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.