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.

Please Don’t Eat the Daisies

Gasser

Please Don't Eat the Daisies (1960)

Please Don’t Eat the Daisies (1960)

I have never really loved Doris Day as an actress and so do not often seek out her movies. In Please Don’t Eat the Daisies, however, she is ideally cast and stellar in her part. I think the star sort of grew into her attractiveness, as I tend to find her on the frumpy side in her earlier roles. In this flick, she is both sexy and a mother, a part that suited her well on screen at a time when she was reigning at the box office.

Day is Kate, mother of four and married to David Niven‘s Larry, all of whom live in an apartment in New York City. With all boys, Kate has perfected the art of child wrangling, thanks in part to a literal baby cage for the youngest. Larry has just left his position as a drama professor to become a prestige dramatic critic. The man promises his students upon his departure that he will not become like the other handful of critics who relish in the opportunity to tear apart a production because of the literary and comedic opportunities it affords.

The first play on Larry’s docket is one produced by his friend Alfred North (Richard Haydn) that happens to be horrible, a circumstance exacerbated by a sexy leading lady “who is no actress.” Alfred is very upset with Larry –as he expresses at the family’s kitchen table the next morning– and the actress is even more incensed. This Deborah Vaughn (Janis Paige) slaps Larry while he is out to dinner with Kate, and does so a second time for the camera.

The additional publicity leads Larry to write a column about how the show’s success is dependent on Deborah’s rear end. Not too much later, while at a party at which Kate finds herself exceptionally bored, Deborah sidles in to give Larry a glance and a chance to reconsider the value of her back side. From here a “friendship” forms between the feuding duo and Deborah begins her attempts to seduce the loyal husband.

In the midst of Larry’s success and transition into a writer of scathing reviews and attendee of snobbish parties, the couple are reminded of their intent to move to a home in the country. The transition comes rather forcefully when they are notified a new tenant will occupy their apartment in a matter of weeks because they indicated their intention some months ago not to renew. Larry is resistant to leaving the city because of the social status he has achieved, but the family nevertheless selects a dilapidated mansion in a small town.

Larry and Kate’s relationship is strained by the commute to and from the city for Larry’s work and the constant state of construction the home presents. Larry’s time away is regularly spent with Deborah.

Please Don’t Eat the Daisies is based on a book by Jean Kerr about her life with her husband Walter and their move to a suburban locale. Similar moves were becoming a trend for many families in the 1960s, so the subject material was apt. Although very amusing, the movie really could have been split into two –one about the strains on a marriage when the husband becomes consumed by fame and the desire to make people laugh and one about the strains on a marriage of moving to a suburban locale while maintaining a life in the city. In fact, the subject of moving to the country is mentioned at the beginning of the film and then not acted on until halfway through the picture at which point we have nearly forgetten about that conversation.

While Day is quite delightful as a capable mother and boy wrangler, deriving plenty of laughs from her interaction with the children, Niven is stiff. He is a suitable dramatic critic and pulls off the transition into an ass well, but his performance makes him quite unlikable in stark contrast to Day. I have never particularly loved Niven in comedies, as he relies on witty dialogue to drive the humor rather than any physical or facial affectations. But that is not to say the role of Larry did not necessarily call for someone on the straight-man side of things, he just does not become someone we root for.

Day managed to fit in a couple songs in Please Don’t Eat the Daisies despite it not being a musical. She throws in a few lines of “Que Sara, Sara” that she popularized in Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much and sings a song, “Please Don’t Eat the Daisies”, while playing with children in a school yard. The title pertains to a scene in which one of the boys takes off with a bouquet of daisies and we later learn he ate them. The movie was also the last for actress Spring Byington, who plays Kate’s mother.

Source: Ben Mankiewicz

Casino Royale (1967)

Dullsville

Casino Royale (1967)

     For a movie whose cast is made up of 10 big-name stars (0r more depending on your definition), the 1967 James Bond spoof movie Casino Royale, was one major let-down. The DVD of this flick has sat on my shelf unwatched for seven years despite my being convinced that the cast line-up promised endless laughs. But watching it this weekend with my grandmother, the convoluted plot and drawn-out nonsensical ending led her to comment, “This is kind of dumb.”

     I could not help but concur with her sentiment. Although the story borrows some of the elements of the Ian Flemming novel that contributed to the 2006 Casino Royale, it largely goes off in a strange direction in search of ways to mock the successful movie franchise.

     David Niven plays Sir James Bond who has been retired from spy work for a number of years while substitute James Bond 007 spies have been recruited to continue his work and uphold the legend. Sir James is a celibate, stuttering version of the spy who is lured back into the trade when his home is demolished and his superior “M” (John Huston) is killed by the evil organization SMERSH. His allies are played by William Holden as “Ransome”, Charles Boyer as “Le Grande”, and Kurt Kasznar as “Smernov”.

     First Sir James is seduced by M’s “widow” (Deborah Kerr) and 11 “daughters” who are actually SMERSH agents, but he easily escapes their clutches to return to his old office. He decides to continue to recruit a number of James Bonds to join his work against the evil organization to the point that we cannot keep track of all the different missions that are going on. The star also recruits his own daughter, Mati Bond (Joanna Pettet), who is his love child with Mata Hari.

     Vesper Lynd (Ursula Andress) is also renamed James Bond and is set on seducing and recruiting Peter Seller‘s baccarat pro Evelyn Tremble, who will become another 007. Tremble must play Le Chiffre (Orson Welles) in the game and beat him to prevent the evil banker from securing more money for other unsavory organizations. Meanwhile, there is also Jimmy Bond (Woody Allen), Sir James’ nephew, who gets himself in and out of trouble throughout the picture.

     It was next to impossible to keep track of all the moving parts Casino Royale employs in its story line. Most of the excess was unnecessary and no particular attention was given to the plot, which stood merely as a means to hurl jokes at the audience. One cannot really say any of the acting was poor, it was just utterly dumb. Casino Royale simply tries too hard to make it enjoyable to watch. Not only is it exhausting, but one could easily turn it off at any juncture and feel just as satisfied as sitting through the whole thing.

Lady L

Ring a Ding Ding

Lady L (1966)

It is easy to forget or perhaps not even contemplate that Sophia Loren was actually a very talented actress because she played so many fun or purely sexual parts. Lady L is not an example of a film that showed off her acting talent in a serious way but it highlights how lively she could be in comedic settings. One cannot help but be jealous of the life Loren’s character lives in this exciting tale of love, crime and wealth.

Lady L opens on the wife of an English lord who is celebrating her 80th birthday. She is highly revered by all around her, and a friend desires to write her biography of the life of which he apparently has no notion. As this Louise (Loren) describes for the writer Sir Percy (Cecil Parker) how she came to be who she is, the man ultimately discovers her story is too scandalous/too moral to be told.

Louise was a laundress for a French brothel, the owner of which is forever enticing the girl to join the crew, if you will. It is here she meets Armand (Paul Newman) who is a master of disguise/anarchist/thief who has just robbed and blown up part of a bank and then disperses the money to the prostitutes of the brothel. Louise climbs into bed with him to help him escape the police and is instantly attracted to the man. The couple runs to Switzerland where they enjoy a poor existence subsisting only on love. Just as Louise learns she is pregnant, she comes home to find Armand pledging into a radical group and being assigned to assassinate Prince Otto of Bavaria. The mother-to-be leaves the love of her life because she cannot abide such extreme crime.

Louise moves on to Nice where she poses as a widow countess and secures a room at a hotel that is otherwise fully occupied by one man: Lord Lendale (David Niven). The two become friendly and Lendale reveals he is on the hunt for a wife and is in need of an heir. He realizes the beautiful woman is a fraud and pregnant before she can reveal it. He also has her agree to marry him provided he will help Armand escape the country after the assassination attempt. Upon their flight via train, however, the young lovers rekindle their romance while Lendale hangs on.

When Armand is finally arrested, Louise stays with Lendale, who returns to his English home after possibly 18 years away to present his wife and child. The two have a happy and wealthy existence but when Armand is released from prison, Lendale offers to build his wife a summer house where she can keep her lover.

The story does a great job of bending our opinion of which lover Louise should choose at various junctions in the movie. Armand is handsome and exciting until he goes rogue, and Lendale becomes a fantastic shepherd for the woman when she is in a motherly pickle.  When the initial couple is reunited however, we cannot help but think that true love should prevail before being glad to see the Lord and Lady start their life. Dressed in corset and the well-covered fashions of the early 20th Century, Loren’s sexual appeal is played to as much of a minimum as someone with such a beautiful face can be. This lends the actress to use her non-physical attributes to win us over. She is an absolute delight, which makes for a wonderfully fun and romantic tale.

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

Murder by Death

Gasser

Murder by Death (1976)

     Murder by Death has all the makings of a great comedy spoof on murder mysteries, but unfortunately it felt only so-so to me. For those who are more familiar with the 1985 film Clue, one can easily see where the later film found its inspiration, besides the board game, of course. Murder by Death puts a cast of unrelated characters in a country mansion where they have been invited for “dinner and a murder”. Unlike Clue, however, this movie fills the house with the world’s best detectives who have been engaged so the host can prove he is a better sleuth than them all.

     The greatest joke of the flick is that the detective characters are spoofs of movie and literature-based private dicks popular in American cinema. David Niven and Maggie Smith play Dick and Dora Charleston, a take off on Nick and Nora Charles of the Thin Man movies. Peter Sellers plays Sidney Wang, or Charlie Chan. Peter Falk is Sam Diamond, hailing back to Bogart’s Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon. James Coco portrays Milo Perrier, and Elsa Lanchester plays Jessica Marbles, a reference to Agatha Christie characters Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, respectively.

     Truman Capote makes a rare screen appearance as the dinner’s host, Lionel Twain. He does an adequate acting job leading the story through its various twists. Dinner guests are told a murder will occur at midnight and they must endeavor to solve the crime. Convinced if they all remain in the same room at the time of the crime, the detecties assert there will be guaranteed witnesses and the deduction will be a snap. That plan is interrupted by the “screaming” of a mute, deaf cook who leads a few cast members to find the blind butler (Alec Guinness) dead in the kitchen. When other characters return to the kitchen later they find only his suit of clothes. The next batch finds a naked corpse. Further complicating things is that a duplicate, yet empty dining room is accessed every other time the door to such room is opened. Ultimately, Mr. Twain is the midnight victim and one who is not in the dining room with all the guests who hoped to witness the crime.

     We learn hilarious and ridiculous reasons why all guests have motive to kill the man, but the end of the film sums up an even more ludicrous actual story as each detective shares his hypothesis. Ultimately, it does not matter who the murderer is or who the victim is, for that matter, because the story is an absurd farce. As you should plainly tell, the story does have all the makings of a roaring good time, but tragically the comedy falls flat. The most amusement I gained was from seeing the actors mock the characters they were impersonating. Niven and Falk gave the best show to that end. I have not seen a Charlie Chan film, but Sellers was quite amusing also, even without that reference point. My best advice to Murder by Death‘s end is to watch Clue instead. Although equally hair-brained, it’s much more fun.

Around the World in 80 Days

Gasser

Around the World in 80 Days (1956)

Around the World in 80 Days is one of the lesser acclaimed Best Picture winners and understandably so. The 3+ hour movie offers an epic adventure marked by little excitement and characters that are difficult to love or identify with. David Niven‘s Phileas Fogg, who takes up a wager that he cannot circumvent the earth in 80 days, is uptight and cold. Despite this he manages to attract Shirley MacLaine‘s Indian Princess Aouda, who Fogg and companions rescue from a ceremonial burning alive. The only endearing character is Passepartout, played by an actor known only as Cantinflas. The Spanish gentleman’s gentleman, womanizer and gymnast gives the film is comical edge and heart.

Returning to MacLaine, I am reminded of how many older films used white, American actors in roles of a different ethnicity. I at first did not recognize MacLaine being so young and with tanned skin. She really does not look Indian, but it must have been more important/convenient to have an American actress play the role. This sort of casting I found most off putting in the 1944 Dragon Seed, which features an all-star American cast for a film set in China. Katharine Hepburn, Agnes Moorehead, Hurd Hatfield, and Walter Huston are made up to look Japanese and their presence perhaps points to a severe lack of valued, Asian actors in Hollywood at the time. Although a few Chinese actors are included in 1937′s The Good Earth, Paul Muni was cast as the lead character. That film, along with The Story of Louis Pasteur, have me avoiding all Muni roles now. I have also seen Abner Biberman cast — and painted — multiple times as characters of a different ethnic background. In his first role in 1939′s Gunga Din, Biberman plays and Indian character; in (again) Dragon Seed as a Japanese soldier; in 1945′s Back to Bataan as a Japanese Captain. I guess the guy just had that look.  The examples from my memory, however, all occurred in 1945 and earlier, so why could Hollywood still not locate a naturally exotic-looking character for Around the World in 80 Days? Did MacLaine really have the sort of star power to be a necessary contribution to the film?

Around the World in 80 Days is marked by a fabulous cast of famous side characters. A pudgy Peter Lorre shows up for a scene, Marlene Deitrich rattles off a few lines and Frank Sinatra gets photographed from behind for numerous shots before showing his face. The movie could really be enjoyed more as a game to spot the famous cameo than as a work of cinematic art. But at least I can check it off my list.

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