Trail of the Pink Panther

Trail of the Pink PantherSynopsis: Inspector Clouseau, the lovable buffoon with a knack for mispronunciation, is MIA! The terrifically talented Peter Sellers “induces gales of tonic laughter” (The Hollywood Reporter) in this wild adventure co-starring the full Panther ensemble cast, including David Niven, Herbert Lom, Burt Kwouk and Capucine, along with newcomers Joanna Lumley, Richard Mulligan and Harvey Korman.

The Pink Panther diamond goes missing – and then en route to the scene of the crime, Clouseau’s plane goes missing! A sleuthing reporter (Lumley) is assigned to memorialize the fabled detective, but in the process, she comes up against some strange behavior from a delirious Dreyfus (Lom) as well as Clouseau’s duplicitous ex-wife (Capucine), his lusty father (Mulligan) and The Phantom (Niven)!

This film was made after Peter Sellers’ death, with all his scenes in film consisting of outtakes and deleted footage from other Pink Panther films.

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Trail of the Pink Panther 6.75

eyelights: the outtakes. Joanna Lumley. Herbert Lom. the returning cast.
eyesores: the lack of music. the lackluster comedy of many of the new segments.

“To Peter . . . the one and only Inspector Clouseau.”

‘Trail of the Pink Panther’ is the last of the original Pink Panther series to star Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau. Sellers had passed away two years prior to this film’s release, but writer-director Blake Edwards decided to try continuing the series by bridging outtakes and series highlights together with new footage – which he shot concurrently with its follow-up, ‘Curse of the Pink Panther’, featuring a new lead.

Upon its release in 1982, ‘Trail of the Pink Panther’ was promoted as a tribute to Peter Sellers.

Whether this was truly heartfelt or merely a cynical marketing ploy, audiences and critics alike didn’t buy it: the film flopped dramatically, landing a mere 9 million dollars at the box office, paling in comparison to all but the non-Edwards/Sellers film, ‘Inspector Clouseau‘. To make matters worse, Sellers’ then-wife, Lynne Frederick successfully sued the producers and studio for tarnishing Sellers’ name by making this film.

It was the beginning of the end for the original Pink Panther franchise.

Interestingly enough, it’s through this film that I first became aware of the series. I was nine years old, going on ten when it came out. I vividly remember standing outside the Elgin Theatre one cold evening, looking at the poster with my mom and wondering why this so-called “Pink Panther” movie had real actors in it and didn’t revolve around the iconic Pink Panther cartoon character. I was confused but intrigued enough that we saw it within days.

It was the funniest thing I had ever seen in my short life! I just squealed with laughter from the opening cartoon credits to the closing credits – which featured a highlights reel from the series. I even seem to remember drawing a lot of attention from the adults in the audience due to my cacophonous presence in the front seats. The next day, and for years afterwards, I recounted every single gag to all my friends at school.

It would be years before I saw any of the other Pink Panther films, so ‘Trail of the Pink Panther’ remained an all-time favourite of mine for a long, long time.

Sadly, it’s no longer the case. The fact is that ‘Trail of the Pink Panther’ is and feels like an outtakes and highlights reel. There’s no two ways about it. Granted, Edwards has skillfully put together a whole motion picture out of remains, out of bits and pieces, and for this he must be commended. But it doesn’t change the fact that the end result doesn’t feel fully fleshed out. In particular, it lacks the spark that made the prior ones great.

Part of the reason must be due to the fact that Sellers was not at all involved in the creative process. Although he and Edwards had a notoriously tense working relationship, they seemed to get the best out of each other. Without Sellers around to bounce off of (even if he was infuriating much of the time), Edwards seems to have lost his touch for comedy: the dialogues aren’t as rich and the physical humour is poorly executed.

But the film still has plenty of deliriously funny moments:

  • The opening credits, once again made by DePatie-Freleng, are better than some of the others, settling right down the middle. I remember LOVING them as a kid, especially the low-brow gag of The Inspector “whizzing” some of the credits on screen.
  • Inspector Clouseau’s costume fitting at Balls’ costume shop is still remarkably funny. Although it’s discrepant because it was intended to introduce us to a costume Clouseau used in ‘The Pink Panther Strikes Again‘, the exchanges between he and the clerks is droll. And his insult of Ms. Balls’ nose is moronic but priceless – especially her reaction.
  • There are two bits with Clouseau setting fire to his office: the first, while trying to light a pipe, and the other while lighting a cigar. It’s very silly stuff, but there are touches that raise the scenes a couple of notches, such as François continuing to work through the sprinklers – as though he’s so used to this sort of thing that he just shrugs it off now.
  • There’s an extended version of the sequence in ‘The Pink Panther Strikes Again’ when Clouseau comes home with a leaking grocery bag and makes a fool of himself in front of his stuffy neighbour. This one starts as he leaves the grocery store, gets attacked by a dog, and then struggles with the lift door with spectacular ineptitude.
  • Clouseau goes to London in disguise, which consists of a leg cast and bandages on his face. No one can recognize him, but he attracts a lot of attention when he decides to go to the bathroom, only to get stuck. Naturally, I found this much funnier when I was a wee lad, but I still like the ridiculous side of it to this day.
  • When he gets off the plane in London, after tumbling down the airstairs, Clouseau pretends to be André Botot, mustard salesman from Dijon, even though his face is now uncovered. What’s funny is how he winks conspiratorially to the Scotland Yard police officer sent to meet him, as though no one but the two of them could know about his ploy. Too funny. He’s a total idiot.
  • Due to his pronounced accent (a running gag in the series because it brings about much confusion), Clouseau bewilders a hotel clerk when he asks him if he has received any messages. What the clerk understands is that Clouseau is looking to get a massage, and he discreetly refers him to a place nearby – from which a heated and silly exchange ensues.
  • Still, in the same hotel, Clouseau goes to his room where a call from Dreyfus is being patched in. But the phone is right next to an open window and the maid slams right by, launching Clouseau half a floor down. He climbs back up, but is ejected again, only to land on the floor below. Unfortunately for him, the maid has that floor to do, too… I still find this gag funny. Silly, but funny.

Interestingly, to make a movie out of outtakes, Edwards cobbled together a simple story: Once again, the Pink Panther diamond is stolen, and he is asked to investigate by the government of Lugash. As he travels from France to Britain to Lugash, humourous incidents happen. But there are forces who don’t want him to succeed and, finally, his plane never arrives in Lugash. No one knows what has happened to Clouseau.

From that point onward, at approximately the halfway mark, the film changes tack and follows a television journalist (played to great effect by Joanna Lumley) as she investigates the case, trying to find clues to Clouseau’s whereabouts. She naturally interviews everyone who has known him through the years, giving them the perfect opportunity to reminisce – showing us highlights of the series in the process.

In so doing we also get to explore Clouseau’s origins: his home life, early dreams of being a police officer, his work for the French Resistance, …etc., and we eventually meet his dad, now an aged vigneron (interestingly, Richard Mulligan, who plays Clouseau’s father, was one of the cast of ‘Soap’ – from which Ted Wass, star of ‘Curse of the Pink Panther’ stems. He also starred in Blake Edwards’ ‘S.O.B.‘).

This latter part of the picture isn’t especially clever, but it did affect me a great deal when I first saw it: from baby Clouseau’s record-breaking kidneys, to the Wile E Coyote-esque bridge explosion, to the winery that employs beautiful -and deliciously naked- young women to crush the grapes, and finally to the introduction of Nana, the Clouseaus’ maid – a blind and decrepit hag who needs guidance from their dog.

As much as I liked it back then, the problem with the sequence now is that Mulligan doesn’t do physical comedy especially well. And given that he’s supposed to be the vine from which Jacques has pratfalled, you’d half expect at least a moderate amount of skill from the performer so that the characters may appear related. Alas, Mulligan is clunky and incapable of delivering any of his scenes convincingly.

This further reminds us of how precious Peter Sellers was to the series – when in top form. Alan Arkin proved that he was near-impossible to replace, but even other characters are weak without Sellers’ performance to coalesce their efforts; without him, the films are mostly amusing, but never truly hilarious (one notable exception being many of Herbert Lom’s scenes as Dreyfus – the only other gems in the series).

And, almost to hammer this point across, to remind us just how much Sellers is missed, the film ends with a Clouseau highlights reel during the end credits. Honestly, it’s hilarious enough that it was one of the parts of the film that I liked best when I first saw it. Unfortunately, I had no idea that they were taken from other films – otherwise I would have sought them out much sooner.

Because, in the end, although I’ve seen each of the Edwards/Sellers Pink Panther films far too often -to the point that they’ve lost some of their lustre, they remain some of my favourite comedies. And it’s mostly because of them that I’ve become a fan of Peter Sellers, one of my all-time favourite actors. With these Pink pictures he created the perfect vehicle for his brand of lunacy. And he will never be forgotten.

Or replaced.

As Charles Phantom, the notorious Pink Lytton says, “Men like Clouseau never die. They’re indestructible. And that’s the way it should be.”

Date of viewing: November 6, 2014

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