Director Blake Edwards ignites a powder keg of laughter in this “delightful” (Boxoffice) caper involving a most inefficient search for France’s most inept detective – using the bluntest instruments possible! Featuring David Niven (in his final screen performance), Robert Wagner, Herbert Lom, Ted Wass, and a hilarious cameo by Roger Moore, Curse of the Pink Panther overflows with “unadulterated fun” and “naughtiness” (Los Angeles Times)!
With Clouseau still missing, the French president orders Clouseau’s archrival – the dangerously deranged Dreyfus (Lom) – to find him. Having no such intentions, Dreyfus ingeniously hires the world’s worst detective, New York Police Department’s not-so-finest Clifton Sleigh (Wass), to ensure that Clouseau is never located. But it’s beginning to look like his foolproof plan could end up making him look like the fool!
eyelights: the returning series cast. the special guest star.
eyesores: Ted Wass. the gags. the script. the direction. the production. the score.
“I am in agony.”
What do you do when the star of your long-running series passes away, especially when the character he/she plays is so intimately associated with it? What if the commercial success of your film-making career hinges almost entirely on this series? Well, you can call it a night. Or you can spin-off or reboot the series.
This is the dilemma faced by Blake Edwards when Peter Sellers died in 1980. Although he had a small career revival at the time, much of it was due to his close association with the Pink Panther series, which had injected new life into it with ‘The Return of the Pink Panther‘. What could he do without the world’s one and only Inspector Clouseau?
Well, he started by releasing the tribute picture ‘Trail of the Pink Panther‘, composed of a large amount of Peter Sellers outtakes and highlights from the series. But he also planned to continue the series with a new protagonist and concurrently filmed another film while making ‘Trail’. This new film? ‘Curse of the Pink Panther’.
‘Curse’ would follow where ‘Trail’ left off, introducing a new bumbling detective who is charged with finding Jacques Clouseau’, who is deemed missing in action, not deceased. Based on criteria programmed by Chief Inspector Dreyfus, Interpol’s super computer found the world’s most (in)capable detective, Sergeant Clifton Sleigh.
Edwards had intended Dudley Moore to play the part, but Moore turned it down because of the success of ‘Arthur’ (a nod to this comes up when we first meet Sleigh, as a drunken tuxedoed Brit hits on him). Moore didn’t want to commit to a lengthy series at the time. Edwards’ second choice was Rowan Atkinson, but he was turned down by the studio.
John Ritter, who was on a hot streak with ‘Three’s Company’ at the time, and was known for his skilled pratfalls, was then considered. But somehow Edwards decided on Ted Wass (Edwards would work with Ritter later, on ‘Skin Deep’). At the time, Wass was known to American audiences for his role of Danny Dallas in ‘Soap’, a controversial but popular show.
Frankly, Edwards couldn’t possibly have made a worse decision: Wass is so thoroughly inept at Sleigh is beyond belief. Not only is he incapable of doing physical comedy, but his on-screen personal is drab, like cardboard. He comes off like a bland cross of Kyle MacLachlan and Christopher Reeve’s Clark Kent with touches of Ritter’s Jack Tripper.
It may sound good on paper, but Wass is so unbelievably weak that there’s no saving the part.
Some his sequences are so painfully unfunny, that the other actors simply sit there in stunned silence, like an audience watching a bad stand-up comedian. The most uncomfortable of them all is when Sleigh meets with the Lyttons: David Niven, Capucine and Robert Wagner had seen Sellers at work, stealing the picture from them. Wass is no Sellers.
Then there are the grossly incompetent sequences, like when Sleigh uses a blow-up doll to give himself coverage in public (a scene that is only barely made tolerable by Graham Stark’s presence), or when he wiggles wildly while doing some paragliding, as though he were uncontrollably nervous. Wass is utterly cringe-worthy in those moments.
The material is obviously no better: Wass is also hampered by the worst Pink Panther script of the original series (i.e. not accounting for Steve Martin’s reboots). The basic premise is actually quite good, not unlike ‘La Chèvre‘, but the dialogues and the gags are so pathetically unfunny and trite that not even Sellers could have made gold of them.
The script was co-written by Edwards with his son, Geoffrey, who is credited for three of his father’s least successful pictures, and whose only “success” is as co-writer on a BMX movie called ‘Rad’. Of course, Edwards was really not at his best here: the comedy is staged in the most unsubtle and unrealistic ways imaginable from start to finish.
It doesn’t help that Henry Mancini pretty much bailed on the picture. As a key component of the series, providing it with a number of droll themes that lift the humour and the overall tone of the picture, his absence is felt even when you’re not conscious of it. Oh, he’s credited as the film’s composer, but most of the picture has little music.
And what little there is, is surprisingly poor – including the theme music.
*MAJOR spoiler alert*
For me, there are only a handful of funny moments inthe whole picture:
Um… even if the notion of Clouseau becoming a criminal and getting plastic surgery is moronic and totally out of character.
And that’s all I can muster in the whole 110 minutes. Honest. It’s that bad.
*MAJOR spoiler alert*
Honestly, it feels as though Edwards was desperately trying to sustain the series by milking all he could from Peter Sellers’ Clouseau. From the poor stand-ins impersonating Clouseau, to the awful-looking Clouseau museum, to giving Clouseau a facelift so that someone other than Sellers could play him, it’s a sad sight to see.
And let’s face it: ‘Curse of the Pink Panther’ mostly consists of taking Sleigh on a connect-the-dots adventure to all the most notable sets and characters in the Pink Panther series – all in the name of doing an investigation. Basically, he’s hoping to press audiences’ nostalgia button and get them involved in this way. But it doesn’t work one bit.
With stronger material and a surer hand, perhaps Edwards would have been able to pull it off: audiences aren’t that fickle when it comes to their most beloved icons; they love to revisit their old memories far more than to create new ones. With a stronger lead actor, he might even have gotten them attached to a new bumbling policeman.
Unfortunately, the series was cursed. It never recovered after the death of Peter Sellers.
Date of viewing: October 25, 2014