Genre: Comedy and Mystery Running Time: 1 hr. 42 min.
Release Date: June 23rd, 1964 MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Blake Edwards Actors: Peter Sellers, Elke Sommer, George Sanders, Herbert Lom, Tracy Reed, Graham Stark, Moira Redmond, Ann Lynn, Burt Kwouk
rom the opening seconds, merely depicting a man dramatically tiptoeing across a courtyard, it’s evident that “A Shot in the Dark” is going to be hysterical. Brilliantly, it’s more complex than just a few exaggerated movements and quirky editing; it is, in fact, a confusing assortment of apartments and inhabitants traipsing between rooms and sneaking about in the night, uniting for secretive affairs. It foreshadows director Blake Edwards’ adeptness with spot-on comic timing, which is used comprehensively throughout the film. Going a step further, this sequence is narrated by the somber, imposing, Henry Mancini/Robert Wells song “Shadows of Paris.” And, of particular trivia-worthy interest is the fact that the screenplay, so markedly riddled with hilarity, was co-written by William Peter Blatty, the man who would go on to pen 1973’s landmark “The Exorcist.”
French police commissioner Charles Dreyfus (Herbert Lom) is informed that at the home of millionaire Benjamin Ballon (George Sanders), a shooting has occurred. Unaware of the lofty status of the residence, the case is accidentally assigned to the bumbling Inspector Jacques Clouseau (Peter Sellers) – hilariously introduced by the character pulling up in a police car and stepping out into a fountain. Miguel the chauffeur has been shot four times, and the body is found with maid Maria Gambrelli (Elke Sommer) holding the murder weapon in her hand. Maurice (Martin Benson), the head butler, makes the discovery, assuming that the whole ordeal is a clear-cut case. Clouseau’s instincts tell him otherwise – that she’s innocent – but as bodies continue to pile up, with Maria continually finding herself at the scenes of the crimes holding the murder weapons, the evidence grows increasingly more damning.
The comedy is exceptional and utilizes a wide variety of types. There is an abundance of slapstick, with Sellers falling all over the place, destroying things, idiotically injuring himself, or famously combating his martial artist servant Kato (Burt Kwouk); there’s the motif of frequent, unintentional tearing of clothing; there are running gags that include Clouseau repeatedly getting arrested while undercover and Dreyfus self-harming, unable to deal with the pressures of working with such an inept sleuth; and there are verbal hilarities, not only with the inspector’s dotty axioms (“I believe everything and I believe nothing. I suspect everyone and I suspect no one.”), but also with his daft insults and nonsensically repetitive queries. All of this is made more ludicrous thanks to the surrounding characters remaining conspicuously serious (deathly so in the case of Ballon and marginally with assistant Hercule LaJoy, played by Graham Stark).
The second of the many “Pink Panther” films, “A Shot in the Dark” is easily the funniest – and, curiously, devoid of the aforementioned Pink Panther name that would accompany all but one of the numerous sequels. Several of the setups are spectacularly uproarious (the nudist colony bit just might be the best, followed by a string of nightclub assassination attempts), yet even the small ones are priceless – highlighted by the synchronizing of watches to exactly 2:43 PM. Culminating with a derivation of “The Thin Man” and a gut-busting twist on “Murder on the Orient Express” but instead orchestrated horribly inadequately (“Everything I do is carefully planned, madam!”), “A Shot in the Dark” just might be the perfect murder mystery spoof. It’s without a doubt one of the funniest films ever made.
– Mike Massie