Charles Dreyfus escapes a mental institution and threatens the world with destruction unless someone can kill Inspector Clouseau.
I have a confession to make before I delve into the delightful world of “The Pink Panther”; I’ve seen this movie multiple times before. It’s one of the movies that my parents showed me over and over again as a child, so going back to review this movie was an utter treat for me. Another confession, before I begin: I have, at some point or other, seen all of the Pink Panther series, but as of today that was probably more than fifteen years ago. I’m a little hazy on Dreyfus’s and Clouseau’s relationship prior to this film, so bear with me. While, at some point, I’d like to go back and do all of the Pink Panther films, that time is a long ways off… The film can be enjoyed out of succession, so if you’ve never seen a Clouseau movie, you could start here, but I’d recommend starting with “The Pink Panther” (1963) or “A Shot in the Dark” (1964).
(SOME SPOILERS IN THE FOLLOWING PARAGRAPH)
Charles Dreyfus (Herbert Lom, “The Dead Zone”), now utterly broken mentally from his last encounter with Clouseau (Peter Sellers, “Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb”), stays at a mental institution, where his psychiatrist tries to help him get over his psychotic hatred of Clouseau. After Clouseau visits, it becomes apparent that Dreyfus is still insane, and instead of being released, Dreyfuss is forced to escape. After his escape, Dreyfuss tries to kill Clouseau, but with no success. Eventually he comes up with a plan to finally do Clouseau in: he kidnaps a Nuclear Physicist and forces him to build a doomsday weapon. Dreyfuss threatens the world with annihilation unless they can kill Clouseau.
This is one of the best examples of slapstick I’ve seen; the scenes are brilliantly choreographed and executed. From the very beginning, where there are easy gags and jokes (Dreyfuss falling into the water) to the more extravagant set pieces, like Clouseau and Cato’s (Burt Kwouk, “Goldfinger”) destructive battle through their apartment, the film maintains hilarity through to the end. I must admit, there are some scenes that work better than others: the scene where Clouseau is followed through Oktoberfest isn’t so much hilarious as it is slightly humorous. But this film does have one of my favorite gags from the entire series, that being the laughing gas scene with the inspector and Dreyfuss. Even knowing that the scene was coming, knowing what to expect, I was still in stitches.
Peter Sellers makes these films. His performance as Clouseau is easily the best of anyone who’s donned those shoes (Clouseau has also been portrayed by Steve Martin, Allen Arkin, and Roger Moore). Without Sellers, the films are a mere shadow of what they should be, and that becomes glaringly obvious when watching some of the later films, particularly “The Curse of the Pink Panther”. His bumbling, overplayed accent and casual idiot savant persona instantly make him a memorable character, and honestly he does it with such ease that it’s hard not to laugh at just the way he holds himself. Sellers was a brilliant actor, and if you haven’t seen “Dr. Strangelove”, do so; that film showcases his talents even more than this one.
This film’s biggest downfall is, in my opinion, Dreyfuss’s plan. In the previous Panther installments, the plot was kept to a rather small case that Clouseau has to solve. In the first movie, he is after a jewel thief, in the second, it’s a murder mystery. In this film, the villain wants to kill Clouseau, but then, after that, maybe take over the world. Now, I could venture to guess why that sort of escalation took place.
The name of the reason for the escalation is Bond. James Bond.
The first Pink Panther movie was indeed influenced by “Dr. No”, the first James Bond movie, which came out only one-year prior. But by the time the fourth Pink Panther film starring Sellers came out, James Bond had evolved beyond his cloak and dagger roots, and become a full fledged, ridiculous, gadget-wielding spy. So, of course, in order to compete with the over-the-top nature of James Bond, Inspector Clouseau must also become over the top and ridiculous. Dreyfuss becomes a maniacal villain, and for some of the time, it works. But the film doesn’t have the same feeling as “The Pink Panther” or “Shot in the Dark”. It’s still hilarious, but they’ve thrown realism out the window at this point.
I went into this movie expecting to enjoy the heck out of it, and I came out of it enjoying the heck out of it. This is a fun movie. It’s slapstick done right (take note, Johnny Knoxville, you don’t need the full blown stupidity of “Action Point” to do slapstick comedy). Additionally, there aren’t too many objectionable scenes in it. You could show this to your kids, if you wanted. There are one or two more suggestive scenes, but it’s no worse than any of the earlier Bond films. This film is a delight and even after forty-two years, even though it’s not the best of the series, it’s still a high bar to hurdle in terms of quality comedy.
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