The Pink Panther

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The Pink Panther (1964)

The Pink Panther (1964)

It is not my favorite of the franchise, but The Pink Panther is a treasure all on it’s own. This first in the series brought to everyone’s attention Peter Sellers‘ brilliant character Inspector Jacques Clouseau. But the part of the bumbling French detective almost belonged to someone else. Peter Ustinov turned down the part at the last minute, making way for Sellers. The production crew was so impressed with Sellers’ work that the movie was retooled to involve more screen time for the character and paved the way for the actor to steal the show from the movie’s intended leading man: David Niven.

Niven is Sir Charles who happens to also be a mysterious jewel thief known only as The Phantom. The criminal changes his M.O. with every theft but always leaves behind a white glove with a P embroidered on it. Sir Charles is in the Swiss Alps at the same time as middle eastern Princess Dala, played by the ever-captivating Claudia Cardinale. She owns the most glorious diamond in the world, known as the pink panther because of a cat-shaped flaw in the rosy stone. The Phantom thus plots to get his hands on the gem.

Knowing that where the pink panther is the Phantom is surely near, Inspector Clouseau has taken up residence at the same hotel as the thief and the princess. Little does he know, however, his wife Simone (Capucine) is having an affair with Sir Charles and is helping in the criminal plot.

After gaining an in with the princess by failing to rescue her kidnapped dog, Sir Charles attempts a romantic relationship. Meanwhile, Charles’ nephew, the equally deceptive George (Robert Wagner), arrives at the hotel and stays in his uncle’s suite, unaware of his guardian’s secret identity or his affair with Simone.

The plot to secure the diamond climaxes at a Rome-based costume party hosted by Princess Dala. Two gorilla-dressed men –at one time being Sir Charles and George– attempt to empty the princess’ safe, but she steals the diamond first. The men are nevertheless arrested for the crime and must find someone else on which to pin the robbery. A certain bumbling inspector makes the perfect mark.

The Pink Panther lacks some of the mainstay characters that would come to occupy the later films, such as Kato and Chief Inspector Dreyfus. But the movie succeeds in preempting them with a wife for the clutz. As we see in the later films, no woman is really interested in Clouseau despite his best efforts. With Simone, Jacques repeatedly tries to make love to her only to have his every effort foiled. Her feet are too cold, she needs warm milk, she accidentally uncorks a bottle of champaign beneath the blankets, etc. Capucine plays the role so straight-faced, showing just how patient a relationship with Clouseau has made her.

In one particularly enjoyable sequence, Simone has let Sir Charles into her room via a door adjoining their suites. Clouseau unexpectedly returns and the door between the rooms now being locked, Charles ducks under the bed. Entering under the ruse of a bell boy is George, who has been kept unaware of the affair his uncle is having. Simone hides him in the bathroom, which is sufficient only until Clousseau opts to bathe. Simone takes a bath first, hiding George under the suds. Once Charles as moved to a spot behind the window curtains, George ducks under the bed. This is where Jacques attempts to get frisky, driving Charles onto the balcony from which he ultimately falls into roughly 10 feet of snow. George slips out through the room’s front door once that champaign bottle goes off.

It was not until the second movie, A Shot in the Dark –my favorite– that Sellers amped up the French accent to make Clouseau’s dialogue all the more ridiculous. So some might view his performance in The Pink Panther as much more subtle than the later films. He still stumbles about with the greatest of ease (one cannot forget the spinning globe gag) and dryly accents his every fumble. For instance, when retrieving a sleeping pill from the bathroom for his wife, we hear off screen the spilling of a multitude of pills on the floor. This is followed by crunching footsteps as Clousseau returns to the bedroom. He then walks back to replace the glass of water, again crunching on those pills. Lastly, he steps on his violin on the floor.

Much credit for the comedy belongs with Director and Co-Author Blake Edwards. An expert of comedy in the 60s and beyond, Edwards shows us just how masterful he is in this spot-on comedy. As usual with the director, the opening credits for The Pink Panther are just as humorous as the rest of the film. Done in the cartoon form he would become known for, we feel we are watching an animated episode of the Pink Panther. And no review of a Pink Panther film would be complete without mention of Henry Mancini’s awesome score. Seeing the film’s only Oscar nomination, Mancini creates that unforgettable Pink Panther theme tune and composes with Johnny Mercer the equally infections “Meglio Stasera” song performed throughout the film.

  • The Pink Panther is set for midnight ET March 27 on TCM.

Operation Petticoat

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Operation Petticoat (1977)

I shied away from Operation Petticoat for about eight years now because why on earth would I want to watch a Cary Grant movie that costars another man. If he’s not being romantic, I have little motivation to watch Grant. Thankfully, I did finally convince myself to sit down with the war comedy that costars Tony Curtis and is directed by the fabulous Blake Edwards, a favorite of mine.

Although the majority of the plot focuses on a clash between experienced submarine Lt. Cmdr. Matt Sherman (Grant) and the new recruit whose military experience has been in the realm of “entertainment”, the story does eventually introduce a host of women, one of which will bring out Grant’s romantic qualities, however reluctantly.

The vessel, the “Sea Tiger”, is ready to head to battle from its station in the Philipines when the base is bombed by enemy aircraft. The submarine then must undergo serious repairs even though it is nearly beyond remedy. Showing up in time to help is Nick Holden (Curtis), who arrives in a glorious white uniform, attracting the attention of all around. He does not know how to behave as part of an actual naval command, but the skills he does have prove immensely helpful.

With little backing from the higher ups, the crew of the Sea Tiger struggle to get the materials they need to make repairs. Holden leads a number of theft operations that involve absconding with materials as absurd as a portion of a metal wall. At last the men are ready to head to sea, and Holden has all the amenities a man could want in his officer’s cabin, including his custom-made uniforms.

A leak in the archaic submarine forces a stop at an island for repairs. Holden scouts the land and returns with half a dozen women officers who had been stranded there. Sherman is reluctant to let them on board, but eventually concedes. He immediately interacts with the clumsy, busty Dolores (Joan O’Brien) in helping to dislodge her shoe from the sub’s deck. Their accidental encounters will continue.

Holden starts in on the women romantically, raising Sherman’s ire and eventually getting himself confined to his quarters. Holden’s motivation for joining the Navy was merely to secure a uniform and with that to lure a wealthy wife. He has such a fiancée on land, but the woman he has targeted on board is ignorant of this.

During another repair stop, the crew endeavors to repaint the Sea Tiger. Before putting on the grey topcoat, the men use the only base paint available –red and white. The result is a pink ship that is unable to be topcoated before enemy planes force an exit from the island. Tokyo Rose speaks over the air about the silly, American pink sub, but other U.S. forces think this might be a trick. When the pink submarine comes into view, they attack it. With the help of the women, and their undergarments, the crew is able to save themselves.

Operation Petticoat is not nearly as zany as most Blake Edwards flicks. But considering it is a war picture, perhaps it is the wildest one you will see featuring men at war. The story plays with clashes in personalities with the obstinate Holden constantly proving ingenious ways to veer from standard protocol. Naturally there is also the sexual tension that comes from keeping both genders in such close quarters.

Grant plays the straight-laced Lieutenant Commander part well and Curtis is smashing as the rebel. The women’s performances are nothing special and really are there only to drive the plot, as this movie belongs to the male stars. Operation Petticoat is a lot of fun, probably the most you will see in a submarine.

 

 

Weekend’s Best Bet Continued…

In running through TCM’s lineup for this weekend, I came across far too many good flicks to list in my regular viewing recommendations in the left column. Not only are there a number of gems showing this weekend, but I have already written about them. So click on the links below to learn more about the movies and consider checking them out yourself this weekend. P.S. All times are Eastern Standard Time and on the U.S. programming schedule.

Beware, My Lovely
6:30 pm Friday on TCM
Ida Lupino, Robert Ryan

The Lost Weekend
10 pm Friday on TCM
Ray Milland, Jane Wyman

Sunrise
8 pm Saturday on TCM
Janet Gaynor, George O’Brien

The Great Race
1 pm Sunday on TCM
Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon

Butterfield 8
10 pm Sunday on TCM
Elizabeth Taylor, Laurence Harvey

 

Days of Wine and Roses

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Days of Wine and Roses (1962)

     It can be difficult to judge a movie you would never want to watch again. Just as Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is a fantastic piece of cinematic art, so too is another drunken flick, Days of Wine and Roses. Unlike another movie that honestly portrays alcoholism at its worst, this masterpiece of sorts is more heartbreaking where The Lost Weekend is fascinating.

     Days of Wine and Roses works in some ways as a promoter of Alcoholics Anonymous, which makes one wonder why anyone would go to see it knowing the subject matter. What this take on the disease offers, however, is a love story that keeps us rooting for a happy ending.

     Jack Lemmon shows his dramatic gusto as Joe Clay, a public relations man who enjoys getting drunk. He convinces a sober secretary with a love of chocolate to go on a date with him and ends the night wasted but does not scare the woman away. This Kirsten (Lee Remick) will be swayed to the thrills of alcohol through the chocolate-flavored Brandy Alexander Joe orders her.

     Jump ahead to shortly after the birth of their daughter Debbie and Joe returns home from a work-related booze party only to be annoyed at his wife for not joining in his alcoholic fun. Despite the concern of her breast milk, Kirsten picks up a glass to make him happy. Flash forward again and the couple’s alcoholism has grown to the point that Kirsten accidentally sets the apartment on fire while Joe is away, and the man simultaneously loses his job. Now in a shabby apartment, the duo are ragged and run down as they spend most of their time drunk. Joe proposes that they give up drinking altogether and seek help from Kirsten’s father.

     The family moves in with Kirsten’s father Ellis (Charles Bickford) where they manage to remain on the wagon for two months while working at the man’s greenhouse. One night Joe smuggles in two bottles of scotch to reward their good behavior and before they know it the husband is sneaking out in a thunderstorm to the greenhouse where he has hidden another bottle in a flower pot. Unable to remember in which pot the booze is buried, Joe trashes the entire facility.

     From there the Clays’ future is downhill. After some time in the violent ward of the hospital, Joe enters AA only to give into his addiction when Kirsten runs away to a motel. Joe will eventually separate himself from his enabler and pull himself back up in the world, but Kirsten will never admit she has a problem.

     Director Blake Edwards took a break from comedy and other light-hearted flicks to give us the powerful Days of Wine and Roses. All the sorrow of the story is tied together by the knowledge that our two protagonists love each other powerfully and truly want to be together. The picture starts out painting Joe in a rather sour light as he can be blamed for starting Kirsten’s addiction, but by the end we are left resenting the woman for being such a poor influence on the man who wants to do the right thing.

     Also unique about Days of Wine and Roses is the passage of time. If one were to ignore the time references made in dialogue, he could conclude the movie’s plot takes place over a couple months. In reality the story jumps over more than seven years. There are not dissolve transitions we usually associate with the passage of time. Instead, regular cuts connect Joe drunkenly destroying the greenhouse with his appearance in the violent ward. We are later told that actually occurred after he had passed out drunk on the street. None of the changes in setting happen as instantaneously as we think, which is truly fascinating.

     Both Lemmon and Remick were nominated for best acting awards, and it nearly goes without saying that their portrayals of violent and sloppy drunkenness were spellbinding. One can’t help but want to shake these characters to get them to realize as we do how foolish they are to think they can control their addictions. Their performances and the emotionally enthralling story make Days of Wine and Roses important to watch, but probably only once.

Trail of the Pink Panther

Dullsville

Trail of the Pink Panther (1982)

     I find it hard to say anything positive about a movie that essentially amounts to a cinematic version of a sitcom clip show and taking Trail of the Pink Panther in context perhaps even worsens one’s opinion. Peter Sellers died of a heart attack in 1980, but director of the Pink Panther franchise Blake Edwards insisted on releasing an Inspector Clouseau movie without collecting any new footage. The result is this flick, which resorted to molding a story based on a “missing” Jacques Clouseau whose life is recounted through flashbacks to the scenes and outtakes of past movies.

    Trail of the Pink Panther did not sit favorably with critics, nor did two subsequent Pink Panther films Edwards made without Sellers’ image: Curse of the Pink Panther in 1983 with Ted Wass as a policeman similar to Clouseau, and Son of the Pink Panther with Roberto Begnini posing as Clouseau’s illegitimate son.

     There is something to be said about paying homage to a fine actor, but to essentially bastardize his work by faking a film using old footage seems an insult to Sellers’ memory driven more by greed than a love of the franchise. I cannot presume Edwards’ motives were money-based but it seems unlikely there could be any other driving reason.

     Using footage from Pink Panther Strikes Again, the film opens on Chief Inspector Jacques Clouseau visiting his disguise man and purchasing a hunchback outfit complete with fake nose and teeth. He manages to insult the shop owner’s wife by asking to purchase the nose she is “wearing.” He is being followed, but the movie will never really explain what that is all about. Clouseau goes on to set a number of things aflame in his office before being assigned to assist in again recovering the Pink Panther gem, which has been stolen. After flying to London, Clouseau takes off for the fictional country that owns the diamond. His plane “disappears” and he is thought lost at sea.

     Clouseau’s potential death thrills Inspector Dreyfus (Herbert Lom) who is still undergoing therapy for his Clouseau obsession. It also attracts the attention of a television reporter (Joanna Lumley) who spends the remainder of the film seeking out the detective’s closest friends and colleagues to essentially craft a tribute story. On her list are manservant/sparring partner Cato (Burt Kwouk), former assistant Hercule (Graham Stark), David Niven as Sir. Charles Litton (from The Pink Panther), and Clouseau’s father, played by Richard Mulligan. She is also kidnapped by gangster Bruno (Robert Loggia) who insists she stop looking into the Clouseau disappearance. The close of the film has a body double for Sellers standing on a cliff somewhere, looking at the ocean as we suppose he is still alive and in hiding for some inexplicable reason.

      The scenes with the father are probably the most amusing. He runs a winery where naked women stomp the grapes. They recently lost Fifi and the wine does not taste the same without her. The man is also a bit insane as he is unable to recall anything about his son after 4 p.m., by which point the day’s wine tastings have gone to his head. The funniest part of the movie for me was the maid Clouseau Sr. employs and the dog he has lead her about. The decrepit old woman attempts to bring a tray of wine to the old man and the reporter, and through whistling and other vocal cues, Clouseau Sr. instructs the dog as to how to herd the woman. The pet growls and pulls at the old lady’s skirt to get her to the correct destination.

     It is a wonder to me that the actors who appeared in the former Pink Panther movies would agree to return for this slapdash movie that lacks any real involvement from the star carrying the picture. Perhaps they were all after a paycheck, but it seems at least Niven would have been well established enough to not add this blotch to his career.

     Trail of the Pink Panther is not unfunny. It has its moments but because most of them are repeats of scenes from films past, the whole presentation is a bit tarnished.

Source: TCM.com

Pink Panther Strikes Again

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Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976)

     I thought I was watching the Pink Panther movies in sequence, but my powers of deduction have fooled me into thinking The Pink Panther Strikes Again was the third in the series, when in fact I’ve missed The Return of the Pink Panther that was released the year prior. Nevertheless, I did not notice I’d missed anything and was thoroughly able to enjoy the latest of my viewings without hindrance while still noticing jokes that point back to previous films.

     The now-familiar former Chief Inspector Dreyfus (Herbert Lom) is about to be released from the mental institution where doctors believe he’s been cured of the insanity and urge to kill caused by the troublesome Inspector Jacques Clouseau (Peter Sellers). When now-Chief Inspector Clouseau visits Dreyfus on his day of release, the patient reverts to his murderous desire after interaction with his nemesis lands him wet and with a “bemp” on the head.

     Dreyfus escapes from his imprisonment hell-bent on destroying the world lest Clouseau is assassinated. He kidnaps a scientist and his daughter to gain the technology to remotely zap buildings into nonexistence. The scientist resists until his daughter is subjected to torture via nails on a chalkboard. Not only is Clouseau investigating the kidnapping, but he soon must evade assassins from every country on the earth, who are out to win his head and save the world.

     Naturally, along the way a female assassin falls in love with Clouseau after she thinks she makes love to him in a darkened room, when in fact she has bedded a Greek assassin played by an uncredited Omar Sharif. The inspector’s manservant/sparing partner (if you will) Cato (Burt Kwouk) also reappears in an extended battle sequence near the film’s start, but is injured by a bomb (“the exploding kind”) and is out until the film’s end when in familiar fashion he jumps into bed with the lovers.

     The sequence with the female assassin (Lesley-Anne Down) might be my favorite in this picture. One assassin dressed as Clouseau enters the chief inspector’s hotel room. Sharif follows and kills him in the bathtub, thinking it is Clouseau himself. When the female assassin, Olga, enters, she declares her love for Clouseau and seduces Sharif in a dimly lit room. Sharif leaves and now the actual Clouseau arrives. He moves throughout several rooms turning on lights and turning off others while Olga is doing the same. He’s befuddled as to what is happening with the lighting and even more surprised when he gets into bed with some “cold hands.” Olga thinks she is with the same man, and a confused Clouseau escapes to the bathroom, where he now finds the body. He calls the front desk and declares “Hello?… Yes. There is a beautiful woman in my bed, and a dead man in my bath.”

     I have truly only discovered Blake Edwards after starting this blog and have managed to herald a handful of his movies in that time (Victor/Victoria, The Great Race). This movie was as enjoyable as I expected but I would not declare it the director’s best (although the opening credits might be). TCM’s Robert Osborne says most people consider The Pink Panther Strikes Again to be the best in the series, but although  highly amusing, I am sticking with A Shot in the Dark as my favorite.

It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World

Dullsville

It’s a Mad, Mad,
Mad, Mad World (1963)

     I find that unfortunately, I am a person who can be easily duped into watching a movie based on an impressive cast. It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World is loaded full of star leads and cameo appearances, but the comedic potential for the film must have been too great a burden because the attempt falls flat.

     Although arriving two years prior to The Great Race, I felt as though I was watching a remake of that brilliant piece of comedy. Even the animated opening titles screamed of Blake Edwards. Like the Edwards’ film, Mad World involves teams of individuals racing toward an end point where riches are promised. Alliances change throughout the story, etc. Unlike The Great Race, however, this picture lacks all the charm, romance, and endearing characters that make the other movie work.
 
     The film starts with a car flying off a windy, cliff-side road and five male motorists running to the accident victim’s aid. There, they hear a delirious Jimmy Durante spout off about $350,000 in stolen money buried beneath a W in a park at the southern end of the state. The original parties total eight people in four vehicles, who try to negotiate how they will split the money before giving up and fighting each other to the finish. Some drive, some fly, but all end up at the park at the same time, at which point 12 people are now involved. Meanwhile, Spencer Tracy, as a detective who has been tracking this case for many years, has been tracking the idiots during their entire plight. He knows generally where the “treasure” is buried, but not precisely.
 
      Besides not being very funny, the greatest flaw Mad World boasts is thoroughly unlikable characters. Buddy Hackett was the best one for me because I generally like the goofy-voiced actor. Ethel Merman also makes quite an impression as an obnoxious mother/mother-in-law who gets the abuse she deserves. This is the first I’ve seen Merman on film, and I must say I prefer her acting to her singing. Mickey Rooney is in there also, but gives a greater impression by his rundown, aging look than by his performance.
     The Great Race had heroes and villains, but Mad World has neither. You loved Professor Fate for his failure as an evil force and were overjoyed by the time The Great Leslie and Maggie get around to kissing. There is no such blossoming romance in this feature; in fact, relationships crumble more than develop. Add to that the more than 3-hour run time, and I’ll advise everyone take a pass on this flick.
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