The Pink Panther (1964)
The Pink Panther (1964)

Genre: Crime Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 55 min.

Release Date: March 20th, 1964 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Blake Edwards Actors: David Niven, Peter Sellers, Robert Wagner, Capucine, Claudia Cardinale, Brenda de Banzie, Colin Gordon, Guy Thomajan, Michael Trubshawe, Meri Wells, Fran Jeffries

 


 

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nce upon a time … begins “The Pink Panther,” as it introduces a freshly cut, magnificent pink diamond, possessing only a single flaw: a tiny discoloration that resembles a panther. This segues into one of the most iconic, instantly recognizable of all theme tunes (by Henry Mancini), paired with incredibly fitting animation (by De Patie – Freleng Enterprises) that not only spices up the credits, but also sets up the slapstick humor to follow (routinely supplementing specific, sneaking movements). It’s no wonder this film was followed by so many sequels, including “A Shot in the Dark,” debuting during the very same year in the United States.

In Rome, a great heist takes place, conducted by the mysterious “Phantom,” who has slinked away with millions in priceless jewelry from more than a dozen victims. Meanwhile, in Hollywood, at Pierre Luigi’s photography studio, thug Big Joe (John Bartha) tracks down George Lytton (Robert Wagner), who owes him a great deal of money. And in Paris, a fence and a slender woman become the first links to catching up with the Phantom, though they both escape the clutches of the police, led by Inspector Jacques Clouseau (Peter Sellers). And finally, in Cortina D’Ampezzo, the Princess Dala (Claudia Cardinale), now in possession of the Pink Panther diamond, becomes the target of conman Sir Charles Lytton (David Niven), who tails her across the snow-capped mountainside and arranges for a dognapping for an ingratiation machination. Charles happens to be  George’s uncle, and they’re both rather adept at swindling.

Though the setup is overly complex, switching back and forth between numerous locations and characters, the most prominent role is that of Clouseau, whose exaggerated accent (only to be further amplified in the sequels) and over-the-top clumsiness instantly steal the show. Despite the impending jewel theft, wife Simone Clouseau’s (Capucine) infidelity and deception (“How can you manage on a police inspector’s salary?”), and the Lytton family’s scheming, the only thing for certain is that the idiotic sleuth will win out in the end; he’s just too absorbing to lose (completely, anyway). His unshakeable confidence, even during abject failures and embarrassing dupes, is one of his most endearing qualities.

The slapstick extends to the other players as well, yet they approach the physical comedy with a seriousness that grounds it in the reality of their fantastical capers; only Jacques is doomed to fall all over the place as if existing in an alternate gravitational pull. Curiously, however, writer/director Blake Edwards is interested in telling two tales here: one about the bumbling flatfoot and his accidental uncovering of intricate plotting, and a second about Charles’ calculated seduction of Dala – and others. They may both lead to the same place, but plenty of time is dedicated to each one; in Edwards’ pictures, character development, even for the antagonists, is in no short supply.

“Some very strange things are going on here.” The comedy is the most notable component, with more than one (attempted) sex scene that stretches out over several other sequences, skiing mishaps, bathroom shenanigans, flirtations gone awry, and tense near-misses that seem to cram a wealth of people into tiny spaces (or find them shuffling in and out of rooms) like something from a Marx Brothers skit. But there’s also time for a full song-and-dance sequence, and it takes more than an hour before the Phantom’s white monogramed-glove calling-card is mentioned; with so much attention to the little details of personalities and behaviors, one might forget that a master thief and grand robbery are at the heart of this story. “The Pink Panther” is overlong but never boring, culminating in a spectacularly silly masquerade ball (Jacques, of course, dons the most cumbersome of costumes) full of playful mixups and misdirection and chaos – and, ultimately, a twisted sense of justice (which arrives in the form of yet another, extended, largely unnecessary sequence – here, an absurd courtroom showdown). It’s all quite unique and incredibly memorable.

– Mike Massie

  • 8/10