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1 review, 19 user ratings

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Pink Panther, The (1963)
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by Jay Seaver

"Back when Clouseau was merely a fool in love."
4 stars

Most of us have some large gaps in our movie-watching experience that stun our friends. At Thanksgiving this weekend, while playing the "Scene It" movie-trivia game, my brothers would vote on whether or not questions were too easy for me, just to keep the field level; they'd likely be surprised to learn that prior to Saturday, the only Pink Panther movie I'd seen was the godawful Son of the Pink Panther.

These gaps are, in a way, nice to have. They mean that I can go into a screening of The Pink Panther at the age of 31 and enjoy a certain rush of discovery: Hey, this is the first time that Friz Freling character appeared; the first time that particular Henry Mancini theme played; etc. There is the risk of a film not living up to expectations, but (a) that is not the case here, and (b) one shouldn't judge a film (or any creative work) based on external pressures, but simply on what it is.

This is particularly useful during The Pink Panther, since I had absorbed a certain amount of knowledge of Peter Sellers' Inspector Clouseau and the series just by paying attention to pop culture over the course of my life. As with many popular characters, Clouseau's first appearance is somewhat different from how he's remembered; where the later movies would show Clouseau as basically a bumbling fool, here he is simply a fool in love. He has a beautiful wife whom he adores (Capucine), and is blind to her at-times obvious deceptions and infidelities. The familiar supporting cast is also absent; indeed, Sellers gets second billing in what is very much an ensemble cast.

The movie itself is structured as a classic farce; while the title refers to a beautiful jewel targeted by gentleman thief Sir Charles Lytton (David Niven), the diamond itself does not come into play until close to the end. Before then, the action mostly surrounds hiding one's lover from one's spouse, jealousies, and the like.

Co-writer/director Blake Edwards was in fine form here; though his reputation would diminish in later years (in part due to too many Panther sequels), this film is a reminder that he was, at his peak, easily one of Hollywood's greatest directors. Panther features one of cinema's greatest slow builds; the opening sequences could come out of straight caper films, and it's not until we see that the master thief's accomplice introduced as the wife of the inspector on the case that the playfulness of the film's credit sequence truly starts to assert itself. After that, the film does the opposite of what many less successful cop-and-robber comedies do, making each comic sequence more elaborate and funny. Far too often, the crime and plot push the jokes out of the way. This movie is happily back-loaded, though, with the last act featuring the sort of goofiness that the audience wasn't quite ready for at the start (gorilla suits, for crying out loud!).

Edwards has a nice cast to work with, although it is easy to see why Sellers's character became a franchise for United Artists. Claudia Cardinale as the owner of the jewel, for instance, isn't nearly as funny as she is beautiful. David Niven and a young Robert Wagner as father-and-son ne'er-do-wells initially unaware that the other ne'er does well, do their bits with aplomb and competence, respectively. It's only Capucine who is any match for Sellers, displaying a charisma to match her beauty that makes her charming despite how she misuses her poor husband.

I'm a latecomer to the films of Peter Sellers in general and the Panther films in particular. I don't regret it, though - if I had seen this while in my teens (or younger; plenty of folks brought their kids to the Brattle double-feature), I might not have recognized Edwards's craftmanship as I do now.

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originally posted: 12/01/04 04:30:58
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User Comments

7/27/11 Dr.Lao Not the best of the series, but still desrves the title "classic comedy" 4 stars
2/28/11 RLan Any film that make me laugh out loud gets a decent review. Sellers is very good. 3 stars
3/17/08 Pamela White Pink panther is a comedic classic 4 stars
4/26/05 Indrid Cold People must have been more easily amused back then; I didn't laugh a single time. 2 stars
4/15/05 Raymond Montoya a classic and a comedy for all. 4 stars
12/11/04 Al Guy Comedy without nastiness or meaness. Great. 5 stars
12/04/04 Denise okay 4 stars
11/23/04 alien assassin drags on a bit, but has some funny moments 4 stars
10/05/04 Daveman A classic, comic timing at its sharpest, A Shot In The Dark was even better. 5 stars
9/23/04 john bale Edwards clever slapstick farce starts Sellers on his long career as bumbling Inspector 5 stars
12/06/03 john very funny and wonderful location work - one pof the best if not the best of the series 5 stars
11/16/03 BIOSBHAI A Classic movie which later spawmed more classics!!! 4 stars
11/16/03 AshFan Not as funny as the following Sellers ones, thanks to David Niven having the main part! 3 stars
10/17/02 Charles Tatum The sequels were actually better 3 stars
7/22/02 bob pretty good, better panther films to come 4 stars
12/30/01 Monster W. Kung Let's face it. Sellers is the only element that works and the director understood it later. 3 stars
10/14/01 Andrew Carden Extremly Dated Movie Has A Few Very Funny Moments, but Wears Off. 3 stars
12/27/00 R.W. Welch Delightul cops and robbers farce, introducing the hilarious Inspector Clouseau. 5 stars
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  DVD: 31-Jan-2006



Directed by
  Blake Edwards

Written by
  Blake Edwards
  Maurice Richlin

  David Niven
  Peter Sellers
  Robert Wagner
  Colin Gordon

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