Revisiting Clouseau or — Shine On You Crazy Diamond.
So last night I re-visited ‘The Return of The Pink Panther’ followed by ‘The Pink Panther Strikes Again’ and then thought “Fuck it!” I might as well finish with ‘A Shot In The Dark’. And, like being handed a bomb with a lit fuse, I had a blast.
Boy, all three of these films are very funny indeed and, despite all the similarities and familiarities (Dreyfus; Cato etc), they all have a nicely different feel.
‘Return’, which might be my favourite, is the most “realistic”, although applying that term to a Pink Panther movie seems weird and almost Clouseau-esquely stupid. Here Clouseau is bumbling but not the force of complete destruction he’d later become. Not that he doesn’t cause a lot of glorious damage here. His investigation of the crime scene at the museum is seriously funny and the latter sequence with the industrial vacuum cleaner (including the slippy floor from the sauna) is one of the best in the series and I love it.
It also helps that Catherine Schell is constantly corpsing whenever she spends screen time with Sellers. This completely endears us to him and also means he never comes across as a sexual threat (which he can a little in ‘A Shot In The Dark’). I’d also defy anyone not to keep a straight face in front of Sellers when he’s in Clouseau mode. ‘The Return of The Pink Panther’ is a furiously funny, well paced, well made, highly entertaining movie.
Whereas ‘The Pink Panther Strikes Again’ is Clouseau with the brakes off and in full-on manic mode and when it hits the highs they are sublime. The first third of this film — Dreyfus at the asylum; Clouseau and Cato at home; Dreyfus stalking Clouseau and Cato; Clouseau as Quasimodo; Clouseau questioning the witnesses at the manor — is insanely funny, piling gag after gag at a break neck speed and also including the best Clouseau/Cato fight scene of the series. It is a ridiculously strong (and extended) start for a comedy film.
The film does lose a little steam around halfway through when it becomes a Bond parody and Lesley-Anne Down doesn’t have much to do as the love interest. But that is because the love story here is between Clouseau and Dreyfus so there isn’t (and shouldn’t) be much room for another romance. And it is also undeniable that this is just as much Dreyfus’ film with Herbert Lom almost stealing the show. He takes megalomania to dizzyingly silly heights and pulls it off beautifully.
‘The Pink Panther Strikes Again’ might not hang together as tightly, in my opinion, as ‘Return’ but for unalloyed silliness it is a sheer delight.
Growing up my favourite Clouseau film was always ‘A Shot In The Dark’; it seemed to have the most going on under the hood. This could be because it was based on a play and was co-written by William Peter Blatty so the story is nicely convoluted and twisty. It also sets the template for a lot of what was to come along with a very high gag rate, a wonderfully jazzy score and has one of the funniest recurring gags involving a police van ever.
But it also has the most subversive and cynical edge to it, very possibly due to Blatty’s involvement. At times you can really feel this was co-written by the guy who penned ‘The Ninth Configuration’ as ‘A Shot In The Dark’ has a darker, more violent edge. Clouseau himself is also more irritating (and a little more sexually creepy) in this one. He’s not quite as charmingly oblivious here but Sellers still makes him a joy to watch. I’m not sure if it is still my favourite but even though it has dated somewhat it still really stands up and is, at times, exceptionally funny.
The last thing I noticed about these films though is just how well made they are. Blake Edwards not only knows how to direct comedy like a master but also how to make it look good. The set design, the camera work and production in general are first rate in these films and, at times, they look wonderful. ‘A Shot In The Dark’ is a particularly pretty film.
The Pink Panther series was never perfect — there were too many weak, middling or just plain bad films. But these three, these central films are not just the best Panther movies but three of the best comedies to come out of Hollywood during the 60s/70s. If the Pink Panther series had consisted of these three films alone then the franchise, like the diamond itself, would be practically flawless.