Ring a Ding Ding
Unlike The Thin Man movies, the series of films following the bumbling French detective Jacques Clouseau opted not to fashion the titles of the sequels off the first. The Pink Panther title refers to a priceless gem featured only in the initial film, similar to how the “thin man” is only sought in the primary movie of the set, which also happens to follow a detective.
Just as with the first Clouseau appearance, A Shot in the Dark is a roaring good time of dialogue and physical comedy. Peter Sellers hams up the French accent even more in this endeavor giving us words such as “bemp” (bump) and “meths” (moths). Some of the writing (“The telephone is for Inspector Clouseau,” the butler says. “Ah, that will be for me,” Clouseau responds) had me thinking these films might have inspired gags in films like Airplane! and other Jim Abrahams work. The sight gags come one after another. My favorite repeated joke is Clouseau’s various arrests in his attempts to go under cover. The action quickly cuts to a paddy wagon, siren blazing, zooming toward the camera, always with an additional joke on the back of the vehicle. I would follow that with Clouseau’s houseman who repeatedly tricks us into thinking he is actually trying to assassinate the inspector. No worries, Clouseau is just trying to keep on his toes.
The plot starts with Clouseau investigating a murder at the large home of Benjamin Ballon, played by an old and tired-looking George Sanders. Clouseau surmises the woman found with a gun in her hand, Maria Gambrelli (played by German actress Elke Sommer), cannot possibly be the murder and so repeatedly releases her from jail, each time with another murder to follow. In the second half of the picture the murders come absurdly one after another. Oddly, the riddle of who killed whom acts as a MacGuffin. Various side characters rattle off what happened, but the confusion is so great, the viewer is left not caring about the truth. It does not really matter anyway; we are just here for the laughs.
The score is again composed by a favorite of mine, Henry Mancini, who is responsible for “Moon River” and the Charade score. The man has 168 movies to his credit for musical score or a single song with participation even as recently as last year. Mancini should be worshiped for creating some of the most memorable scores in history, which of course includes the Pink Panther theme that carried over into the cartoon.
Much like The Thin Man movies, one does not need to have seen The Pink Panther to enjoy A Shot in the Dark. I highly recommend it.
- A Shot in the Dark is set for 1:30 p.m. April 20 on TCM.