While scrolling through our NetFlix® instant queue recently, I ran across a series of films I had almost completely forgotten about: The Pink Panther series. The originals starring Peter Sellers, not the cheesy remakes with Steve Martin. I remember laughing out loud at a couple of Inspector Clouseau’s mishaps when one or the other of the series was on TV over the years, so I immediately added the whole series to our queue.
But, would the one that started them all – aptly titled The Pink Panther – still elicit laughs more than 4 decades after it’s release? Or has the fun worn away after all these years?
Peter Sellers, fresh in the role he would become so well known for, isn’t as over-the-top bumbling as he would be in later films (or how Steve Martin re-imagined his character in ’06), and instead seems to be just a bit on the klutzy side on occasion. Sure, his mishaps still provoke a laugh, but nothing as downright funny as when he went overboard later on. Instead, he’s more of a pathetic figure, made even more so by the shenanigans going on right under his nose.
David Niven, as the thief and Clouseau’s nemesis, plays his part with an elegance that befits the character he’s trying to portray. He seems perfectly in his element courting the lovely Princess, and is entirely believable. He falters, however, as his alter-ego The Phantom, never really getting into the thievery as much as the “ladykiller” role. Since most of the film is spent with him slowly gaining the Princess’ favor, however, that’s not as bad as it may sound.
The Princess herself, portrayed by Claudia Carnivale, really takes center stage in The Pink Panther and is intriguing enough to keep viewers sticking around. She’s the main focus of the film, with Inspector Clouseau acting more in the capacity of comic relief during his on-screen interludes.
It’s almost hard to imagine Inspector Clouseau firmly snatching the main focus of the subsequent sequels away from any of the other characters after watching The Pink Panther. He doesn’t seem to have the same on-screen presence his co-stars have – including a young Robert Wagner, who shows up and quickly charms his way into the big picture.
Obviously, The Pink Panther was made in a different time, as aside from brief comedic moments, most of the film is mainly centered around quiet dialogue between the characters. Sure, a high-speed chase helps cap off the film, and Inspector Clouseau does make the comedic moments worth waiting for. But, a comedy of this nature would bomb if it were to appear in theaters these days (just look at the outlandish remake for proof of that).
A decently engrossing picture, but mainly a must-see just for Inspector Clouseau’s big screen debut.