aside, the film’s biggest breakout star was The Pink Panther himself. The title character appeared in a series of animated shorts throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s, which were eventually aired on television (along with new material) as “The Pink Panther Show”.
  • After being left for dead with 1968’s “Inspector Clouseau” (with Alan Arkin filling in for Sellers and with no involvement from Edwards at all), The Pink Panther franchise was resurrected with 1975’s “The Return of the Pink Panther”. Blake Edwards followed up with two more sequels with Sellers, one with outtake footage of Sellers following his death, and a final film that tried to create a new central character with Ted Wass’ Det. Clifton Sleigh. No takers.
  • I’ll clump the 1993 and 2006 reboots together, because who cares?
  • As for the Pink Panther diamond, I think Richard Burton bought it for Liz Taylor at some point.

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