(In French, On TV, June 2019) This is the first Peter Sellers film I’ve seen since diving deep into Sellers’s biography, and it’s fair to say that the disappointment at uncovering the actor’s worst traits definitely has echoes in the way that I’m reacting to the film. But not that much, as The Return of the Pink Panther is Sellers at his most rote and formulaic: Donning costumes, affecting different mannerisms (alas, the French dub means that I didn’t get the voices, even if that “alas” is qualified by how much I don’t particularly care for the accents). My appreciation for the Pink Panther sequels isn’t high to begin with: I didn’t like the Pink Panther sequel I watched a few months ago, and I still don’t here. Despite my lack of enthusiasm for The Return of the Pink Panther, it’s not a complete waste—some of the plotting is amusing, some of the costumes work and for all of its repetitiveness, some of the slow-motion scenery destruction is worth a chuckle or two. Christopher Plummer does have presence as the master-thief villain, as does Catherine Schell as another one Clouseau’s inexplicable string of love interests. Sellers himself is willing to do anything for a laugh, but it is a bit too much and the same considering the superficial variations in disguise. At this time in the series, this was the fourth Clouseau film and the third to star Sellers—you can argue that the series hadn’t yet degenerated in further self-copying. But even at this relatively high level of quality, The Return of the Pink Panther can feel as annoying as it is entertaining.
(In French, On TV, February 2019) OK, world, I admit it. Revenge of the Pink Panther has pushed me over the edge, and it forces my hand. I have to come clean, even if you’ve seen it coming from the hints I’ve left all over the place. Are you ready? Here goes: I’m not that much of a Peter Sellers/Inspecteur Clouseau fan. I have accumulated enough data points by now to realize that I like the original The Pink Panther best because Clouseau is a support player to Niven/Cardinale/Capucine. By this sixth entry in the series, Sellers/Clouseau has become an all-engulfing, all-self-indulgent ego monster around which the entire series revolved. The plot revolves around him (it’s all about attempts to kill him, something that director Blake Edwards must have had on his mind at the time), the direction puts him centre stage and the editing can’t bear to cut away from his antics. The silly story hits many familiar plot points in the series, and can’t stand still by going from England to France to Hong Kong. While the budget is obviously bigger than previous instalments and there are a few comic moments along the way, the constant bumbling, perplexing fixation on costuming, graceless stumbling upon the truth, have become more grating than amusing—and that applies equally to the criminal and the romantic plot. Revenge of the Pink Panther was the last of the six “main” Pink Panther movies, and it clearly shows the reasons why it was quickly running out of steam by that point. Or maybe even at any point past the first movie.
(In French, On TV, February 2019) The original The Pink Panther was not designed to spawn a series of movies featuring Inspecteur Clouseau, who was clearly a supporting player in a much broader farce. But Peter Sellers brought such a manic energy to the role that producers were quick to ditch the panther and keep the inspector. With A Shot in the Dark, you can see the progression of the series’ premise in featuring Clouseau at its centre, not even attempting to recapture the spirit of the original. It’s not yet perfect—the comedy is unusually dark for the series, with a high body count of innocents dying from being at the wrong place while villains were aiming for Clouseau. But there are still a few funny moments in the result—most notably toward the conclusion, as “the usual suspects” are brought together and nothing goes as planned. Sellers himself is quite good in pratfalls, but his bumbling does become tiresome when it’s the focus of the film, and A Shot in the Dark’s annoying repetitions of the same gags does mean that the film gets redundant after a while. Ironically enough, the French dub of the film is less annoying than the original English version … because it removes Clouseau’s ridiculous accent, and makes Sellers about half as annoying as a result.
(In French, On Cable TV, September 2018) The biggest surprise about The Pink Panther is that it turns out to be an ensemble bedroom romp with a limited role for Peter Sellers’s Inspecteur Clouseau—and, in fact, he gets played like a fool for the entire film, with a conclusion that doesn’t do the character much good. Sellers did such a striking job with the role that later instalments, starting with the follow-up A Shot in the Dark, would develop the Clouseau mythology in earnest. In the meantime, what we have here is a tangled mess of characters lusting for one another, with Clouseau unaware that his wife (the lovely Capucine) is carrying an affair with the master thief (the wonderful David Niven) that he’s chasing. Meanwhile, the gentleman thief is trying to seduce a princess (Claudia Cardinale!) who own the titular diamond, while his nephew is also trying to seduce Clouseau’s wife. It takes a diagram to figure it out, but fortunately the film is much easier to absorb as it gradually introduces its character as they converge on a European ski resort. Comedy director legend Blake Edwards slowly tightens the funny screws, culminating in a bedroom sequences in which characters hide under the bed and exit through windows while Clouseau remains blissfully unaware of how many pretenders his wife has within purring distance. It takes a while to get going and does end on a less jolly note, but the ski resort sequence of the film is a small success in creating a sexy comic atmosphere. Even out-of-nowhere moments, such as Fran Jeffries crooning an Italian song around a communal fireplace, are more charming than puzzling. Niven does stellar work here as an impeccable gentleman thief, but Sellers was simply spectacular enough that the series would therefore focus on him. So it goes—plans never unfold exactly as everyone thinks they will, especially in the Pink Panther universe.
(On TV, March 2017) The law of diminishing returns is fully operative in discussing The Pink Panther 2, second in a reboot series starring Steve Martin as Inspecteur Clouseau. Much of the surprise of the first movie is gone, replaced by an expansion of the story that, to its credit, doesn’t try to ape the first film too much. Here, a genius thief named The Tornado is stealing precious artifacts around the world—it’s up to a team of criminal investigators, including Clouseau, to catch the villain. But bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better, and as the investigation goes to Rome and then back to Paris, The Pink Panther 2 struggles to remain interesting. It pains me to say that, as much as any movie with Aishwarya Rai is like a little bit of sunshine, she doesn’t bring much to the movie—and neither do reliable performers like Alfred Molina or Andy Garcia. Even returning players such as Jean Reno and Emily Mortimer aren’t given much to do … although John Cleese may be a little bit better as Kevin Kline’s replacement. Few of the gags in this sequel are as inspired as some of the ones in the first movie, and while the rather good conclusion also does much to focus the film’s impression, it does come a bit too late to be truly effective. Eight years later, it does seem as if the Steve Martin Pink Panther reboot series ended there and I’m not seeing anyone bemoaning that fact.
(On TV, March 2017) The dangers with slapstick comedies are numerous. Badly handled, they become juvenile, offensive, repetitive and annoying. Well-done, preferably combined with other kinds of humour, slapstick can bring a lot of energy in a comedy. The Steve Martin remake of The Pink Panther doesn’t avoid the worst pitfalls of its subgenre, but it generally succeeds more than it fails, and crucially gets significantly better toward the end. The point of the movie is the character of Inspecteur Clouseau, often bumbling, usually disaster-prone but (this is important) someone who can eventually piece together the mystery in the end. So it is that the first half of The Pink Panther accumulates all of the problems of slapstick. It’s brought down to a kids’ movie worst-common-denominator level, has little subtlety or wit, keeps doubling-down on gags that aren’t funny in the first place and often skirt discomfort at the physical violence of some jokes. Clouseau’s antics are more likely to make audience cringe than laugh. But here and there, we can see signs that the film knows what it’s doing. A few recurring gags and over-the-top madness combine to have a cyclist crash into a newsstand that then explodes, earning the first laugh of the film and reassuring us that the filmmakers are truly going for excess. As the movie goes on, we get to understand its sense of humour better and succumb (at least occasionally) to it. The ending, during which Clouseau pieces everything together in a dazzling sequence of deductions, does quite a bit to endear us to the movie, even as flawed as it is—it’s one thing to have a completely incompetent hero, but it’s much better to see them pull it together in the end. Martin is decent as Clouseau—my memories of Peter Sellers as the original Clouseau are so far away that I don’t have a lot of material for comparison, but he sells both the verbal and the physical comedy. Meanwhile, Jean Reno has a rare (and imposing) clean-shaven role as a sidekick, Kevin Kline has the sadistic-boss role wrapped up, Emily Mortimer is unusually cute as the romantic interest (she gets two or three of the film’s best scenes) and Beyoncé Knowles shows up in a bid to be taken seriously as a comic actress, with middling results. Jason Statham and Clive Owen also very briefly show up in too-small roles. The Pink Panther isn’t particularly good, but it is occasionally effective, and its dedication to slapstick makes for an unusual entry in today’s comedy styling.