Thursday, April 7, 2016
RETURN OF THE PINK PANTHER, THE
(May 1975, U.S.)
There are, according to my research, a total of eleven Pink Panther films since the first one, simply called, THE PINK PANTHER, graced the big screen back in 1963 (one of them, the third one released in 1968 called INSPECTOR CLOUSEAU stars Alan Arkin in the title role instead of Peter Sellers), including three that were released after the great Sellers died and two remakes with Steve Martin in the title role (I haven't seen those and I won't!). That’s a whole lot of slapstick comedy that I can only call, in my opinion, quite redundant. In my vast collection of DVD and Blu-Ray titles, THE RETURN OF THE PINK PANTHER is the only film in the entire lengthy franchise that I have deemed worthy of my time and my ownership. This is not only because I still find myself laughing with much enthusiasm at the antics of the late, great Mr. Sellers in his comedic stunts and pitfalls that I think greatly outsoar the other films, but also because I think this film carries with it a more intricate plotline in terms of the details behind the theft of the Pink Panther diamond itself.
Now if you remember the first Pink Panther film at all, you'll recall that the precious diamond had been stolen by the notorious thief known as "The Phantom" (played by Christopher Plummer in this film and previously played by David Niven in the first film) before and it was Inspector Jacques Clouseau (Sellers) who recovered it, though, somehow during the course of the film, he was suspected of being the "Phantom" himself. By the second film, A SHOT IN THE DARK (1964), Clouseau's prison term seemed to have been conveniently discarded, as he was back on the job, trying to solve a murder this time. By the third film, this one, he's after the Pink Panther diamond and the "Phantom" all over again. Interestingly, although this is a goofy comedy, the film begins with a somewhat suspenseful theft as we watch the mysterious thief carefully make his (or her?) way into the chamber where the diamond rests and skillfully removes it without setting off any of the security alarms. I have to admit, I actually find myself sitting in suspense as I watch the thief at work. After that little bit of seriousness, the film is off and running its trail of silliness with our re-introduction to Inspector Clouseau and his bumbling idiosyncrasies and thick-accented French dialogue. Like James Bond himself, Clouseau travels the world to exotic locales to track down the solution to this great crime and along the way, we can't help suspect that were he not such a bumbling idiot, he might actually score with a woman or two. Certainly, he thinks he can if he wishes to. There's a particularly funny moment when he's attempting to charm the "Phantom's" wife, Lady Claudine Lytton (played by Catherine Schell) in a nightclub. Holding up his drink, he proposes a toast and utters the classic line from CASABLANCA, "Here's looking at you, kid." Okay, that doesn't sound too funny on paper, but try to imagine it with an overly-thick fake French accent and it sounds more like, "Here's-a-looking-at-a-you, kid." Trust me, it funny! Look carefully at Catherine Schell and you'll see that the actress is having trouble containing her genuine laughter while working this scene with Sellers. Many of the traditional clichés and schticks that became repetitive in the many Panther films to follow still seem fresh in this film of 1975, including Clouseau's ongoing physical battle-of-wits with his faithful servant Cato (played by Burt Kwouk, who, by the way, my friend Richard K. in California will remind you that he also played Mr. Ling in the 1963 James Bond film, GOLDFINGER), and my personal favorite, Clouseau's police chief Inspector Dreyfuss (played by Herbert Lom) who is constantly hell-bent on killing the naive detective. Never do I enjoy someone's misery and frustration more than when I'm listening to Dreyfuss' desperation and laughter when he's trying to not only kill the poor man, but also explain to others just how much he hates Clouseau.
As for the cloak and dagger criminal element of this comedy, it's innocent enough for a G-rated film, despite moments of gun fire and explosions (the final resolution of who actually stole the Pink Panther diamond is actually quite boring and anti-climactic). But like Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, Clouseau only walks away with a dirty face and torn clothes when an exploding bomb nearly takes his life (the bomb sent to his house by Dreyfuss, by the way!). However, I do challenge the "G" rating of today if no other reason than there is actually some dialogue that would likely be considered racist by today's standards and that's when Clouseau repeatedly refers to Cato as his "little yellow friend". During the 1970's, a time when Archie Bunker was saying whatever the fuck he pleased on network television and people were loving it, such a reference to an Asian man on film probably went unnoticed. Today, someone out there would have a reason to go apeshit over it (everybody's always pissed off about something!). A little bit of racist dialogue is, perhaps, a small and questionable price to pay for the comedic talents of Peter Sellers in this particular film. While those talents may never have been able to live up to the madness and genius of his talent in the Stanley Kubrick films LOLITA (1962) and DR. STRANGELOVE (1964), it still remains a high level of entertaining silliness that I continue to enjoy to this day. As for the Panther films that followed...well, I remember really wanting to see THE PINK PANTHER STRIKES AGAIN (1976) as a kid and finally did see it on TV four years later. Back then, I have no doubt that it made me laugh. Today, while still possessing a funny moment or two, the plot of Inspector Dreyfuss turning evil in the tradition of a James Bond villain just to kill Clouseau once and for all is, frankly, just too stupid to make the film worthwhile. REVENGE OF THE PINK PANTHER (1978) was a film whose only appeal for me were two; the first being a movie poster that featured comical version of the famous JAWS 2 tagline, "Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Go Back to the Movies" and the second being a black leather dominatrix...
You know, until this film, I never even knew these women existed (bless them!)! Beyond this smokin' lady, the film sucks! After Sellers died in 1980, I gave up on all Panther films forever. What little bits and pieces of TRAIL OF THE PINK PANTHER (1982) that I happen to catch on HBO at the time was pathetic. I mean, really, trying to salvage a popular franchise by cutting and splicing unused footage from previous Panther films to make it appear that Sellers is alive and well for a new film two years after his death? Seriously??? Anyway, there you have it - eleven Pink Panther films and I stand by just one...and it's all mine!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Chief Inspector Dreyfus: "The beggar was the lookout man for the gang!"
Inspector Clouseau: "That is impossible. How can a blind man be a lookout?"
Dreyfus: "How can an idiot be a police officer?"
Clouseau: "Well, all he has to do is enlist..."
Dreyfus: "Shut up!"