27 November 2001 | straker-1
One of the weirdest movies ever made
Trail Of the Pink Panther is one of the strangest motion pictures ever made. Few movies (Game Of Death II and Plan 9 From Outer Space are perhaps the only other examples) have the dubious honour of featuring a star who died before shooting even BEGAN. As a tribute to the late great Peter Sellers, Trail is something of a failure...as an
exercise in creative editing, it is however a masterwork. Trail is a game of two halves...the Sellers half and the awful half. As is well-known, deleted scenes from the three previous Pink Panther movies (Return, Strikes Back, Revenge) were cobbled together to fake a new appearance by Sellers in this flick. To be honest, this snow job is executed with considerable skill...one could almost believe that Sellers had died midway through production. [In fact, this was almost the case; Sellers died mere weeks before shooting was due to begin on Romance Of The Pink Panther. To be made without the involvement of Blake Edwards in any manner, Romance would almost certainly have turned out to be an even bigger disaster than Trail eventually became.] I said you could almost believe it; because when the outtakes run dry, the movie loses any point or direction and wanders aimlessly for 40-odd minutes. Joanna Lumley, sporting a French accent even more hideous than Sellers', travels from place to place interviewing those who knew Clouseau. All pretence at the ostensible plot (the latest theft of the Pink Panther Diamond) goes out the window, in place of flashback clips and extremely dull comedy sequences. While Herbert Lom gives it his usual best (his attempts to conceal his joy at Clouseau's demise are as always sublimely hilarious) and the odd new scene raises a slight smile at best, the words SELLERS IS GONE, YOU MAY AS WELL SWITCH THE DVD OFF seem to flash before our eyes and cannot be ignored. Richard Mulligan's cameo as Clouseau's father is either amusing or painful, depending on your tolerance level for blatant and witless Sellers aping. But, while Peter IS there, there's plenty to enjoy. Highlights include a disastrous series of errors at an English hotel, Clouseau's fiery car lighter blunder, a painful visit to an aircraft toilet (all excised from Strikes Back) and an alternate take of the famous August Balls Costume Shop scene. Harvey Korman, who was replaced by Graham Stark as Balls in the take used, reprises his role here in new footage. David Niven, who played 'The Phantom' in the very first Panther movie, appears again alongside screen wife Capucine. Niven was dying at the time his scenes were shot, and over the violent protests of his family his lines were dubbed by impressionist Rich Little. Niven has very little to do here; he has a slightly larger part (his very last) in the follow-up, Curse Of The Pink Panther. Trail and Curse were filmed back-to-back, and in the main feature the same cast. Curse, while having a complete plot, lacks even Seller's posthumous presence to elevate the tired sight gags and double entendres Blake Edwards puts Sellers replacement Ted Wass
through. If United Artists hoped that this 'new' Sellers Panther movie would recoup some of the gigantic losses suffered as a result of Heaven's Gate, they were to be sorely disappointed. Both Trail and Curse bombed, and only Trail's curiosity value has saved it from complete oblivion. As it is, this is a weird and curiously compelling last bow from a true master of comedy. Goodbye, Peter, you crazy diamond.