Return of the Pink Panther, The

Reviewed By MP Bartley
Posted 02/02/07 03:03:30

"Peter loves Jacques."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Contrary to popular belief, it was not Steve Martin, Ted Wass or Roberto Begnini that destroyed the Pink Panther series. Sadly it was Peter Sellers and Blakes Edwards who accomplished that, as by the end they were content to churn out increasingly tired and empty films with Sellers' performances becoming increasingly caricatured in turn. But when they were on form, and when they truly loved the escapades of Inspector Closeau, then the results were often inspired, and happily this film is from that productive period.

The infamous Pink Panther diamond has been stolen once again, this time from a museum in Morocco and the only person that the authorities trust to recover it is Closeau, considering his success in the case last time it was stolen. Thus, to Chief Inspector Dreyfuss's despair, Closeau is reinstated to the rank of Inspector and dispatched to recover the jewel. Due to a 'P' adorned silk glove left at the scene, Closeau is convinced it has been stolen by the same thief as last time - Sir Charles Lytton aka The Phantom (Christopher Plummer) or as Closeau would have it, "Sir Charles Phantom, the notorious Lytton". Lytton is indignant however, as he didn't actually steal it, and thus sets out to find the real culprit, leaving his beautiful wife (Catherine Schell) to be the subject of Closeau's own brand of undercover investigation.

The Return of the Pink Panther saw the creative team on a high coming off the success of The Pink Panther original and the follow up, A Shot in the Dark. The film is shot through with confidence from the ever more creative animated titles to a superbly constructed heist at the beginning of the film, which sees the jewel stolen. Relying on ingenuity and human bravado rather than the cheat of manipulating technology, it's a sequence that would grace a thriller, let alone a knockabut comedy. Clearly, Blake Edwards is a fan of Rififi.

But of course, this is a comedy, and like most comedies, it's hard to review it without spoiling most of the jokes. Suffice to say, this is the Pink Panther film with the monkey and the organ grinder and one of the more inspired fights between Closeau and Cato. Edwards is that rare thing -a director who really knows comedy. He knows exactly how to time a punchline and also just how long to string out a slow motion karate kick that demolishes a kitchen. Perhaps one scene above all others demonstrates his skill. It's the scene where Closeau is examining the crime scene of the stolen diamond, and Edwards gives it width and breadth to let Sellers just run riot in it as he proceeds to demolish the scene.

It's also a Pink Panther film that still had the actual interest of its star. Surely one of the top ten comic actors of all time, Sellers is absolutely priceless here, demonstrating his mastery of both physical pratfalls and his knack of selling funny dialogue. The key to Sellers as Closeau is that he never plays him funny - he plays him absolutely, poker-faced straight, as a man who is never aware of the chaos he causes or just how foolish he looks. It's always funny to see pomposity punctured and no-one does that better than Sellers here. If you want final proof of how funny he is, take a look at the nightclub scene where he's attempting to chat up Lady Lytton - those hysteric splutters from Catherine Schell? They're real reactions to Sellers clowning around, and he never breaks the performance for a second.

If one person almost steals the show from Sellers, it's Herbert Lom as Dreyfuss. Increasingly agitated just by the fact Closeau exists, Lom is a delight as the twitching, nervously giggling, Chief Inspector on the verge of a breakdown. He may not steal the film, but he does effortlessly steal every scene he's in. Plummer and Schell are a delight together, coming across like a married couple who still have really great sex and clearly adore each other. However, the film does flag badly whenever it cuts to Plummer traipsing across Morocco trying to find the identity of the real thief. It's a sub-Bondian subplot at best, and every second without Closeau or Dreyfuss is a second wasted, with itchy feet developing whenever they're off screen.

The Pink Panther series would keep going on and on - and on and on and on, until the well was beyond dry, to the point of becoming an arid desert. However, the first three in particular could be held up as a classic comic trilogy, and The Return of the Pink Panther shows that when Edwards and Sellers were still truly interested, the result was borderline comic genius.

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