Unlike any film in history, “The Pink Panther” left its legacy not by its original sense of humor or iconic performance by Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau, but by an animated pink panther and instantly recognizable theme music by Henry Mancini. Anyone born after 1980 knew of “The Pink Panther” at a young age, but had no idea about the film that started it all, only the cool pink cat and that groovy jazz. Truth bet told, these trademarks still leave the finest impression, but the film does have its own merits, namely in Sellers and a few iconic scenes.
“The Pink Panther” does not actually focus on Clouseau’s character as the legacy has left myself and the younger generations to believe. Sellers steals the movie (which in fact makes its climax rather awkward), but the plot focuses on a jewel thief named Sir Charles Lytton (David Niven) who is after the Pink Panther diamond from a princess (Claudia Cardinale). His mistress and accomplice is Clouseau’s wife (Capucina) and at a ski resort they attempt to get close to the princess and her diamond, with Mrs. Clouseau resorting to her womanly wiles to distract her husband and Sir Charles’ young nephew George (Robert Wagner).
This story takes quite some time to get going and frankly the film is a laughless bore for about 45 minutes. Sellers hasn’t quite gotten enough screen time to get into his slapstick groove going and the plot is all setup to this point. Then the farce truly begins, predominantly with the bedroom scene in which Mrs. Clouseau hides Charles and George in her room after her wacky husband comes home.
It’s a fact that the film was never intended to center on Clouseau, but when he was stealing his scenes, veteran director Blake Edwards should have made some adjustments or taken his liberties as co-writer of the script to favor Sellers a bit more. Our focus as viewers never hones in on any one character. As hard as we try to hone in on Clouseau, it doesn’t work because the story does not favor him.
As a comedy, the last hour redeems the snore-inducing first act with some terrific scenes like when two thieves find themselves in identical gorilla suits and the “getaway” scene with Clouseau and his men chasing after the thieves and everyone essentially going around in circles. It’s classic humor from the last decade of the 20th Century in which this type of humor was still considered in style.
But what lingers on after the film ends? Henry Mancini and our animated panther friend. Maybe those elements are not the best part of this film, but they’re responsible for the many follow ups and reincarnations of the series over the last 45-plus years.
The Pink Panther (1963)
Directed by Blake Edwards
Written by Maurice Richlin and Blake Edwards
Starring: Peter Sellers, Capucine, David Niven, Robert Wagner, Claudia Cardinale