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The Pink Panther (1963)

A Madcap Frolic Of Crime and Fun

Directed by:

Blake Edwards

Rating: 6/10

Running Time: 113 minutes

US Certificate: Unrated UK Certificate: U

On DVD

Country: United Kingdom, United States

The bungling French sleuth Inspector Clouseau easily ranks as one of the most iconic comic creations ever to hit the big screen. He’s popped up as a character in NINE motion pictures, a fondly-remembered cartoon TV series, and will return to the media spotlight later in 2005 when Steve Martin adopts the mac, hat and moustache for a tepidly-awaited remake of this one: ‘The Pink Panther’, the one where it all began.

With that in mind, it came as a bit of a surprise to me while watching this newly-released DVD package that the film is, well – how can I say this – not really all that good. Don’t get me wrong – Peter Sellers is wonderful as Clouseau, and it doesn’t take a genius to work out why he’s long-since become synonymous with the role despite other actors having a crack at it over the years. But the film as a whole is too long, too restrictive with its material, and makes a gargantuan error in spending most of its time focussing not on Clouseau at all, but on David Niven as the gentleman thief he’s devoted his life to tracking down.

You see, it’s Niven who takes top billing in the animated opening sequence, and it’s Niven whose character – Sir Charles Lytton – was originally intended as the subject for a long-running franchise. And sure, the famous cad doesn’t let us down. In fact, he’s practically tailor-made for the role of the v-necked criminal master-mind Hell-bent on nabbing the priceless diamond of the title from a beautiful Indian princess (Claudia Cardinale).

But Sellers, when we get to see him, steals the show. Looking back through the history of on-screen comedy, it seems to me that very few people have actually succeeded in making slapstick funny. You’ve got the early stuff from the likes of Laurel and Hardy, the Marx Brothers and the Three Stooges, and more recently there’s been Rowan Atkinson’s ‘Mr Bean’ and pretty much anything involving Rik Mayall and Ade Edmonson – but, in the massive gap in-between, there was only really Sellers. With his constant stumblig and pratfalling, he’s a master of the art.

‘The Pink Panther’ is a chance to see that master at work, but by no means the best chance you’ll get. That honour goes to the second Clouseau film, ‘A Shot in the Dark’ – released just months after this one, and without doubt a funnier and superior piece of work. This original might lay the groundwork for Clouseau, but it’s not one of the greats.

It's Got: Henry Mancini’s all-time classic theme tune.

It Needs: Not to be seen as the definitive Clouseau caper – there’s much better to come.

DVD Extras ‘The Pink Panther Collection’ DVD box-set features five of Sellers’ six run-outs as Clouseau (the one missing is 1975’s ‘The Return of the Pink Panther’), and three hours of extras including: ‘The Pink Panther Story’ documentary, a 1978 TV special titled ‘That’s Panthertainment’, a ‘Behind the Feline: Cartoon Phenomenon’ featurette, two documentaries on Sellers himself, a photo gallery, audio commentary from franchise director Blake Edwards, and six of the best cartoons from the TV series including the Oscar-winning ‘The Pink Phink’. Great stuff – this set would be worth the purchase for the extra features alone, never mind the films. DVD Extras Rating: 9/10

Alternatives:

A Shot in the Dark, Curse of the Pink Panther, Inspector Clouseau (worth seeing purely for the novelty value of Alan Arkin in the title role instead of Sellers), Revenge of the Pink Panther, Son of the Pink Panther, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, The Pink Panther Strikes Again, The Return of the Pink Panther, Trail of the Pink Panther

Summary

The original, but certainly not the best, of the Inspector Clouseau capers.

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