The Inspector, vol. 2

The InspectorSynopsis: It’s wit, intrigue and oops-la-la as The Inspector ardently sets out to solve Paris’ most puzzling crime mysteries, accompanied by his sauvy Spanish sidekick, Sergeant Deux-Deux. In this volume, the fumbling flatfoot chases an opera-loving ape, competes with a robot and springs himself out of prison, only to find himself back inside – as well as in many more outlandish predicaments you’ll laugh at again and again!

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The Inspector, vol. 2 6.75

eyelights: the diversity of the plots. the cleverness of some gags.
eyesores: the simple-mindedness of some of the gags. the interpretation of Clouseau.

‘The Inspector’ is a spin-off of the Pink Panther cartoons that DePatie-Freleng released in the ’60s. For many years, long before the incessant trivialities and adverts that we get in cinemas today, shorts such as these were released as opening numbers before the main features.

They were extremely successful: “The Pink Phink”, the first Pink Panther short, won an Academy Award in 1964, while “The Great De Gaulle Stone Operation”, the first ‘The Inspector’ cartoon, got the prestigious opening slot for ‘Thunderball’, the James Bond series’ biggest blockbuster.

34 shorts of ‘The Inspector’ were produced from December 1965 to May 1969, by which point the series found itself included as part of the line-up of the animated television series ‘The Pink Panther Show’, a half-hour show which consisted of the Depatie-Freleng short films.

I honestly don’t remember if I’ve seen these cartoons in syndication during the eighties, but some of them are familiar to me for some reason. I know that I’ve seen the first short because it’s included in ‘The Pink Panther Film Collection’, but the others I’m not so sure.

Sadly, these shorts are hard to find. While the first 17 are available in a home video series called ‘Pink Panther Classic Cartoon Collection: The Inspector’, the other 17 aren’t. At least not in North America. They were all released as part of the out-of-print ‘Pink Panther Ultimate Collection’, however.

The reason that I decided to write up ‘The Inspector’ instead of the ‘Pink Panther’ cartoons, is because I actually don’t like the ‘Pink Panther’ cartoons. I wanted to like them. I even had the ‘Pink Panther Classic Cartoon Collection’ boxed set, which had them all. I found most of them terribly unfunny.

When I tried to find the ghastly Steve Martin reboot of ‘The Pink Panther’ at my local library a quick search found ‘The Inspector’ instead. I immediately requested it, deciding that it would be the perfect thing to fill up the last day of my month-long Pink Panther set of blurbs.

Unfortunately, although I was second on the wait list, the library took its sweet time getting the disc to me. So I sought it out elsewhere. That’s when I discovered that there were 34 shorts, not just 17: I had inadvertently gotten my hands on a European edition of volume two of the series.

Whereas only select discs of the “Ultimate” set were released individually in North America, they released both discs of ‘The Inspector’ in Europe. They even released a three-pack that included both as well as the ‘The Ant and The Aardvark’ disc. But, for reasons unknown, we can’t get that either here.

I didn’t realize any of this until well after having watched the shorts, mind you. And, as of this writing, I have yet to received the first volume of ‘The Inspector’. I tried to find it elsewhere so that I could review the whole series, but alas… it was a lost cause. Still, here’s a small taste of what it’s like.

The titular hero of ‘The Inspector’ is based on Inspector Clouseau. It is the same cartoon character as in the opening credits of ‘Inspector Clouseau‘, featuring Alan Arkin. He is never referred to as Clouseau, but his physical appearance is similar to the way Sellers incarnated him in ‘A Shot in the Dark‘.

In fact, the music from ‘The Inspector’ is an adaptation of the theme to ‘A Shot in the Dark’. Later in the series, some of Henry Mancini’s other compositions from the Pink Panther series were also used as incidental music. I couldn’t tell if they were just lifted from the films or re-recorded.

What’s interesting is that The Inspector is noticeably different from the Sellers incarnation: he’s less prone to slapstick, for one. He’s more like the Clouseau of the first picture, (given that these cartoon shorts were made based on only two films featuring Clouseau it’s hardly surprising).

So it’s not Clouseau the way that we’ve come to imagine him. He’s not even always the butt-end of the jokes – something I quite enjoyed, actually. Heck, even his accent (he was voiced by Pat Harrington, Jr., not Sellers) is noticeably different –  and he doesn’t even mispronounce words like Clouseau does.

As mentioned earlier, the animation is by Depatie-Freleng. The style  is reminiscent of the Pink Panther ones: A bit on the gritty side, relatively simple, but pleasing to the eye. It’s actually not bad at all; it was probably average for the time, and sensibly better than the average television animation.

Here are the episodes, in chronological order:

18. Le Cop on le Rocks: The Inspector crosses paths with his doppelgänger, who is coming out of a bank he just robbed. The Inspector gets confused with the criminal, so he gets arrested and thrown in jail. No one believes that he is who he says he is, so he tries to escape. The gags are simple-minded, but amusing in a Looney Tunes way. 7.0

19. Le Escape Goat: The Inspector lets Louie le Finke escape. He is suspended, so he tries to recapture Le Finke. Thinking that Le Finke will go after the Commissioner, he decides to shadow and protect him. Unfortunately for him, every time he foils Le Finke’s plans, the Commissioner gets dinged – and blames the Inspector. Naturellement. 7.0

20. Crow de Guerre: The Inspector tries to catch a jewel thief only to discover that it was a crow all along. He tries to capture the crow by plane and by hot-air balloon. Then he finds his nest atop a phone pole, but can’t seem to get him down. 6.75

21. Canadian Can-Can: The Inspector is sent on a police student exchange with Canada, and is assigned to catch Two-Faced Harry. What’s funny are the stereotypes that the animators had of Canadians: our hero wears an RCMP uniform (because there aren’t regular cops in Canada), and it takes place in a frontier town, complete with log cabins (because Canada is 200 years behind the rest of the world). Anyway, Two-Face has two back-to-back faces – one good, one evil. In the end, The Inspector gets the help from the animator, just like Daffy did in ‘Duck Amuck’ – 15 years prior. 7.0

22. Tour de Farce: The Inspector is charged with delivering Mack la Truck to an island prison. However, he takes him to a deserted island instead by mistake, where he’s at La Truck’s mercy. Eventually, the tables turn. 7.0

23. The Shooting of Caribou Lou: The Inspector decides to spend his vacation in Canada. For some reason, he works with the RCMP during this “vacation”, is kidnapped by Caribou Lou and kept in wood cabin, doing chores. The bulk of the episode is about The Inspector trying to outsmart his captor. 7.0

24. London Derriere: The Inspector chases Louie la Swine across Paris, Venice, and eventually London. Foiling his plans is a Scotland Yard Captain who stops him each time he tries to use his gun (British cops typically didn’t carry guns at the time). It’s a repetitious episode and it even steals a gag from one of the earlier shorts. 6.5

25. Les Miserobots: The Inspector is trying to capture Louie le Louse, but his job is taken over by a robot police officer. So he does everything he can to railroad the robot and get his job back. 6.75

26. Transylvania Mania: The Inspector is sent to investigate an evil scientist making monsters without a license (ha!). But the scientist and his underling want to take his brain for use in their most recent creation – so he tries to escape them. It’s an amusing setting, but it’s not a particularly clever episode. 6.75

27. Bear de Guerre: The Inspector goes quail hunting and crosses paths with a temperamental bear. The episode is basically a cross of a ‘The Yogi Bear Show’ episode and the Bug and Elmer shorts – he even puts Acme quail seed out to catch his prey. It’s not great: even the character designs suck. 6.0

28. Cherche le Phantom: The Inspector and his Spanish sidekick Deux-Deux (which means “Two-Two”, or could mean “twenty-two”, but is pronounced “doodoo”) are given two possible assignments by the Commissioner. He takes on finding a phantom creature at the Opera house. It’s probably the episode that I’ve seen the most. It’s okay. 6.5

29. Le Great Dane Robbery: The Inspector was about to go on holiday, but is asked to infiltrate the Danish embassy to find a code book. In a cliché turn, he has to contend with a big Great Dane just outside the embassy. Most of the gags are predictably Looney Tunes-esque. Yawn. 5.0

30. Le Ball and Chain Gang: The Inspector is trying to catch a husband and wife crime duo. Interestingly, most of the focus is on the banter between the pair, as though this were a bad sitcom – they’re always on each other’s case. Frankly, I wonder who the target audience for this was. Unfortunately, it’s not especially funny, and the punchline is lame as heck. 6.0

31. La Feet’s Defeat: Muddy le Feet escapes and The Inspector and Deux-Deux are sent to catch him. The gags aren’t great, but the twist is that he gives Deux-Deux chances to prove himself – so Deux-Deux is the one who keeps getting his @$$ kicked, not the Inspector. 6.5

32. French Freud: The Inspector is beginning to think that he is accident prone, so he goes to see a psychiatrist, only to discover that jewel thieves are after him because he’s hiding a priceless jewel. It turns into a duel of wits between the cop and the robbers. 6.5

33. Pierre and the Cottage Cheese: Dirty Pierre le Punk has escaped and The Inspector is sent out to bring him back. In a weird twist, he is paired up with a robot cop who is a caricature of a Chinese man – it has a stereotypical accent and it talks in fortune cookie-like limericks. 6.0

34. Carte Blanched: In what is the most nonsensical and weak episode of them all, The Inspector borrows a shopping cart to carry his groceries home, but he thinks that he’s being reported for having stolen it. So… um he spends the episode trying to get rid of it. It’s painful stuff, and it’s a terrible swan song for the series. 4.5

For all its flaws, I much preferred ‘The Inspector’ to the ‘Pink Panther’ cartoons. I was actually able to watch all 17 of them in one day, whereas it took me months to get through the ‘Pink Panther Classic Cartoon Collection’ boxed set; I couldn’t watch more than one or two episodes in one sitting.

And then I got rid of the set – a rare thing for a collector like me.

‘The Inspector’ is certainly not genius entertainment, but it’s on par with this type of cartoon – particularly with the Looney Tunes stuff of that period. The titular hero is amusing enough, but not moronic – so you can actually root for him. And the animation is pretty good. I would actually watch this stuff again.

It’s a satisfying end to my series of Pink Panther blurbs: on a bit of an upswing. Not that it would have taken much, after having suffered through the miserable entries in the series since Peter Sellers’ passing. Still, in the right frame of mind, ‘The Inspector’ can be entertaining. And no doubt small children would love it.

Date of viewing: November 16, 2014

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