Boy, 1964 was the year of fun movies wasn’t it? “Goldfinger,” “Mothra vs. Godzilla” and now “The Pink Panther.” Screw 1939 or 1994, 1964 might be the greatest year of cinema.
These days, I hear little about the Pink Panther film series, at least anything good. Before watching this movie, my only exposure were the Steve Martin movies, who portrays the title character Inspector Clouseau as incompetent fool who doesn’t seem to understand how the world works. And most people seem to agree with me. But after watching the original film, I can see why Steve Martin’s performance is so infuriating to those who enjoyed the series.
In the 1964 film, Inspector Clouseau is played by Peter Sellers, a bumbling police officer who seems to be just a few steps behind the notorious jewel thief, the Phantom (David Niven). He travels the globe constantly searching for the next clue, alongside his wife Simone (Capucine). We quickly learn that Simone is working with the Phantom and stops the Inspector at every turn, but seems to have fallen in love with him, and at least two other men.
For all of his comedic antics throughout the film, what I enjoyed about Inspector Clouseau is that he was still great at his job. He was always on the trail and would set aside family and loved ones to complete his mission, always intelligently assessing the situation and coming to the best conclusion possible. His problem is that he doesn’t always look where he’s going and his body cannot keep up with his brain.
He’s not a mindless idiot, just uncoordinated and a little too dedicated to the job.
Originally, “The Pink Panther” was mostly going to be about the Phantom and his nephew attempting to steal the largest diamond in the world, the pink panther diamond. But as the filmming progressed, Peter Sellers stole more and more of the show and cracked up everyone on set with his bumbling personality. This convinced the studio to put Sellers in more scenes, until he ultimatley became the main character and got top billing. David Niven later noted that, while he played a jewel thief, it was Peter Sellers who stole the movie.
And while Niven does well with his role, playing the suave yet pompous gentlemen, Sellers gives us some great scenes in the later parts of the film.
My biggest complaint with “The Pink Panther” is how slow it starts out. There are small moments of goodness sprinkled throughout the first hour, especially between Niven and the princess who owns the diamond, but nothing substainial. But once it gets to an uproarious scene where Clouseau, the Phantom, his nephew and Simone keep going back and forth through the same hotel room and Simone attempts to hide everything from her husband, the film gets great, with one great joke after another leading to a hilarious punchline.
Overall, “The Pink Panther” may start out slow but it has one of the greatest comedic endings I have seen, which makes the whole journey worth it. Peter Sellers is wonderful in every scene, whether he is solving a crime or bumbling his way through answering the phone. It is not hard to see why this verison of Inspector Clouseau is so beloved and why Peter Sellers stole top billing for this movie.
Final Grade: B+