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The Pink Panther (1/10)

by Tony Medley

Blake Edwards struck gold when Peter Ustinov turned down the role of the bumbling Inspector Clouseau in the 1963 original of the same name and Peter Sellers signed on. Although Sellers took the role and made it into a classic, the reason this film was so successful was due in large part to an excellent cast, headlined by David Niven, supported by Robert Wagner and the beautiful Claudia Cardinale.

This was followed up by an inferior, but mildly entertaining sequel, “Shot in the Dark” the next year (1964). Without the terrific cast, it did add Herbert Lom as the eternally frustrated Commissioner Charles Dreyfus, to whom Clouseau now reported. They waited 11 years for another sequel, “The Return of The Pink Panther” and then “The Pink Panther Strikes Again” (1976) and “Revenge of the Pink Panther” in 1978. While Sellers gets most of the credit for the financial success of these films, Lom and composer Henry Mancini should share equal credit. In fact, The Theme for The Pink Panther, Mancini’s masterpiece, is probably more responsible for the success of the films as anything Edwards, Sellers, and Lom did. I never did find the films much more than disappointing, but that’s the way I felt about most of Edwards’ work; promising but ultimately disappointing.

Sellers died in 1980 but Blake and Lom kept at it, with diminishing results, finally giving up, or so we thought.

Now The Pink Panther is back with Steve Martin taking over for Sellers. Not a good idea. Martin is a star in search of a hit (I know, he’s had some financially successful films, like “Cheaper by the Dozen,” which was a lame remake of a very good original. I, personally, have never seen him in a film that was even remotely entertaining, other than “Shopgirl,” which was remotely entertaining. He left his game with his arrow through his head and his white suit at Saturday Night Live).

The talented Kevin Kline takes over Lom’s role as Dreyfus. While Lom’s Dreyfus was simply frustrated by Clouseau, Kline is a manipulative Machiavelli, trying to use Clouseau’s ineptitude to his advantage. The plot device of Dreyfus bringing Clouseau in on a big case precisely because he is incompetent starts the film off on the wrong track because it is simply absurd. Lom was stuck with Clouseau, so his frustration was understandable. Kline knows what he’s doing and it loses the comedic effect.

Martin’s Clouseau is an idiot. While Sellers played him as a bumbling, but loveable, egotist, Martin is just a fool. I only laughed once, near the end of the film. Worse is Martin’s French accent. Edwards and Sellers were smart enough to play it down and only use his pronunciation for a few jokes, which made them funny. Director Shawn Levy foists Clouseau’s horrible French accent on us and emphasizes it throughout the entire film and it becomes horribly tiresome.

The opening titles are the best of this film. They last almost five minutes with Mancini’s wonderful theme played under them. Then the movie starts and the entertainment stops.

February 7, 2006