Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—The Pink Panther (1963) ***

NR, 115 min.
Director: Blake Edwards
Writers: Maurice Richlin, Blake Edwards
Starring: David Niven, Peters Sellers, Robert Wagner, Capucine, Claudia Cardinale, Brenda de Banzie, Colin Gordon, John LeMesurier

I grew up watching “Pink Panther” movies. It would make more sense to refer to them as Inspector Clouseau movies, though. I remember seeing “The Pink Panther Strikes Again” in the theater. I reveled in the bumbling dance of Clouseau. He was just too funny. I consumed so much Clouseau as a child, I had always thought I’d seen every Clouseau movie. It turns out I never saw the first two as a child.

The original “The Pink Panther” and its sequel “A Shot in the Dark”, are really slightly different breeds of films than the rest of the series. They come from the same place, Clouseau’s ineptitude, but the first two in the series are a little more adult oriented. In fact, “The Pink Panther” is all about adult matters, much of it revolving around Clouseau’s bed in a ski chalet.

It may surprise some to learn that Clouseau isn’t even the leading character in “The Pink Panther”, but rather the thief, played by David Niven in this and two other films, is. The film was intended as a vehicle for Niven as the Phantom, thief of jewels and hearts; but Peter Sellers’ antics as Clouseau stole the show and Blake Edwards kept putting more and more of his improvisations into the film.

Since Clouseau’s antics aren’t really what drove the creation of this picture, it’s quite different in tone than the rest of the series until its hilarious climax with the ape suit car chase. It is an enjoyable picture. It just isn’t the laugh riot that I remember from my childhood. Most of the signatures of the franchise, like Clouseau’s training companion Cato or his harried boss Dreyfus, wouldn’t appear until 1975’s “The Return of the Pink Panther”.

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