The Return of the Pink Panther
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The Return of the Pink Panther

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There are many forms of comedy; intelligent, silly and slap-stick are but a few. What is really rare is for a film to display several of these sub-types and actually work successfully. One such film is ‘The Return of the Pink Panther’. This is a film that I have seen numerous times over the thirty years and it never fails to result in uncontrollable, almost convulsive laughter. What is also a rarity with this film is it is the third installment in the Pink Panther series and by far the best of the lot. While most movie franchises seem to run out of gas by the third film the Pink Panther films hit their stride here. This is good old fashion slap stick and never fails to entertain.

In the Middle Eastern country of Lugash, the Pink Panther is on display in a museum with high tech security measures. This was back in a time when a Middle Eastern country could serve as a setting for a comedy. The Pink Panther is not only the largest diamond in the world it holds great religious and cultural significance for the people of Lugush. When it is stolen by a lone thief using tricks straight out of Mission Impossible the local police are stumped. There is only one course of action, call upon the French police inspector who solved the crime the lat time the diamond was stolen, Inspector Jacques Clouseau (Peter Sellers). His boss, Chief Inspector Dreyfus (Herbert Lom), tired of Clouseau’s bumbling ways has demoted the detective to street patrol. Even in his lower post Clouseau is constantly messing up. For example as he is giving a ticket to a street musician a bank robbery is taking place right in front of him. A mere few minutes after Dreyfus places Clouseau on a six month suspension without pay the word comes directly from the Lugash government. The one clue found was a white glove with a ‘P’ monogram, the signature of Clouseau’s adversary, the Phantom. The Phantom, whose real name is Sir Charles Litton (Christopher Plummer replacing David Niven in the role) has been in retirement from his life of crime for the last four years. Sir Charles realizes that the focus of the investigation will be on him so he sets off from his mansion in Nice to find the real thief. Meanwhile, Sir Charles’ wife, Lady Claudine Litton (Catherine Schell) receives an undercover Clouseau, diverting him to Switzerland.

The original Pink Panther tired to combine a real mystery with laughs. Here, all attempts for realism have been set aside for a pure comic romp. This is pure slap stick in its original form. Now, physical humor has for the most part degraded into a vile display of gross out stunts and bodily fluids. As a viewer old enough to remember such classics as Red Skelton and Dick Van Dyke, this is the way physical humor is supposed to be. Nothing goes right for the lamented Inspector. His disguises are constantly falling off; he can not drive a car without major problems and every time he tries to be suave this completely come apart. A big part of this form of comedy is the incredible good fortune Clouseau possesses. As a sniper shoots at the detective Clouseau sneezes, bending over as the bullet flies overhead. Sure it is unrealistic but this form of entertainment is pure and simple escapism and as such it works very well. Such simple, routine actions as vacuuming a room become a wild ride at the hands of a master of the art form.

In the sixties and seventies there where few actors that could command physical comedy the way that Peter Sellers could. Sellers never disappointed his audiences. He quite literally threw himself into the role to the delight of the audience. Sellers plays the role of Inspector Clouseau with an underlying humanity that reaches out to the viewer. Without his ability to let the audience empathize with the bumbling detective the audience would be laughing at him not with him. For an upcoming remake of the Pink Panther Steve Martin is taking over the role from the late Mister Sellers and will find incredibly large shoes to fill in this role. Christopher Plummer has played roles ranging from world leaders to Klingons, always as the consummate professional. He has a command of the screen that few actors can match with quite the same flair. Here Plummer is tan, blonde and debonair, perfect as the retired gentleman thief. He can handle both sides of comedy, the straight man as well as the one inducing the laughs. Plummer gives a touch of class to the film, making it overtly a spoof of the classic mystery, ‘To Catch A Thief’. Catherine Schell plays Lady Catherine with grace as well as humor. She is the wickedly playful and devoted wife to a world famous crook yet she always remains every inch the lady. By the time Herbert Lom joined the wacky world of the Pink Panther he was featured in a variety of dramas. Here he given the opportunity to just let go and have a lot of fun Although Lom is the second banana to Sellers he gets some of the better sight gags in the film.

Blake Edwards wrote and directed some of the most entertaining films of the sixties and seventies, leaving his stamp on that era. His most memorable work is without a doubt the Pink Panther series. With this third installment Edwards decided to go entirely for laughs. With the real world in turmoil this was just what was needed, taking some time out to just sit back and have fun. Edwards uses a lot of second unit work showing panoramic views of some of the most beautiful places in Europe contrasting the setting with the ridiculous antics of the story.

This film had been previously released in March of 2001 by Artisan and even if you have that version get the new Universal version. The video has been remastered to full 2.35:1 anamorphic. The color balance is somewhat muted with some signs of age present. Still it is a vast improvement over the previous version. The Dolby 2.0 audio is mostly centered with little channel separation to be heard. The overall range is good and works considering the period the film was made. Forget what passes for physical comedy today and watch some of the best of this form of comedy.

Posted 1/13/06

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