Synopsis: Peter Sellers is “in top form” (Cue) in this zany adventure that finds the accident-prone Inspector Clouseau using some of his most outlandish disguises ever. With “ferociously funny karate encounters” (Time) with the enigmatic Cato (Burt Kwouk) and dangerous intrigue with a sexy Russian spy (Lesley-Anne Down), this hysterical comedy will strike your funny bone!
Driven over the edge by the maddeningly incompetent Clouseau, former Chief Inspector Dreyfus (Herbert Lom) commandeers a doomsday device and threatens to destroy the world. His only demand? Clouseau’s death! But thanks to his nemesis’ dumb luck, the assassins hired to kill him can’t seem to finish the job – although Clouseau may do it himself by tripping over his own two feet!
eyelights: Peter Sellers. Herbert Lom. the dialogues. the gags. Henry Mancini’s score
eyesores: the Queen of Hearts segment.
“Now then, what do we know? One, that Professor Fassbinder and his daughter have been kidnapped. Two, that someone has kidnapped them. Three, that my hand is on fire.”
After the tremendous success of ‘The Return of the Pink Panther‘ in 1975, the filmmakers pounced: they moved right away to bring a new movie to the silver screen. Writer-Director Blake Edwards, who had initially been developing scripts for a Pink Panther television series before making ‘Return’, already had material to work with.
From this was born 1976’s ‘The Pink Panther Strikes Again’, perhaps the best entry of the series. For the only time in the series, it provided a direct sequel to its predecessor by following-up on the events that took place in ‘Return’; it was a natural extension. Unsurprisingly, it was also a massive success.
I spoke at length of my appreciation for Peter Sellers’ performance as Inspector Clouseau in my previous blurb on ‘The Pink Panther Strikes Again’ way back in 2010, but I never discussed the film itself, which remains one of my all-time favourites – even though I’ve thoroughly over-watched it at this point in my life.
‘Strikes Again’ begins by taking us to a sanitorium, where Chief Inspector Dreyfus has been interned since losing his marbles in ‘Return’ and repeatedly tried to murder Clouseau. Here he escapes the asylum and conceives of a plan to hold the world ransom: Clouseau’s death against untold destruction via his Doomsday Machine.
The picture is full of unforgettable moments:
- The opening with Dreyfus and his psychiatrist: Initially back to health, and on the verge of being released, Dreyfus and the doctor have some delicious exchanges. Then comes his visit from Inspector Clouseau, whose intention is to wish Dreyfus luck and speak on his behalf at the board. That visit doesn’t go well, and Dreyfus is driven mad again.
The dialogues peppered with subtle put-downs and winks at the audiences, the ridiculous pratfalling routines between Sellers and Lom, even the silly sexual innuendo when Clouseau tries to revive Drefus after fishing him out of the river, are a laugh a minute. It’s an amazing way to start the picture; you can barely do better or ask for more.
- The opening credits, which (as with ‘Return’) were by Richard Williams instead of DePatie-Freleng, the originators of the Pink Panther cartoons, are genius – they’re the best ever. This time they have a setting for the duel between the Pink Panther and Inspector Clouseau: a cinema, where PP spends the credits spoofing a bunch of film classics – to Henry Mancini’s superb score.
- When Clouseau returns home, embarrasses himself in front of his neighbour then proceeds to hunt down Cato, thereby trashing his place. It’s a funny routine to start with, but it’s enhanced by Dreyfus watching the two from the apartment below, using a small periscope. Not only do we get some physical gags, but also a Dreyfus-cam!
And then there’s that classic moment when Clouseau and Cato are looking for each other, but inadvertently rotate around each other with their backs turned, only to surprise each other in the end. The choreography of that sequence was pure bliss to watch, plus which it’s utter silliness. It’s what Sellers and Edwards did best together.
- When Sellers discusses the case with François and his chair locks as he leans back. It could only happen to him, naturally, but what’s really funny is how brusquely he uses François’ tie to restore his balance. Clouseau has absolutely no shame and no concern for anyone but himself. Too much!
- Clouseau’s inspection of the Fassbinder residence and his subsequent interrogation of its staff is genius. This lengthy scene gives us an improved amalgam of the opening and closing sequences of ‘A Shot in the Dark‘, with Clouseau first irritating the butler with his questions and ego, and then proving his foolishness and cluelessness.
Who wouldn’t laugh at the absurdity of Clouseau insisting on going into a dark room to the butler’s protests, only to ask “Is there anybody hiding there in the dark?”. What an utter moron! Or watching him hide his pain when he crushes his hand -but not his pride- against a punching bag? Or when he takes a tumble down the stairs and tries to mask it?
And how about his inept interrogation, in which he mixes up everyone’s names, confuses the facts and is just generally confused – to the extent that he ends up with a armored glove and mace stuck on his hand. And proceeds to destroying a priceless piano, knocking out a staff member and shooting the Scotland Yard Superintendent in the process.
- The Oktoberfest sequence, in which various governments send their top assassins to kill off Clouseau, is pretty much an upgrade of the Clouseau-Gambrelli dinner sequence at the end of ‘A Shot in the Dark’, but with more characters involved, a variety of threats and all sorts of gadgets. It’s quite amusing stuff, especially the bathroom routine.
- There’s also a bedroom routine between Clouseau and Olga, the Russian assassin, in which he is completely unaware that she is there and they do a silent choreography around the hotel room until he gets to bed to find her there. Again, this is exactly the kind of stuff that Sellers and Edwards did so well, when their collaboration was strongest.
- And who could forget Clouseau asking the hotel clerk if his dog bites, and being attacked by the dog he bends down to pet – only to be told by the clerk: “That, is not my dog!”. Classic. Ridiculous, but unforgettable stuff!
The material would be wasted if the performances didn’t sustain them. Sellers is brilliant, obviously, but one can’t forget just how equal Herbert Lom is as Dreyfus. His comic talents are quite understated: he spun every line exactly right, threw in the perfect tics, and delightfully chewed the scenery. Without his performance, Sellers would not have had such a strong counterpoint.
But all of this would be for naught if not for Henry Mancini’s score. People forget just how large of a part music plays in the creation of motion pictures, and the Pink Panther films are testimony to that. From the iconic main theme to the whimsy of his newly-recorded “The Inspector Clouseau Theme”, he adds layers of comedy to every scene. Genius stuff.
The only things that really takes away from the picture are, for starters, the first Queen of Hearts segment, which slows the proceedings down (it also always leaves me feeling uncomfortable for some reason). There’s also the castle set, which looks cheap inside and out, and the ending, which doesn’t make any sense (and which gets rid of Clouseau’s nemesis permanently).
All things considered, though, ‘The Pink Panther Strikes Again’ is a pretty phenomenal motion picture. There was a time when I hadn’t yet overindulged and it would have rated MUCH more highly, if one can imagine that. These days, I know every moment, every beat almost by heart, so it’s not nearly as funny to me anymore. But it’s still one of the greats.
If one were to watch only one Pink Panther movie, this or ‘A Shot in the Dark’ are the best way to go – no doubt about it.
Date of viewing: October 16, 2014