Peter Sellers was a master of physical and verbal comedy. So I find it somewhat perverse that the films he’s best known for aren’t famous because of him and his absolute genius, but for the damn cartoon cat in the opening credits. Still maybe it’s best you come to this set blind, without even a knowledge of Sellers or Edwards, because the fact is, on the whole these movies look and play great. While there are some question marks on the disc, and a few low points in the films themselves, the fact remains that this is truly classic comedy, and a must have for fans.
Before we get into the nitty gritty of each movie in The Pink Panther Collection, I have to bring up one thing: The absence of The Return of the Pink Panther. I am a mere mortal and do not have bile for blood, so I do not pretend to understand the things that lawyers do, but I do think that is a crying shame not to have Return of the Pink Panther in the set. Return is my second favorite in the series. There is an extended fight scene between Clouseau and Kato that might just be the finest physical comedy of Seller’s career. If anything it proves that Uma and Vivica A. Fox are wusses. While the absence of this fine film is an annoyance it still leaves the rest of this fine collection to dig through. So let’s do just that.
The Pink Panther: 5 Stars: The first of the classic movie is more of an ensemble piece than the next films. It involves several people trying to steal, keep, and protect, a diamond. However, it’s clear from the moment that he steps on screen that Sellers is going to steal the show. While not quite as fine tuned as in the last two installments, the word play and physical comedy are excellent. If you don’t laugh when watching Sellers and his partner cavort ineptly around in a ridiculous Zebra costume desperately trying to keep their cover, check your pulse. The rest of the cast does quite a nice job as well, from the impeccably suave David Niven (“If I were my father I‘d have you killed” “If You were your father I doubt I would have kissed you”), to the beautiful Claudia Cardinale from Once Upon A Time In the West. Stunning locales like the Alps and Rome give it the look and feel of a straight heist film, albeit one with a psychopathic French Policeman in its midst.
A Shot In The Dark: 5 Stars: A Shot In the Dark was released a scant three months, after The Pink Panther. Conventional wisdom would tell you that such a quickly made cash in could be nothing but crap. Conventional wisdom would be wrong, because not only is A Shot In the Dark a fine addition to The Pink Panther Collection, it is also my favorite in the series. A Shot In the Dark, finds Clouseau desperately attempting to defend a maid who seems to be obviously guilty. The wordplay (“A rit of fealous jage!”) and physical commentary (A piece of gymnastic equipment placed precariously close to a stairwell) are unquestionably the best in the series. The character of Kato, a personal favorite of mine, is introduced as is inspector Dreyfuss, a character who wore out his welcome by the end of the series, but is howlingly funny in his first appearance (“Give me ten men like Clouseau and I could destroy the world!”). While low key and self contained, this film is superior to the original in every way and stands as a shining high of comic genius. If only they had stopped here.
The Pink Panther Strikes Again: 3 Stars: Well this is where the rot sets in. The Return of the Pink Panther was charming and witty and matches the films that came before it. This one, does not. Oh it has its moments to be sure, a carnival scene where Clouseau unwittingly defeats an army of assassins is wonderful. But the rest of the film falls flat. Dreyfuss after being driven insane by Clouseau in the last Pink Panther gets hold of a death ray and vows to destroy the world unless the world leaders deliver Clouseau into there hands. Dreyfuss after two films had become painfully unfunny, and that trend continues here. Omar Shariff is effective in a supporting role as a spy. But as a whole the movie falls flat.
Revenge Of The Pink Panther: 2 Stars The final completed Sellers film is a rather sad sight. Sellers is tired, his ill health really starting to take hold, the plot is tired, the gags are tired, the direction is tired. In the words of Spinal Tap it’s just one big Shit Sandwich. It is a bad movie plain and simple. Zoolander had better word play then this film and that’s just sad. Robert Loggia appears as a gangster, apparently recovering from a lobotomy.
Trail Of The Pink Panther: 1 Stars: Why this film was included on the disk is a mystery to me. It’s cobbled together like a veritable film Frankenstein out of the outtakes and deleted scenes of the previous Panthers. When it was released it was considered a ghoulish cynical attempt to squeeze some money out of Sellers death. Its reputation has not improved. Despite a few funny moments, a pervasive sense of wrongness is present. When you get right down to it, it would have simply been more dignified had Edwards dug up Sellers corpse and allowed people to rape it for 5 bucks a pop. This is a sad and dirty end to a once great series.
Extras: 3 1/2: The video and sound transfer are both tip top, as are the six Pink Panther cartoons which are as well made as any of the classic Warner Brothers animation. The commentary on the first film with Edwards is a real treat, revealing him to be still funny and spry as ever, and a trivia track is also very nice, if not as top notch as those found on the Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown Docs. Toping it all off is a nice documentary, which strenuously attempts to avoid mentioning all the later films in the series which should give you yet another hint of their quality. All in all a nice little package, if a little thinly spread for five films.