Blake Edwards’ The Pink Panther Film Collection Starring Peter Sellers

Studio: Shout! Factory

Jul 03, 2017 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


Few comedy characters are as iconic as Peter Sellers’ famed Inspector Clouseau, whom he played in six Pink Panther films directed by the great Blake Edwards from 1963 to 1983. An unflappable nincompoop, Clouseau always maintained a serious demeanor in spite of his extreme clumsiness and brilliant incompetence. No matter how embarrassing a situation the character found himself in, it was never his fault; often, it was all part of his plan the whole time. The first two Pink Panther movies capture Sellers at the peak of his physical comedy prowess. All six of Edwards and Sellers’ Pink Panther movies are collected in this new Blu-ray set from Shout! Factory, and remain as funny today as they were when first released.

Five decades later, it’s hard to believe that the bumbling Inspector Clouseau was never meant to be the star of 1963’s The Pink Panther. Top billing went to David Niven, who played a debonair jewel thief on the prowl for the movie’s titular diamond. Needing a replacement after actor Peter Ustinov dropped out of the film at the 11th hour, Edwards hired Peter Sellers – then known primarily for his radio work, rather than film – who completely and utterly stole the show. Through largely improvised physical comedy, Sellers’ Clouseau thoroughly upstaged every other character in the movie – so much so that Niven, when presenting at the Oscars, asked that Henry Mancini’s Pink Panther theme not be played as his walk-on music. (Niven would eventually return to this role in the franchise 20 years later.) This was Sellers’ breakout film role; his Clouseau character would be the centerpiece of five more Pink Panther movies, all of which are included in this set. 

In The Pink Panther, Inspector Clouseau is tasked with capturing an elusive jewel thief known as The Phantom, whom he believes will attempt to steal a priceless diamond when its owner, an Indian princess, throws a fancy ball. Little does Clouseau realize, however, is that his own wife is having an affair with the jewel thief and assisting him in the heist. The Phantom, it turns out, is actually a well-known aristocratic playboy who hangs in wealthy social circles; he's fallen in love with the princess and is thinking of calling the heist off altogether. The Phantom’s young nephew, whom we learn is equally skilled when it comes too wooing women, shows up unexpectedly; what his uncle doesn’t know is that he’s also interested in Clouseau’s attractive wife, and in stealing the princess's diamond for himself.

Of course, everything goes awry once all of these characters come together and start tripping over each other while going about their various motives. In one of the movie’s most madcap sequences, Clouseau returns to his hotel room with aims on romancing his wife – while her two suitors, the Phantom and his nephew, hide under her bed and in the shower. It’s a hilarious extended scene, as characters scramble from one hiding spot to another narrowly escaping the sight of the clueless Clouseau.

Somewhat surprisingly, the second film in the series – 1964’s A Shot in the Dark – is its best. What began as unrelated Broadway play was retrofitted into a Clouseau movie after Sellers begged Edwards to take over the project. While Clouseau had to share his screen time as part of an ensemble in the first movie, this time around it’s all-Clouseau, all the time. Allowed to run wild with the character, this is where Sellers took the role to its greatest heights – before failing health sapped him of his physical comedy gifts in the late 1970s.

In A Shot in the Dark, Clouseau is tasked with investigating the murder of a chauffeur who worked in the household an influential millionaire.  The primary suspect is a comely blonde maid – she was holding a smoking gun when the body was discovered (in her bedroom) – with whom Clouseau falls head-over-heels in love. He dedicates himself to proving her innocence in spite of such damning evidence, and even as dead bodies continue to pile up around her.

Watching these movies more than half a century after their release, it’s positively impressive how naughty they were. While it’s nothing compared to today’s comedies, the fact that the jokes and double-entendres still feel pretty racy – or that so much of the films’ humor sprouts from implied sexual scenarios – make these PG-rated films feel distinctly adult-oriented. (Fran Jeffries’ fireside song-and-dance number in The Pink Panther makes Megan Draper’s seductive “Zou Bisou Bisou” in Mad Men feel relatively tame.)

The sequels following these two grade-A classics suffer a little from diminishing returns. Edwards and Sellers hated each other by the time they wrapped their contentious Shot in the Dark shoot, and had vowed to never work together again. Being linked through a massively popular franchise has a way of persuading people to put aside their differences, however, and the pair reunited four more times (primarily when they needed money). The Return of the Pink Panther is the best of these second-wave Clouseau movies. Arriving in 1975 – more than decade after Sellers last appeared in the role, and after Alan Arkin briefly took over the role in a reviled 1968 installment – the film revitalized the franchise while returning to a lot the elements that made the first movie a hit. In Return, Clouseau is hired to recover the Pink Panther diamond after it was stolen, presumably by the notorious Phantom (here played by Chris Plummer.) In 1976’s The Pink Panther Strikes Again, Clouseau’s long-suffering superior, Commissioner Dreyfuss, is pushed over the edge and turns into a full-blown Bond villain, threatening to unleash a mega-weapon unless the world’s leaders order an assassination of the bumbling detective. (Yeah, this installment is really out there.) For 1978’s Revenge of the Pink Panther, Clouseau becomes the unwitting target of the mafia. All three of these movies recycle many of the same ideas – in particularly, Clouseau’s ridiculous disguises – but in the hands of a gifted comedian like Sellers, it doesn’t get tired. They’re a lot of fun and certainly worth watching, but given that Sellers wasn’t well during their filming and doubles perform most of his physical stunts, they never hit quite the same heights as the franchise’s first two entries. The last movie in this set, 1982’s Trail of the Pink Panther, is an oddity; Sellers died of a heart attack before shooting began, yet makes an appearance in this sequel through the use of outtakes from the previous films.

The Pink Panther films are a compulsively binge-able series, and Shout! Factory’s new Blu-ray set is a fantastic way to do just that. Every film arrives in a great transfer and on its own disc packed with extra features, from audio commentaries to documentaries, interviews, trailers, and still galleries. (These are a mix of new bonus materials and holdovers from older editions, so those considering an upgrade from DVD should have all of their bases covered.) The Pink Panther Film Collection Starring Peter Sellers brings together all the essential entries of one of the all-time best comedy franchises in one package. Considering you can grab the set online for what shakes out to around $10 a film, that’s a ton of funny for your money.

(www.shoutfactory.com/product/the-pink-panther-film-collection-starring-peter-sellers)




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