The Pink Panther (1963)
There are movies that you seen as a kid that somehow always stay with you. Hundreds even thousands of other films may come through your life but those rare few stick around ass favorites for the rest of your life. For many people of the baby boomer generation these films were released in the early sixties when we were just beginning to develop an appreciation of film. These personal favorites have had sequels, been remade or even re-imagined but the original can never be touched for its personal effect. For me and millions of others one such film is the original ‘Pink Panther’. I was about ten years old when I traveled through the New York City subways to go to the movies and watched this classic for the first time. I have seen in many times since and each time I cannot help but to laugh out loud. This stated out as a silly little comedy that grew into a franchise that would go far beyond the screen. The musical score by Henry Mancini is famous and one of the most recognizable movie themes ever. The animated portrayal of the pink panther would become a cartoon star in his own right and even manage to get endorsement deals selling home insulation. It also made an international star out of one the best comic performers movies has ever seen; Peter Sellers. For a little flick it certainly had a major impact on our popular culture. Recently there has been a revival of the franchise with a re-imagined version staring Steve Martin. I have always enjoyed his work greatly and he does a fine job of recreating the character of Inspector Jacques Clouseau but for all his talent he cannot hold a candle to Peter Sellers. Martin is good in the role but he doesn’t have the nuance that Sellers brought to it. Like many studios Fox has been re-releasing some of their old films on the high definition Blu-ray format and now they have gotten around to the original 1963 version of ‘The Pink Panther’. I see a lot of films but when I opened the latest box of screeners and saw this one I admit I was excited at the prospect of revisiting one of my favorite films. While a case may be made that the sequel surpassed this one as a memorable comedy there is nothing like your first time watch Peter Sellers in one of his most famous roles.
The screenplay came from Maurice Richlin and Blake Edwards. Richlin was already a veteran of romantic comedies with hits like ‘Pillow Talk’ and ‘Operation Petticoat’ to his name and he would go on to write many of the sequel, few able to live up to the sheer joy of this story. His partner in writing these scripts, Edwards, was a man synonymous with wacky movie comedies. He had a long string of successful comedies but is best known for this series of flicks. This film was technically not about the ever bumbling inspector but rather focused more on his adversary, the Phantom, otherwise known as Sir Charles Lytton (David Niven). He was an international playboy, a common occupation for daring lead characters back in the sixties who lead a secret life as an infamous global jewel thief. When the audience responded overwhelmingly in favor of Sellers as Clouseau the path was clear and all subsequent films in the series would center on him and rightfully so. The plot may be somewhat tame by today’s high action standards but back it the day it was what we had and we liked it. There is a touch of sex farce, not too much this was sit a time before anything explicit could be shown. The story is fundamentally a high stakes heist but that rapidly takes a back seat to the wild antics of the characters.
Edwards also directed this film as he did with many of his screenplays. He was extremely familiar with how to please an audience and this is a prime example of what he could do. The central comic element used here is one of the oldest in the comedian’s playbook; slapstick. Many have tried it and some have become highly successful in its practice but few rose to the bar set by Sellers. He had a way of taking a pratfall that just makes you laugh. When I mentioned that he added nuance to his Clouseau it is in the most physical scenes. Sellers was able to perform the most bungling actions but always maintained his connection with the audience. There was a degree of humanity in his performance that removed the crazy antics from the usual cartoon like presentation. This humanity is just pulls you in and holds you there. A comedian like Peter Sellers comes around once in a generation and it is great that we have films like this to remember him. As usual Edwards pushes the movie along with a fast pace. There is a brief setup explaining the Pink Panther, a fabulous diamond that is nearly priceless. Then we get a bit of background on the Phantom and his plan to steal the gem. Finally the always inept Clouseau is assigned the case and in his typical bungling fashion manages to get the girl and the bad guy.
The Pink Panther is the largest diamond in the world and was originally a gift from a mid east potentate to his daughter. It got the name from a flaw in the stone which looks like a pink panther. When the camera zooms in on the flaw it transforms into the famous animated cat and history was made. Years later Sir Charles is vacationing in an Italian ski resort with his nephew George (Robert Wagner); Both seem to be after the lovely Dala (Claudia Cardinale) but George plans to steal the Panther and blame the Phantom unaware this is uncle is the most wanted thief. Clouseau has been on the case of tracking down the Phantom and is clueless to the fact that his wife Simone (Capucine) is one of Sir Charles’ lovers. George is also in love with her so she spends a lot of time avoiding both him and her husband. This sets up the usual chase scenes and wonderfully choreographed mayhem that ensues.
The film is a classic because it is so well constructed with such ageless themes. I have seen this film on almost every format possible over the last few decades from the big screen to video tape and cable. I have never watched it in a presentation as well done as this Blu-ray release. Many may think that only recent films can take advantage of the amazing quality of this format. The truth is even a film that is forty five years old like this one benefits from this treatment. The video has never looked better than it does with this 1080p transfer. The colors jump off the screen with a brilliance that would rival a first print film. This is a 2.20:1 aspect ratio that is typically clipped for cable viewing so you get the picture as it was intended to be seen. The audio was also given a fresh leaf on live here. First there is the original mono soundtrack for those who want things actual as they remembered it in the movie house. Moving up from there is a DTS HD lossless audio track that makes this film sound better than ever before. The back channels are better used than is typical for a remix of an old movie. There are some extras ported from previous DVD releases such as the Blake Edwards commentary and a few behind the scenes featurettes. This is part of film comedy history and is a required member of any collection.