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.

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.

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

Ring a Ding Ding

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.

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.

A Shot in the Dark

Ring a Ding Ding

A Shot in the Dark (1964)

     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.
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