This sometimes updated, always indifferent series has been a tremendous success! So because there’s precious little else to do in-between facing earth-shattering poverty or death by breathing or maybe both, I thought I’d upchuck another entry! Perhaps I can generate even more enthusiasm by ending my third straight sentence with an exclamation point! Yeah!
Actually, all the thanks in the world for those of you out there in the Interwebnets who have continued to read this fantastical blog! Yet due to my recent diagnosis by a team of doctors who only played doctors on TV, it appears that yes, sadly, my ennui is terminal. But I’m lackadaisically shoving back with mediocrity. It is all that I can do. No, seriously, it is all I can do as my severe apathy also flares up despite the almost obscene lack of medication.
This here is my final “blast from the past” Almost Equal Sequels post. From here on out, the Almost Equal Sequels will be mostly new, which is what a true sequel is anyway, so that’s a plus. And despite knowing what I know, I’m going to press on anyway. I think that’s a crushing volume of adieu for one day. Here we go!
The Sequel: A Shot In the Dark (1964)
Original Movie: The Pink Panther (1963)
Key Cast/Production Staff Returning from 1st Installment:
|Peter Sellers||as Inspector Jacques Clouseau|
To Start With:
“I believe everything and I believe nothing. I suspect everyone and I suspect no one.”
What can one say about the Pink Panther film series? At one time, it rivalled the James Bond series for longevity and popularity. It bore a reliable range of comedy from visual gags to verbal exchanges to interesting reactive characters to flat-out slapstick. The scores by Henry Mancini were great. Blake Edwards cemented his status as an A-list director. Jacques Clouseau became an international icon and Peter Sellers continued on his way to superstar status.
Sometimes A Shot in the Dark gets forgotten when thinking about the Pink Panther series. (This is untrue, but I have to make a point and so I’m going to continue anyway.) Primarily this is because it is the only film title in the series that doesn’t have “Pink Panther” in it. (This is also untrue, but how many of you really remember 1968’s Inspector Clouseau with Alan Arkin in the title role? Thought so. Anyway…)
A Shot in the Dark started out as a non-Panther film but Sellers didn’t like the original script. The producers sought out Blake Edwards, the director of The Pink Panther, to see what he could do. Perhaps he could replicate some of the magic from when he worked with Sellers before. Crucially, Edwards wondered what would happen if you took the story’s main police officer and made him Clouseau instead. Now that had possibilities… The resulting film was one that I consider to be the best sequel if not the very best overall entry of the entire Pink Panther series.
By transporting Clouseau into the story, it shifted the entire focus of the film. Remember, Clouseau was not the focus in The Pink Panther. David Niven, Claudia Cardinale, Robert Wagner, Capucine, and the ensuing thieving hijinks took precedence over Clouseau. But Sellers kept on keeping on and Clouseau ended up stealing the show, becoming the lynchpin of the series going forward. Nothing against Niven and company, but if you watched the latter Panthers first as I did and then went back to see the original, you’re rather disappointed in that there simply isn’t enough Sellers.
Yes, I love A Shot in the Dark more than the first movie. Compared to the other Panthers, which definitely are favorites of mine, it always ranks just slightly above them. In the latter entries, Clouseau becomes a cartoon character at times, but here he is at his most human which certainly translates. It certainly translates better than his French accent, but I digress.
Anything Done Better than the Original?
“If someone has been murdered here, please let it be Clouseau.”
Can you imagine a Pink Panther movie without Dreyfus and Cato? Can you imagine there are entries in the series without these characters? Seems crazy and yet without A Shot In the Dark, we wouldn’t have them around, both consistently attacking Clouseau over the years.
Seeing Burt Kwouk as Cato and hearing Clouseau enter a room saying, “Catoooouu…” is like having a wonderful snuggly blanket that brings about warmth and joy and a piping hot cup of warm peppermint cocoa with marshmallows. So thank you, A Shot in the Dark for introducing the character of Cato Fong. We would have been robbed of so much without him showing up here. (As a bonus, on our first time seeing Cato, we don’t even know who he is. We just think that Clouseau is being attacked by someone, possibly an assassin! Action! Suspense! Intrigue!)
And what kind of series would this be without Commissioner/Chief Inspector/Chief Lunatic Charles Dreyfus? Herbert Lom’s characterization is a fantastic pleasure here and throughout the series. Just seeing him go from balanced to understandably completely off his nut brings about such wonderful bliss. And the chemistry he had with Sellers was so on the mark. You can tell these are two actors that just enjoy working together onscreen.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the introduction of François, another mainstay of the series. Dreyfus needed a sympathetic sidekick and André Maranne as François filled the bill. Even later as an assistant to Clouseau, one felt that François would never have a mentally well-balanced boss as long as he stayed in the police force.
Oh the by way, Henry Mancini’s musical score is an absolute treasure. Since there weren’t really any of the Panther trappings here aside from the presence of Clouseau, there is no familiar Pink Panther theme anywhere to be found. However, Mancini spreads his wings, composing a terrific soundtrack with a great opening credits theme for the film. Like John Barry’s scores for James Bond, Henry Mancini’s music was a crucial part of the Panther series. And here Mancini delightfully shines indeed.
Anything as Good as the Original?
“And I submit, Inspector Ballon, that you arrived home, found Miguel with Maria Gambrelli, and killed him in a rit of fealous jage!”
Sellers. Plain and simple: Sellers. Sellers is as good here as he’ll ever be with the character of Clouseau. He showed bits and flashes with what he could do in the first movie. But here he is allowed to expand. Again, he doesn’t overreach as he had a tendency to do at times with the future Panther movies. Here he is a human character through and through for Sellers. He shows embarrassment, humility, love, pride, and actually…solves the crime! Oh, sorry. Spoiler alert for this almost 60 year film, you feuls!
Elke Sommer, as main suspect Maria Gambrelli, is quite nice throughout, coming across as very natural as a housemaid that is somewhat in over her head. Her chemistry with Sellers isn’t forced either. I can positively accept Sommer getting together with Clouseau compared to having to believe that the elegant Capucine ever married Clouseau in the first place in The Pink Panther. (Granted, Capucine did that in order to get police information from Clouseau so she could keep her lover David Niven in the loop, but I ramble on like a chimpanzee minkey, monsieur…)
Like The Pink Panther, a respectable ensemble was gathered for A Shot In the Dark. One standout cast member is George Sanders. Sanders made a career of being the aristocratic bastard with the sharp tongue and with that background, he is undeniably earning his keep here. His interactions with Sellers are some of the best in the film.
Graham Stark, a longtime friend of Sellers, is marvelous as Clouseau’s assistant Hercule LaJoy. Stark would be in other Panthers as well, sometimes under heavy makeup, but always welcome. And there were plenty of great British character actors throughout: Douglas Wilmer, Martin Benson, David Lodge to name a few. All solid, all good, all with long careers, and all with “Ohhhh! That guy!” character actor status.
Anything Not-So-Good as the Original?
“Give me ten men like Clouseau and I could destroy the world.”
While I appreciate putting Clouseau in a different setting, a murder mystery is a great idea overall, sometimes it gets a bit much. By having so many suspects and so many corpses pile up, it ends up to be literal and figurative overkill. I get what they were going for, I truly do, but the body count starts to resemble a Friday the 13th at times. (Although Clouseau Vs. Jason? Hmmm… “Yes, monsieur, I was aware of the old “machete through the head” ploy. Now please take off that heucky mask!”)
This film tends to have some overlong scenes as well. Now granted, some of that could be because I’ve grown more accustomed to a faster editing style because of my modern day shortened attention span. Then again, no. There are some overlong scenes. They aren’t bad, but could do with some trimming. This seems odd since the runtime is actually shorter than the first Pink Panther.
Let me give you an example and hopefully you’ve seen the movie: what would happen to the film overall if you just took out the entire nudist camp sequence? Yes, have Dudu the maid (Who? Again, too many characters…) still end up dead if you must, but have the body discovered elsewhere. The nudist camp doesn’t even play into anything plot wise other than having Clouseau and Maria in an awkward position. While I do enjoy aspects of the entire scene, the ultimate payoff is just okay and not that great. Besides, there is no real nudity depicted whatsoever. So…skip!
Anything Far Worse than the Original?
“But it’s all part of life’s rich pageant, you know.”
For a film that I consider to be better than the original, anything I choose might be considered picking nits, but here goes. As I said before, I like Clouseau in this murder mystery plot. Why couldn’t it have been an Old Dark House/Ten Little Indians kind of murder mystery? Have a huge house, plenty of suspects, plenty of motives, plenty of murderers. Granted it is a fine line between your film ending up like the brilliant Clue on one end of the spectrum or ending up like a Shemp-centric, latter day, half-hearted Three Stooges short on the other, but it is something to consider.
The only other criticism is one I brought up earlier in regards to having so many characters. Since you’re not giving them a chance to really breathe and develop, it is hard to keep track of them. Admittedly, I think part of that is by story design, especially in the climax when everyone left alive starts accusing each other and Clouseau, stuck in the middle, has a memorable and funny take directly at the camera.
Again, this is rather ticky-tack stuff I’m bringing up, but I don’t think the film would suffer from some tightening up in places.
“Careful, Monsieur, with me! Do not tangle with me! I’m a trained expert in karate! My hands are lethal weapons!”
Oh you bet! This was a franchise indeed. After A Shot in the Dark, there was the follow-up Inspector Clouseau in 1968. When everyone forgot about that, Sellers and Edwards reunited for 1975’s The Return of the Pink Panther, 1976’s The Pink Panther Strikes Again, and 1978’s Revenge of the Pink Panther until the two men couldn’t stand each other. Sellers was going to make his own entry called Romance of the Pink Panther but ultimately decided against making the film since he died before it got past the initial drafts.
Not allowing for his main star’s death to get in the way, Blake Edwards cobbled together outtakes, filmed some new scenes, and added flashbacks to the previous movies to ultimately make the dismal Trail of the Pink Panther in 1982. Still thinking that a Sellers-less Panther movie was a good idea, Edwards next had Curse of the Pink Panther in 1983. The film’s best gag is the great Roger Moore in a rather funny cameo. Ten years later, Edwards tried and failed yet again with Son of the Pink Panther in 1993.
Beyond providing both Herbert Lom and Burt Kwouk a paycheck and hearing some more good scores from Henry Mancini, I cannot attest that there are many redeeming qualities in Trail, Curse, and Son. They exist, they fill up your Pink Panther shelf, you won’t watch them much if ever.
Of course, during this timeframe, The Pink Panther and The Inspector cartoons were made and remain quite beloved to this day. More importantly, they kept the Panther name alive in-between the main franchise entries. In many cases, they were at least better than the last three Edwards-helmed movies.
Not willing to let a good thing die, Steve Martin decided to revive Clouseau in 2006’s The Pink Panther and 2009’s The Pink Panther 2. The first one had moments, but not a good Dreyfus in Kevin Kline and no Cato. The second one had fewer moments, but had a good Dreyfus in John Cleese and still no Cato. One presumes if they made a third one, there would have been a different cast member from A Fish Called Wanda to play Dreyfus at the time.
“You idiot! You fool! It’s a good job I was able to check my reflexes, as I might have killed you with a karate chop!”
A Shot in the Dark solidified Peter Sellers’ star power, although he swore he’d never work with Blake Edwards again. Until he did. While 1968’s The Party is a very funny and enjoyable film, coming out the same year as Inspector Clouseau makes it seem like a lost Panther opportunity.
But in A Shot in the Dark, Sellers shines as Clouseau. As the lead of the movie, he is onscreen quite a bit and doesn’t fail to entertain. He so envelopes the character that when I see him in other films sporting a non-French accent, it throws me off a bit.
Edwards also had tremendous skill with the track record to prove it. He knows what to show, when to show it, and what gets the maximum reaction. Yes, there are some pacing issues, but overall this film illustrates why he and Sellers were a good team. Yet with these talents in play, there was often conflict over which of those two men contributed more to make the Panther films successful.
But here’s the truth: both needed each other to make this work as well as it did. The Panther movies Edwards made after Sellers’ death prove that. They were a combative collaborative team and on the whole, the films came out surprisingly well given the animosity the two men shared at times. And A Shot In the Dark is arguably the best of their films together.
Hopefully everyone has learned their lesson by now: Without Peter Sellers, you don’t have a Pink Panther movie. This isn’t like James Bond or Batman where you can rotate new faces in and out as you go. Peter Sellers is Jacques Clouseau and we should just be thankful for the five films he gave us when he was still here.
And the outtakes in Trail of the Pink Panther are okay too.
Oh, and his appearance as Clouseau on The Muppet Show that one time was good. But that’s it!
Finally and more importantly, this film and the entire Panther series lovingly reminds me of my father. He first showed the Panthers to me when I was at a very young age. (I was probably the only 2nd grader at Gethsemane Lutheran School that would break into a Clouseau accent in-between reciting huge chunks of Groucho dialogue.)
I can still remember our VHS copy of The Return of the Pink Panther having an interruption after about 10 minutes because of a tornado warning. Yes folks, nothing, not even the threat of the windy finger of God, would get in my dad’s way when he finally managed to set up the VCR to record something.
“Dreyfus: What about the maid?
Clouseau: The maid?
Dreyfus: Was he jealous of her too? He strangled her!
Clouseau: It is possible that his intended victim was a man and that he made a mistake.
Dreyfus: A mistake? In a nudist camp?!
Clouseau: Nobody’s perfect.”