Though not Blake Edwards’ best films, these are the movies with which he is most stronglyidentified, and the role of Inspector Clouseau was a career-defining move for Peter Sellers. Attheir best, the movies are fine exemplars of inspired slapstick.
The Pink Panther started it all off, and no one knew what a phenomenon Clouseauwas going to turn out to be. Edwards and Sellers (the trivia track informs us) rewrote the partlate in the game to turn the character i…to the loveable bumbler. At this stage, Clouseau is asupporting character. David Niven, as the gentleman thief, gets top billing. Niven steals the PinkPanther diamond, and Sellers is clumsily on the case in a posh ski resort. A huge success, thefilm’s climax is nevertheless disappointing, and the first in the series isn’t necessarily the best.The honour arguably belongs to the next film.
A Shot in the Dark, based on a stage play and turned to their own ends by scriptersBlake Edwards and William Peter (The Exorcist) Blatty, moves Clouseau to the centrestage, which is much to the movie’s advantage. The plot, as in all the films, is nominal, servingas a means of getting from one set-piece to another. Here a murder has taken place in a filthy-richhousehold. All evidence points to the maid (Elke Sommer), but a smitten Clouseau thinksotherwise. Two important figures arrive in the series here: Clouseau’s manservant Cato (BurtKwouk) and the magnificent Herbert Lom – giving Sellers a serious run for his money – chartsChief Inspector Dreyfus’ first of many journeys from irritation to homicidal fury.
Then we have a gap. The next film in the series – The Return of the Pink Panther – isabsent here due to some legal battle, and its absence is a serious void in the collection (like acomplete James Bond collection that skips Thunderball). At any rate, The PinkPanther Strikes Again no longer has anything to do with the diamond, title notwithstanding.Dreyfus, driven completely and irrevocably mad, becomes a mad scientist and criminalmastermind, threatening to plunge the world into nuclear war unless Clouseau is handed over tohim. The laughing gas dentistry scene is one of the high points of the series.
Apparently, destroying the UN building and being completely disintegrated are not barriersto being re-hired as Chief Inspector of the Paris Police. No doubt confirming Bush the Younger’sworst surmises about the French being soft on terrorism, Dreyfus is back from the dead and backin his job in this, the weakest of the films made with Sellers’ living participation. Here Clouseauis after a drug ring, and things play out in by-now predictable fashion.
The series in this collection comes to an end with Trail of the Pink Panther (we arespared the non-Sellers Inspector Clouseau and the post-Sellers Curse of the PinkPanther). The absence of Return is not made up for by the presence of this sadexercise. Made after Sellers’ death, the film consists of outtakes and deleted scenes from theprevious films, strung together by reporter Joanna Lumley’s investigation. Deeplyembarrassing.
All the films feature both the original mono and a 5.1 audio track. The stereo remix avoidsmost of the pitfalls of these kinds of things, in that there are no surround voices, or forcedsurround effects. On the other hand, the surround aspect is minimal to zip, even in the case ofHenry Mancini’s memorable scores. The sound is reasonably clean, the buzz is kept to aminimum, and these are not films that are enormously reliant on enveloping sound design.
The 2.35:1 widescreen formats are an improvement on previous releases, which were bothnon-anamorphic and grainier (though some cropping at the edges makes me think the actualformat should be 2.40:1). The age of the prints needs to be taken into account when dealing withthe slight flicker, grain and speckling that are present. The emphasis here is on “slight”: by andlarge the films look very good, with excellent colours are a solid level of sharpness. There is alittle bit of edge enhancement, and in other instances the edges blur a bit (the opening of Trailof the Pink Panther is a case in point).
Most of the films offer nothing more than a still gallery and the theatrical trailer. Theexception is The Pink Panther, which has an commentary track by Blake Edwards. Hismemories are interesting, if delivered with many long pauses. The pop-up trivia track isexcellent, providing a constant flood of information. The bonus disc comes with six Pink Panthercartoons, a short featurette about the cartoons, and a half-hour documentary, “The Pink PantherStory.” Though interesting, this feature is far too brief, leaving one with too many questions, andit passes over Return as if it didn’t exist. The main screens, intros and transitions of themenus are animated and scored.
The extras, for what is, after all, a pretty important collection, are rather weak (though theinclusion of the cartoons is nice), and the absence of The Return of the Pink Pantherleaves a gaping hole. Still worth picking up, all the same. And the packaging is excellent.
Special Features List
- Director’s Commentary
- Trivia Track
- Still Galleries
- Theatrical Trailers
- Cartoon Collection
- “Behind the Feline: The Cartoon Phenomenon” Featurette
- “The Pink Panther Story” Documentary