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The Pink Panther (1963)

Long before Titanic’s Rose was sentimentally tossing priceless blue diamonds off the back of boats in the name of love, there was another even more famous diamond whose disappearance was making silver screen history: the Pink Panther. A brilliant pink diamond with flaw in the shape of a leaping panther, the gem is always a target for the most cunning of cat burglars. Its theft is a cinematic tradition that spans several films and a cartoon series but it all began with the original film The Pink Panther. Just how far will an inspector go to capture a thief who has made a fool of him for over a decade? To what ridiculous depths will that thief descend to capture one of the most priceless gems in the world? How far will a woman go to avoid sleeping with her inspector husband because she’s actually in love with and aiding her husband’s arch-nemesis? The Pink Panther answers those questions with absurd silliness and a weird combination of James Bond’s sultriness and the comedy of the keystone cops.

The incredibly sexy Princess Dala, owner of the Pink Panther and known as the icy Virgin Queen, has come to the winter resort village of Cortina D’Empazzo. Sir Charles Lytton, a playboy of the modern world, has also come to Cortina and while it would seem that Princess Dala’s seduction is the only thing on his mind, he’s actually the notorious thief “The Phantom” and he’s in more interested in the Panther than the princess.

The unbelievably awkward Inspector Clouseau has followed the Phantom’s trail to Cortina and he’ll do anything to catch him. Of course he’s brought along his gorgeous wife who is secretly working with the Phantom to steal the gem. The only passion Clouseau is more devoted to pursuing than capturing the Phantom is romancing his wife, a fruitless task that isn’t helped by the good inspector’s clumsiness, a quality that seems to amplify the closer he gets to a bed.

As the sort of film that comes closer to Bollywood than Hollywood The Pink Panther offers a little of everything including comedy, action, glamour, intrigue, seduction, drama, romance, satire, slapstick and a lushly costumed masque ball sequence. There’s even a completely pointless musical number thrown into the middle of things for good measure. Despite all those entertaining elements it’s the comedy that rises to the top as the cream in the movie’s rich bottle of milk.

Peter Seller turned the hilariously inept Inspector Jacques Clouseau into an icon with his performance and the rest of the 1960’s all star cast (including an astonishingly young Robert Wagner) are the perfect complement to his comedy. If you find yourself watching it and finding the humor unoriginal or trite, remember that this movie came out in 1963 and was something of a pioneer in that field of comedy. Cut it some slack and remember if you’ve seen these gags or plot twists before, it was probably the other movie that was the copy cat.

The film’s only flaw lies in its sometimes lagging tempo. At moments the dialogue gets a bit lengthy leaving room for little cat naps, a trait that will likely wear even more heavily on today’s fast paced audiences than it did in the 60s. Henry Mancini’s unforgettable score more than makes up for those lulls, complete with that exciting and unmistakable Pink Panther theme. An all around classic movie, the original Pink Panther is as much fun now as it was when it was first released. Too bad most of this generation will never know that thanks to the voodoo of Hollywood remakes. MGM, what were you thinking? In 1963 The Pink Panther spawned a franchise that would span several movies including The Return of the Pink Panther and The Revenge of the Pink Panther. Not all were as enjoyable as the first. Actually, my favorite Inspector Clouseau film, A Shot In The Dark, didn’t even involve the legendary gem, just the bumbling investigator and a very crazy murder mystery.

With all those movies there have been various video and DVD releases. The most recent being a collectors disc set with all the Clouseau films included. If you’re not up for a Panther marathon, there are individual DVD releases for each film, most of which were released in the 90s when bonus material was out and double sided disc with widescreen and fullscreen versions on either side were in.

It seems like such a waste of disc space. Anybody who would rather watch a fullscreen, pan-n-scan version of a film when the widescreen version is just a flip of the disc away is either nuts or doesn’t know what they’re missing. The 1999 MGM DVD release of The Pink Panther offers you both versions but very little else in the way of choices.

In fact, all you really get is the original theatrical trailer. Sure, it’s interesting to watch the nearly 4 minute long trailer and see just how different movie marketing was in the 60’s. On the other hand, it would be nice to see a little bit more in the way of behind the scenes material. Sure Peter Seller’s is no longer available for interviews and they weren’t into filming making of featurettes in tandem with the movie shoot back in 1963, but there’s gotta be something lurking in the MGM vaults that could have been included. At the very least, an animated Pink Panther short could have been tagged on.

Still, the movie’s video and sound quality are transferred beautifully into digital format and disc’s case and menus are pleasant and well designed. It’s not bad, though hardly worthy of the classic movie stored within.