Lone Wolf Sullivan is a writer, songwriter, and studio musician.

Friday, June 05, 2009

The Pink Panther (1963) * * *

(first title card)
Title card: Once upon a time
(first lines)
Gem dealer 1: As in every stone of this size, there is a flaw.
Shah of Lugash: A flaw?
Gem dealer 2: The slightest flaw, your excellency.
Gem dealer 1: If you look deep into the stone, you will perceive the tiniest discoloration. It resembles an animal.
Shah of Lugash: An animal?
Gem dealer 1: A little panther.
Shah of Lugash: Yes! A pink panther. Come here, Dala. A gift to your father from his grateful people. Some day it will be yours. The most fabulous diamond in all the world. Come closer.

As a child, Princess Dala (Claudia Cardinale) receives a gift from her father the Shah of Lugash: the Pink Panther, the largest diamond in the world. This huge pink gem has an unusual flaw: looking deeply into the stone, one can see a tiny discoloration resembling a leaping pink panther. As the camera moves in, this image comes to life and participates in the credits as a cartoon character moving to Henry Mancini's "Theme from the Pink Panther" played on saxophone.

When Dala is a young woman known as the icy Virgin Queen, rebels seize power in Lugash and then demand possession of the jewel, but the exiled princess refuses to hand it over. Dala relaxes on holiday at the exclusive skiing resort in the village of Cortina d'Ampezzo, where British playboy Sir Charles Lytton (David Niven), leads a secret life as a jet set jewel thief called "The Phantom". His trademark is a glove left at the scene of the crime. It seems that Princess Dala’s seduction is the only thing on his mind, but he’s actually more interested in the Pink Panther than the princess. His American playboy nephew, George Lytton (Robert Wagner), follows his uncle to the resort hoping to steal the jewel and blame it on the Phantom, not realizing that the Phantom is his uncle.

(Having made her tipsy with champagne, Sir Charles Lytton kisses Princess Dala)
Princess Dala: If I were my father, I'd have you tortured.
Sir Charles Lytton: No. If you were your father, I doubt very much if I would have kissed you.

On the Phantom's trail is French police inspector Jacques Clouseau (Peter Sellers) of the Sûreté, a bumbling simpleton of a policeman who believes himself to be a brilliant detective, if not a genius. He speaks in English with a ludicrous French accent, while other characters speak English, often with their own accents. His wife Simone (Capucine) is--unknown to him--the lover of Charles and helper in the Phantom's crimes. Inspector Clouseau has followed the Phantom’s trail to Cortina d'Ampezzo and he’ll do anything to catch him. His gorgeous wife is secretly working with the Phantom to steal the gem. The only passion Clouseau is more devoted to pursuing than capturing the Phantom is romancing his wife, a fruitless task that isn’t helped by the good inspector’s clumsiness, a quality that seems to amplify the closer he gets to a bed. Clouseau tries to stop the theft attempts, but he is so clueless and clumsy that when several attempts are made at a fancy costume party, he looks everywhere but the right place. Throughout the film, scenes at the skiing resort's hotel show Madame Clouseau dodging her husband while trying both to carry out Sir Charles' plans and to avoid George, who is infatuated with her.

Inspector Clouseau: I am willing to bet you ten thousand francs, that the Phantom is in Cortina at this very moment. Even, perhaps, in this very room.
Simone Clouseau: How exciting. What do you think, Mr. Tucker?
Tucker: Oh, I agree with the inspector. You see, Ten of his last fifteen victims have been guests at Angela Dunning's parties.
Sir Charles Lytton: What are we all talking about?
Simone Clouseau: The notorious Phantom.
Princess Dala: I'm afraid I never heard of him.
Sir Charles Lytton: From the little I've read about him, he seems to be quite a fellow.
Inspector Jacques Clouseau: Believe me. There are few thieves who are as clever as the Phantom. Each theft is completely different and unique, classic in its conception.
George Lytton: I thought you were working on the theory that he does repeat himself.
Inspector Clouseau: Well, only as far as Angela Dunning's parties are concerned. However, there is one other duplication, but that is his ah... trademark, his calling card, so to speak. He always leaves a white monogrammed glove.
Princess Dala: Sounds terribly theatrical.
Tucker: Your Highness, if I were the Phantom, I'd have chosen my victim already.
Princess Dala: Really? And who would that be?
Tucker: Well, who owns the most fabulous diamond in the world?
Princess Dala: I suppose I do.
Inspector Clouseau: Exactly. The Pink Panther. Such a prize he could never resist. He would be bound to try for it.
Princess Dala: I'm afraid he'd be disappointed. The Pink Panther is in my safe, at...
Inspector Jacques Clouseau: [interrupting] Your Highness, please. Don't say it, not here.
Simone Clouseau: If I'm not being too nosy your highness, I read somewhere there was some dispute over the ownership of the Pink Panther.
Princess Dala: It belongs to me. It was a gift from my late father. I shall never surrender it.
Sir Charles Lytton: Why should you?
Princess Dala: When the present government seized power, they claimed the diamond was the property of the people. There's even some talk of the international court deciding the issue.
Sir Charles Lytton: I'll tell you what, why don't I steal the diamond, leave that old glove or whatever it is behind, and you and I can split the insurance.
Princess Dala: All right.

At the posh costume ball at Princess Dala's villa, the jewel is stolen while Clouseau tries to determine the thief's identity. In spite of himself, the inspector captures Sir Charles and his accomplices. Conviction looks inevitable until Sir Charles and Simone hatch a plan to frame Clouseau. The defense calls a surprised Clouseau to the stand as their lone witness. The barrister asks a series of questions that suggest Clouseau himself could be the Phantom. The unnerved Clouseau pulls his handkerchief out of his shirt pocket, and reveals the jewel planted there by Madame Clouseau.

As Clouseau is being driven away to prison, a regretful Simone expresses fears that he will rot in prison. Sir Charles points out that "it takes years for people to rot, and when the Phantom strikes again, he'll be free as a bird." In the police car, the officers tell Clouseau that as The Phantom, he is a "national hero" and a sex idol for millions of young women. When they ask him, with some deference, how he committed all those robberies, he smiles a little and says, "Well, you know... it wasn't easy."

The cartoon character of the Pink Panther then closes the film.

In the first in a series of detective comedies from director Blake Edwards starring Peter Sellers as French Inspector Jacques Clouseau, the mishap-prone inspector is actually a supporting player. David Niven is the real star with top billing. But THE PINK PANTHER made Sellers and his Clouseau act so popular that the character moved to center stage in a series of farcical sequels. This first entry was filmed in Italy, Paris, and Los Angeles. It was shot in an aspect ratio of 2.20:1 in Technicolor and was originally released theatrically by United Artists.

The absurd silliness and a weird combination of James Bond intrigue and the comedy of the Keystone Cops offers a little of everything, including action, glamor, seduction, drama, romance, satire, slapstick and a lushly costumed masque ball sequence. There’s even a musical number thrown into the middle of things for good measure. Despite all those entertaining elements it’s the comedy that stands out. Except for the party scene and big chase at the end, which is inventive and lively, THE PINK PANTHER generally moves at a slow pace, and seems longer than its 115-minute runtime. Part of the problem is that while Sellers' slapstick is superbly executed, there's little momentum, the set-up to a gag is often muddled, and much of the comedy seems aimless--but it is funny.

The movie's animated opening sequence, created by DePatie-Freleng Enterprises and set to the theme music by Henry Mancini, features the Pink Panther cartoon character. This character, designed by Hawley Pratt, was subsequently the subject of its own series of animated cartoons--as well as being featured in the opening of every movie in the Pink Panther film series except A SHOT IN THE DARK (1964) and INSPECTOR CLOUSEAU (1968).

The cast also includes: Brenda De Banzie (Angela Dunning), Colin Gordon (Tucker), John Le Mesurier (Defence Barrister), James Lanphier (Saloud), Guy Thomajan (Artoff), Michael Trubshawe (Felix Townes), Riccardo Billi (Aristotle Sarajos), Meri Welles (Monica Fawn), Martin Miller (Pierre Luigi), Fran Jeffries (Greek "cousin"), John Bartha (Policeman), William Bryant (Policeman), Mario Fabrizi (Hotel manager), Eugene Walter (Hotel manager, English dubbing) and Gale Garnett who dubs Claudia Cardinale's voice. Henry Mancini composed the original music. The screenplay was written by Maurice Richlin and Blake Edwards, who also directed.

THE PINK PANTHER spawned a franchise that includes several movies such as THE RETURN OF THE PINK PANTHER (1975) and THE REVENGE OF THE PINK PANTHER (1978). They are not as good as the first. Actually, the first sequel A SHOT IN THE DARK is considered to be the best, even though it does not involve the legendary gem, just the bumbling investigator and a very crazy murder mystery. As of 2009, eleven "Pink Panther" films have been made, all but two having "Pink Panther" in the title:


THE PINK PANTHER is available on DVD from MGM Home Entertainment. It includes a good trivia track. There is also a collectors disc set with 5 of the Clouseau films included. You get 4 great Panther movies and the bodged-together TRAIL OF THE PINK PANTHER, plus a disk of extras. The documentary "The Pink Panther Story" is heavy on interviews and insight and we learn that Sellers hated A SHOT IN THE DARK. The set does not contain RETURN OF THE PINK PANTHER, and the other non-Sellers films in the series are not included either. Individual DVDs for each film were released in the 1990s when bonus material was rare and double sided discs with widescreen and fullscreen versions on either side were the norm.

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