The bumbling Inspector Clouseau travels to Rome to catch a notorious jewel thief known as "The Phantom" before he conducts his most daring heist yet: a princess' priceless diamond with one s... Read allThe bumbling Inspector Clouseau travels to Rome to catch a notorious jewel thief known as "The Phantom" before he conducts his most daring heist yet: a princess' priceless diamond with one slight imperfection, known as "The Pink Panther".The bumbling Inspector Clouseau travels to Rome to catch a notorious jewel thief known as "The Phantom" before he conducts his most daring heist yet: a princess' priceless diamond with one slight imperfection, known as "The Pink Panther".
Being the first, of course, makes this the prototype, and though it's a good movie, it's obvious that the formula for success which the following films in the series employed had not yet been honed to perfection. Consequently, though funny, the hilarity level of this one is comparatively low, though it does have it's moments, the best of which involve Clouseau.
From the day it premiered, it was readily apparent that what really made it a go was Sellers; and Edwards and his team have to be given credit for recognizing it immediately. Often a sequel fails because the filmmaker has attempted to capitalize on an element of the original that seemingly made it good, only to discover that what the poet once said is true: You can never go home again. Merely expanding the part that worked before doesn't insure success; usually, in fact, quite the opposite is true, as without fail it becomes a matter of overkill (The Penguin was no Joker, and those participating in `The Return of the Seven' weren't so `magnificent' after all). There are the exceptions, of course, like the `Stars Wars' saga, the `Indiana Jones' movies and, it goes without saying, the `Panther' films.
Edwards was clever enough to discern that key element in the original, and not only expand upon it for the sequels, but fine tune it as he did so. In developing his formula he seemed to possess an innate sense of what was funny, even from an objective point of view-- which is amazing, given that comedy is probably the most subjective of genres. And then again, he had the inimitable Sellers as his star, which was certainly no hindrance to their combined efforts.
It's interesting to watch this movie again, especially after seeing the rest of the series, as you're seeing Clouseau in his raw stage of development; the accent is not yet as pronounced as it will be later, and his `denseness' is not quite refined yet. But funny he is, even as he experiments, searching for that perfect comedic note (which he would finally find in `The Pink Panther Strikes Again'). Seller's performance is the highlight of the movie, and it gave birth to what would become one of the defining characters of his career. From the first moment Clouseau appears on screen, you know that you're about to be treated to something special. And Sellers never disappoints-- from that first frame on, he is a joy to watch.
David Niven, meanwhile, lends an air of sophistication to the proceedings as the suave and debonair, legendary jewel thief, Sir Charles Litton. Though not a unique character, Niven plays him well, exuding the kind of charm possibly only Cary Grant could have matched at the time. As usual, he brings a smooth presence to the screen, he plays comedy well and the facility with which he brings Litton to life is impressive. Watching Niven and Sellers together calls to mind the pairing of Michael Caine and Steve Martin some years later in `Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.'
The supporting cast includes Robert Wagner (George Litton), Capucine (Simone), Brenda De Banzie (Angela), Colin Gordon (Tucker) Fran Jeffries (Greek `Cousin') and the lovely Claudia Cardinale as Princess Dala. Sellers created a number of characters during his career that will live forever, but with `The Pink Panther' he carved out a special niche for himself when he created Clouseau. There's never been anyone else quite like Clouseau (or Sellers, for that matter), and it's doubtful there ever will be again. As for the movie itself, there's no denying it's place of significance in the history of the movies as the one that kicked off a series that made the world laugh-- and thanks to the magic of DVD/video, that laughter continues on, unabated, today-- with no end in sight. That's the magic of Sellers, and it's all a part of the magic of the movies. I rate this one 7/10.
- May 21, 2001