Thursday, March 22, 2012

Review – The Pink Panther

March 22, 2012

The Pink Panther – US, 1964

Blake Edward’s The Pink Panther is a fun tale filled with more than its share of criminal plots, escapades, and seductions. In return for the jovial time it provides, it asks just one simple favor; namely, don’t ask how Jacques Clouseau became a highly respected inspector. Don’t get me wrong. The inspector’s an extremely likeable fellow, but it’s hard to imagine him ever solving a crime, let alone being promoted for his intuition. He’s more likely to be in the right place at the right time than to find clues and conduct complex and dangerous investigations. It’s rather fortunate then that the criminal he is pursuing in The Pink Panther is a smooth talking, non-violent cat burglar that leaves a white glove at the scene of the crime as a calling card.

The film’s opening scene gets the story going by establishing the central characters immediately. There’s the daughter of a dictator and a valuable diamond ring; a cat burglar and his accomplice; a pair that move the stolen goods; a young man on the run from the mafia; and a bumbling inspector whose wife just happens to be one of the criminals. These characters all converge at a sleepy ski resort. The film does not explain why at first, its only hint being a two-word cryptic message written behind some shaving cream alerting the burglar that a kidnapping will take place the following day. The victim of the kidnapping is one of the film’s many zany surprises.

The film’s humor has not aged as well as one would have hoped; however, the character of Clouseau remains humorous enough to elicit slight giggles as he goes through the film knocking things over and walking in the wrong direction. In one particularly funny bit, he tries his utmost to be attractive to his wife. If only he could undo the knot in his robe. Later, in the same scene, there’s an odd bit about him poorly playing an expensive Stradivarius violin to help get his wife in the mood. This joke doesn’t work nearly as well. What does work is his wife’s kind, sweet words explaining to him in the nicest way possible that his efforts have failed. Poor guy. You can’t say he doesn’t try.

The cast performs admirably as a whole. Peter Sellers is entertaining as the Inspector, and David Niven is perfectly charming as Sir Charles Lytton, a notorious playboy whose age doesn’t seem to hinder his endeavors at all. In fact, he seems more interested in the seduction than the conquest. Perhaps he has too much respect for women to just use them and disappear the next day. French actress Capucine is quite good as Simone Clouseau, and she seems to enjoy shifting between Simone’s two divergent personas. There’s the one she shows her husband – sweet, sincere, full of kind pet names for her inspector husband - and there’s the one she shows Lytton, still sweet, but also conniving and seductive. If I have one major complaint about the film, it is the character of Princess Dahla, who doesn’t act like any princess you’ve ever seen before, and I don’t mean this in a surprisingly refreshing way. She appears to have one bodyguard, and visitors seem to be able to just walk right up to her lodge and tap on her window. You’d think a princess would be a little more protected, especially given her vast collection of rare art and jewelry. There’s also a scene in which Dahla has too much to drink, presumably for the first time, that doesn’t work nearly as well as it should. In the scene, the princess even talks to a tiger skin rug, apparently in an attempt to be cute. I wasn’t convinced.

There are several storylines in the film, and to Blake Edwards’s credit, each one is well developed and neatly wrapped up. Blake Edwards’s touch can perhaps most clearly be seen in the film’s party scenes: the first adds a more serious element to the film, and the second devolves into unbridled chaos, just as it should. In fact, the scene works much better than the party scene in Edwards’ 1961 film Breakfast at Tiffany’s, which I’ve always thought was overdone. I suspect Blake also had a strong hand in the film’s funniest scene, which involves Simone trying to hide more than just one man from her husband.

While The Pink Panther indeed feels somewhat dated, it nevertheless retains its charm. Its characters remain interesting, and the plot evolves in such a way that the viewer is left wondering what will happen next and just who is scheming against whom. The film’s ending is somewhat surprising and is certainly much darker than what many viewers are probably expecting in a film such as this. However, to me, it worked, for it is consistent with the characters and circumstances that the film has established. It’s also clear that the film was highly influential, inspiring such films as Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and The Naked Gun series. In addition, it’s doubtful that gorilla suits have ever been put to such good use in a film. Trust me. You’ll know what I mean when you see it. (on DVD and Blu-ray)

3 stars

No comments: