Inspector Clouseau

Inspector ClouseauSynopsis: The world’s favorite “Pink Panther” super-sleuth is back and at it again in this outrageous comedy caper, starring Alan Arkin as the beloved but brainless Inspector Clouseau. When a nation is in trouble, criminal masterminds don’t stand a chance against the French detective with a knack for reckless investigation.

Tension is building at Number Ten Downing Street when it’s discovered that the money stolen in the great train robbery is merely operating capital for a bigger criminal plan. Never to fear, Clouseau is here! The bumbling detective sets out on a clumsy crusade to catch the crooks. But the case takes a riotous twist when Clouseau’s “face” is seen masquerading from Swiss bank to Swiss bank for the heist of the century. Will Clouseau manage to save the day, or will the case of mistaken identity end his crime fighting forever?

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Inspector Clouseau 4.0

eyelights: the office scene. Ken Thorpe’s score.
eyesores: Alan Arkin’s performance. the weak script. the plot contrivances. the lame humour.

“There’s a time for laughing and there’s a time for not laughing – and this is not one of them!” – Inspector Clouseau

Exactly.

Following the tremendous success of the ‘The Pink Panther‘ and ‘A Shot in the Dark‘, producer Walter Mirisch naturally wanted more of Inspector Clouseau. Unfortunately for him, Peter Sellers wasn’t interested in returning to the role, no doubt partly due to the disintegration of his working relationship with director Blake Edwards.

What was Mirisch to do? After many years trying to convince Sellers and Edwards to return, he decided to go ahead without them. By 1968, the pair had buried the hatchet and they (along with series composer Henry Mancini) were busy making ‘The Party‘. Mirish replaced them with Alan Arkin as Clouseau, director Bud Yorkin and composer Ken Thorne.

And so it was that ‘Inspector Clouseau’ was produced. And swiftly ignored.

I first stumbled upon the picture some 15 years ago, as I was exploring Peter Sellers’ output and, by extension, the whole of the Pink Panther series. As I was browsing in a local store called Music World, I was incredibly surprised to stumble upon ‘Inspector Clouseau’. I, like probably most of the world, had no idea that this film existed. It’s like it never did.

Naturally, I bought it right away: it was the only copy I had ever seen, and I imagined that it would be a challenge finding another (in fact, it would be the only copy I would ever find). I made a point of watching it soon thereafter, so eager was I to see an Inspector Clouseau adventure that I had not yet seen – the only one by that point, actually.

It was a load of rubbish.

I remember sitting there stunned at how unfunny the damned thing was. It started okay, with an animated opening credit sequence by DePatie Freleng, featuring the Inspector Clouseau cartoon we all know (as opposed to the one in ‘A Shot in the Dark’. It wasn’t brilliant, but at least it was reminiscent of the original films in the series. But that’s where the similarities ended.

Our first look at the new Inspector Clouseau is as he’s debarking a plane in London, on loan to Great Britain. Clouseau gets off the plane without his shoes on. In the rain. Then he tries to get back on to get them back. Hilarity never ensues: the physical comedy and timing are unbelievably poor. And it’s silent; there’s no music to sustain or enhance the material.

This set the tone for the entire picture.

Next thing we know, he insists on getting through customs like any other person, despite the protests of the Scotland Yard representatives who came to pick him up – because he’s undercover, you see. And so he takes out his passport and… drops two grenades and a few other weapons from out of this pocket. Right in front of the customs agent. Because all cops carry grenades.

Le sigh…

The plot is as follows: The young and vain evil mastermind Johnny Rainbow teams up with Frenchie LeBec’s gang for a robbery at 13 banks in 13 countries, using masks of Inspector Clouseau to conceal their identities – with, um, the plan of setting him up for these robberies. Then they take the money from all the banks and hide it in Lindt chocolate bar wrapping.

It’s a piss-poor plan to say the least, because Clouseau can’t be in thirteen places at once, thereby letting him off the hook. But it’s even worse because Johnny Rainbow, in a Clouseau mask, convinces the heads of all 13 banks to just let him take the money to prevent the “real” robbers from getting to it. And they passively let him, no questions asked.

It just doesn’t make any sense.

It would be tolerable if only the humour was of such quality that it allowed us to laugh our way through it, but it’s bloody horrible, beginning with bad ideas that are then further hampered by poor staging and performances. For example, Clouseau crashes through crates of chickens, but the chickens are thrown at him from the sides. Um… where are they coming from?

There’s another such scene when he’s at a fair, participating in the activities, and Frenchie LeBec is attempting to shoot him. Firstly, LeBec positions himself high up on a walkway along the wall, in plain sight of everyone (which is !@#$ stupid when he could have hid anywhere) and then Clouseau accidentally shoots him first – even though he’s not even at the same height or angle.

This same sequence takes him to his British counterpart’s house for dinner. There he meets the spouse, who is immediately enamoured with him. The gag is this: she is supposed to be utterly unappealing, not just to Clouseau but to her own husband! And so when, later in the evening, she tries to seduce Clouseau, it’s supposed to be funny that he can’t escape such an “unsavoury” character.

Firstly, she may not be particularly attractive, but she’s not at all revolting. She’s just homely and more… um.. mature. Secondly, I find it offensive that the humour is conditional on a person’s unattractiveness. Thirdly, I find Clouseau’s behaviour quite rude in this case: instead of politely declining and being firm, he treats her like she’s a big turd on his shoe. That is not funny.

In any case that whole stretch (from the dinner to the fair to the seduction scene) dragged on endlessly; it was unfunny, and far too lengthy. It’s a real low point in the picture. One of many, sadly enough.

There only a few times that I actually laughed in the whole damned movie:

  • When Clouseau first arrives in Britain, he goes to discuss the case with Sir Charles, head of Scotland Yard. What they did there was to move Clouseau and Sir Charles around the room consistently, so that there would always be something in their line of sight or so that Sir Charles would lose track of Clouseau’s whereabouts. Yes, in an office. It’s a coordinated effort, and it actually works. The lines are good and the physical stuff is not bad at all. It’s an extension of the hallway routine in ‘A Shot in the Dark’ – but in multiple takes, so it’s not as clever. Sadly, the first time I saw it, it was on VHS, so the picture was cropped to fit the television, thereby ruining the scene: half the time, the jokes were off-screen. And this was then the only thing I found remotely funny in the whole picture.
  • There is a briefing that Superintendent Weaver gives to Clouseau, showing him a vast array of gadgets at his disposal. Most of them are really lame and the jokes are total misfires, but I liked when he showed him a portable tape recorder, coaxing him to talk into it. At first, Clouseau is too timid and won’t be prompted, but after a while he gives in and he starts singing into it. What’s funny about it is just how passionate he gets, holding on to Weaver’s arm so that he can reach the recorder, and refusing to let go until he’s done. It’s just so absurd. I didn’t really find this super funny in the past, but it grew on me. Probably out of necessity.
  • When Clouseau goes to the prison to interrogate a criminal that Scotland Yard has their eye on (and whom he will accidentally let escape), he goes to mumble something to the police officer who’s guarding the man. What’s funny is the way that Arkin mumbled, because he made it obvious that it was gibberish – and yet the police officer nods and walks away, as though on a mission. The performance was the gag. (And, yes, that’s it. That’s all there is to it.)
  • Clouseau at one point is stopped along the road by a lovely girl whose car is broken (she would later chloroform him and make a mask of his face with the help of her accomplices). Ever-so-confident, he tries to fix her car, during which a small explosion of smoke blows out of the engine. The girl asks him if he fixed her car, and he tells her it’s completely ruined. What’s funny is the nonchalance with which he tells her, as though it were of no importance whatsoever, accepting no responsibility for his blunder.

Yep. Those are the four times I laughed. We’re mining comedy gold here!

The primary issue is Alan Arkin’s take on Inspector Clouseau: he’s shifty, moody, and he shouts a lot. A LOT. He thinks that louder is funnier, and proves without a shadow of a doubt that this is not the case. Secondly, Arkin is bloody terrible at slapstick. Frankly, it’s pathetic to watch, maybe even embarrassing: he has no timing, doesn’t have the physicality for it. He doesn’t succeed once.

Look, Sellers’ Clouseau would be accident prone, but he’s not entirely a loser. This version of Clouseau is wimpy, pathetic, and has no dignity whatsoever – a key component to making him funny. Sellers’ version was great because he was confident, maybe even arrogant, and he would take each mistake in stride, using his limited intellect to the maximum of his ability. Which isn’t much.

Of course, were the material solid and the staging efficient, then Arkin’s performance might have been saved. But everything conspired to make him look as inept as he was.

The only good thing to report about ‘Inspector Clouseau’ is that Ken Thorne’s score isn’t bad, really. In fact, it’s by far the best part of the picture. There is even a theme that is not far from some of Mancini’s work on the series, that is reminiscent of music we’d hear playing around Clouseau. Not bad. As for the rest, it’s very ’60s, a bit jazzy, but it’s okay anyway.

‘Inspector Clouseau’ is one of the very worst of the whole Pink Panther series. It’s hard to imagine, but it actually does get worse – notably when Clouseau is taken out of the picture. But a film with Inspector Clouseau shouldn’t be this unfunny, so painful to watch: he’s a terrific character when played properly. But, as we’ve discovered, only Peter Sellers truly knew how.

Date of viewing: September 25, 2014

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One response to “Inspector Clouseau

  1. “It started okay, with an animated opening credit sequence by DePatie Freleng, featuring the Inspector Clouseau cartoon we all know (as opposed to the one in ‘A Shot in the Dark’.”

    I made a mistake: this Inspector is the same one as in the early ‘Pink Panther cartoons and is the star of ‘The Inspector’ cartoons. But the character was remodeled upon Peter Sellers’ return to the series with ‘The Return of the Pink panther’.

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