Shots in the Dark: Blake Edwards’ Problematic Pink Panther Series (Part 2)

By the end of 1963, Peter Sellers was a physical and mental time bomb. He and Blake Edwards had vowed never to work together again after the second Clouseau movie,  A Shot In The Dark.

Sellers was never properly diagnosed or treated, but in examining the behavioral symptoms he began manifesting from late 1963 onward, his biographers seem to think he had schizoaffective disorder — perhaps the worst case suffered by anyone of any level of fame.

Somehow, his career continued successfully, at least for a time. Riding a wave of public sympathy after a near-fatal series of heart attacks in April 1964, and refusing to acknowledge any mental issues publicly or privately, he spent the remainder of the 1960s starring in various international productions of erratic quality but with big budgets, beautiful women, and unmistakable glamour. 

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Post-heart attack, Swinging Sellers in the Sixties, with his Swedish model wife

Behind the scenes, he was crumbling. His hasty 1964 marriage to Britt Ekland collapsed under his paranoia and abuse. His kids grew terrified of his volcanic rages on the occasions he demanded obedient visits from them. He lashed out unpredictably and threw infantile tantrums. He became totally reliant on the guidance of a bogus “psychic advisor,” Maurice Woodruff. He heard voices. He subjected colleagues to dozens of his bizarre whims. He was terrified of the color purple — it was not allowed to be worn in his presence, and his assistants would check his hotel rooms in advance and remove any trace of violet. 

In the meantime, Blake Edwards married Julie Andrews, and made one decent film (1965’s The Great Race) to his usual ratio of stinkers.

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Newlyweds Blake Edwards and Julie Andrews

Sellers and Edwards buried the hatchet to work on 1968’s The Party — an arguably funnier, or at least warmer, film than any of the Pink Panthers, but difficult to watch these days because Sellers is slathered in brown make-up and thick eyeliner. His character, the well-meaning but Clouseau-clumsy Hrundi V. Bakshi, is a thickly-accented collection of South Asian stereotypes. 

Once again, Edwards and Sellers hated each other by the end of it. 

Around the same time, the Panther series’ original production company, the Mirisch Corporation, decided that a third film in the series would be worth doing. When both Sellers and Edwards declined to participate, the project went forth anyway. The production company believed that the character of Inspector Clouseau was the true star, bigger than any actor who happened to portray him. They went into production on a new Clouseau movie without Edwards or Sellers (or Mancini). Bud Yorkin would direct.

Stepping into Sellers’ shoes as Clouseau was the rising newcomer Alan Arkin, who had received an Oscar nomination for his very first film, the Mirisch Corporation’s The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming (1966). 

Arkin is a great actor, but in 1968’s Inspector Clouseau he was badly miscast, failing to acquit himself convincingly as the title character. He is alternately sleepy (in an attempt to replicate Sellers’ deadpan), or shouting hysterically. His round baby face (he looks a decade younger than his 34 years) just appears wrong under the inspector’s trademark hat. Arkin aside, the film itself is not any worse than any of the other Panthers before and after, and shares several traits — overlong “slapstick” setpieces that go nowhere, clunky direction (if anything, Yorkin has a touch of subtlety Edwards lacks), and a solid supporting cast working very hard.

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Had Sellers played the part, it is likely that Inspector Clouseau would be considered a worthy entry in the series. But it was a flop with the critics, and though box office numbers are unavailable, they clearly weren’t strong. The series was dropped… for the moment.

Edwards had burned most of his Hollywood bridges with the Darling Lili fiasco, and was hunkered down in London trying to figure out how to resurrect his shattered career. Sellers hit the skids around the same time, appearing in a run of films of such appallingly low quality that one of them, Ghost in the Noonday Sun, was considered unreleasable and shelved. 

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Enter Sir Lew Grade, the British mega-mogul of ITC Entertainment, a colossus of both film and television. He wanted Julie Andrews to star in one of his TV specials, and if that meant giving her down-and-out husband a two-movie deal, it was a price he was willing to pay. The first film was another underwhelming dud (the overwrought romantic drama The Tamarind Seed). Sir Lew then tactfully suggested a return of Inspector Clouseau as the second film in the deal. At this point, neither Edwards nor Sellers was in a position to decline.

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Written by Blake Edwards & Frank Waldman

Produced by Blake Edwards for ITC Entertainment

Released through United Artists

Over the years, Return is the film in the series I’ve seen the most often. For decades, ITC held its copyright separately from every other Panther film, and as a result, it played on TV far more often than the others (which is to say, it was on a lot — the other films were certainly no strangers to TV airings). It was always my favorite. Sellers — older and a little more hangdog than in the ‘60s films — still plays the role with total commitment. He has a new schtick (briefly depicted in Shot) in these ‘70s revival films: Master of Disguise, and his elaborate get-ups can be pretty amusing. His bizarre version of a French accent hasn’t yet worn out its welcome, and he is always adding little grace notes to what is sometimes a sledgehammer style of physical comedy.

The film opens strong. The Pink Panther diamond is swiped from a heavily-guarded Lugash museum in a well-staged robbery sequence that clearly influenced later films like Entrapment and the Ocean’s series.

We then are re-introduced to Clouseau in Paris, busted down to a foot patrol officer, and he has a funny encounter with a street musician and a chimpanzee “minkey,” all while a bank is robbed behind his oblivious back.

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He is about to be suspended for six months by the still-twitching Chief Inspector Dreyfus (evidently reinstated after going off the deep end in Shot) when the call comes from the Lugashi government: they want their diamond recovered by the detective who helped find it the first time. Clouseau is bumped back up to the rank of Inspector and put on the case, all the while dodging (usually accidentally) a mysterious assassin. (And Dreyfus has a good bit of comic business with a cigarette lighter all too realistically shaped like a handgun.)

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The solid opening is marred only by another instance of Clouseau getting ambush-attacked (on his orders) by his loyal Chinese valet Cato, as usual wrecking his apartment in the process. The sequence has lots of unnecessary slow motion, is awkwardly timed and staged (an Edwards trait), and relies on nothing more than pain and destruction for humor (another Edwards trait).

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Also racism, as Cato here and in most other Panther movies is beaten, denigrated, and referred to by Clouseau as his “little yellow friend.” I don’t usually agree, artistically speaking, with judging the standards of a bygone era by the standards of a more enlightened era, but this sort of thing does make the original Panther series a tad uncomfortable to share with your kids.

The chief suspect in the robbery is the jewel thief who stole the diamond twelve years ago — Sir Charles Litton (“the notorious Phantom”), now retired and living in Nice. David Niven as Litton is replaced here by the younger, spryer Christopher Plummer, who does a great job in the role (ED NOTE: and died right as I was writing this — RIP), and the twist is — he didn’t do it. He flies off to Lugash to personally investigate and clear his name, and sends his beautiful wife, Lady Claudine Litton (Catherine Schell), to Switzerland to distract the dogged Clouseau, who falls for the bait without question. The film begins intercutting between the two sets of characters, and loses momentum.

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Christopher Plummer and Catherine Schell as Sir Charles and Lady Claudine Litton

The sequences of Litton infiltrating the seedy underworld of Lugashi organized crime and their government’s secret police were shot on location in Morocco, and are generally pretty dull. They have no real comedic elements at all — unless you count Pepi. Graham Stark’s role here is the sweaty, sniveling, deeply unpleasant henchman Pepi, who over the course of the film, gets every finger on one hand broken in different painful ways. Again, this is Edwards’ idea of “comedy.”

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Graham Stark (“Pepi”) and Christopher Plummer

Things are livelier in the Gstaad, Switzerland location, with Clouseau infiltrating the luxury hotel where Lady Litton is staying. He first tries to inspect her room while she’s out, disguised as a housekeeper. As usual, the sequence — based around his slapstick struggle with an elaborate vacuum cleaner — goes on way too long with very little payoff.

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Much more successful, humor-wise, is Clouseau’s attempt to directly question his quarry in the hotel’s bar, disguised as a nightclub swinger (“Guy Gadoire”) in oversized shades and a blinding red sport coat, with a drooping handlebar mustache. He loses one handlebar early on (after getting punched in the face by an over-enthused go-go dancer), and continues with his usual obliviousness, much to Lady Litton’s amusement. Rumor has it that Catherine Schell as Lady Litton was genuinely laughing at Sellers’ improvised antics throughout the film, and those takes were used because it would have been the character’s realistic response to Clouseau’s fumbling.

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All these situations are eventually resolved — Clouseau is credited with the diamond’s recovery, nobody seems to bother to try and prosecute the actual thief (yes, the identity is revealed and no one seems to care), and Clouseau’s mysterious would-be assassin is revealed as Chief Inspector Dreyfus, who is committed to a padded room in an insane asylum as the credits roll.

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The funny moments of The Return of the Pink Panther are outnumbered by the unfunny moments by about three-to-one, and are usually the small throwaway jokes rather than the elaborately staged setpieces. (An example: Clouseau gets in a cab and instructs the driver “follow that car!” The driver hops out and sprints after the car on foot.) Compared to what was coming after it, Return was a masterpiece.

Upon its release in May 1975, The Return of the Pink Panther was a smash, restoring both Edwards and Sellers to bankability. They decided to go all in, and began shooting the next movie in the series almost immediately.

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Written by Blake Edwards & Frank Waldman

Produced by Blake Edwards & Tony Adams (assoc.) for Amjo Productions

Released through United Artists

The success of Return meant that the series was no longer dependent on Sir Lew’s deep pockets, and United Artists happily ponied up a bigger budget. But the seams are beginning to show. The whole production is clearly thrown together in a rush. Sellers is aging rapidly. The lines on his face are noticeable, and he just does not have the energy he once did. A few inspired moments aside, Sellers is beginning to simply walk through his performance. And it doesn’t take eagle-eyed vision to see that a lot of Clouseau’s physical work on Strikes Again was done by Sellers’ stunt double Joe Dunne, either with his back to the camera or in a glaringly obvious fake mustache and wig.

Although they miraculously remained semi-cordial throughout production, Edwards later said Sellers’ declining mental state caused production to extend to over ten months of shooting. “Very often all we would get in a day was one shot,” said co-star Lesley-Anne Down. 

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The outlandish plot: Former Chief Inspector Dreyfus, now a megalomaniacal madman who has escaped from the asylum, kidnaps English scientist Professor Fassbender and forces him to turn over a “doomsday device” that can disintegrate people, buildings, cities, potentially even countries. Dreyfus then threatens to use the device unless someone, somewhere, proves that he (or she) has killed his arch-nemesis Clouseau for him. Clouseau spends the film investigating the professor’s kidnapping in England before attempting to track Dreyfus to his castle lair in Germany. All the while he is cluelessly avoiding being rubbed out by the world’s greatest hitmen and assassins. Through a series of the usual destructive sequences full of people lightly grappling with each other and/or suffering painful bodily harm, Clouseau somehow comes out on top, and Dreyfus is disintegrated by his own weapon. 

Despite all the money United Artists poured into the production, The Pink Panther Strikes Again appears hopelessly cheap. Aiming for a Ken Adam/James Bond-style grandeur, the film misses by a mile. The German castle exterior built on the Shepperton Studios backlot looks like a cardboard, sub-Disneyland afterthought, hastily propped up in some farmer’s weed-filled spare field. 

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Herbert Lom does his best to make Dreyfus a comic book-style “super villain,” but his game performance can’t overcome to the production’s limitations. There is yet another stupid, pointless Clouseau-vs.-Cato apartment fight, and a long, tasteless sequence in a gay bar called the “Queen of Hearts” — just the sort of red velvet “gay bar” that would exist in the imaginations of uptight, middle-aged straight guys in the ‘70s, with a drag queen on stage and a bunch of super-effeminate “deviants” in polka-dot shirts and bouffant hair-dos slow-dancing with each other as the appalled Clouseau looks on. 

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Because Dreyfus has triggered a global crisis, the unnamed “American President” appears in several scenes, but unless you remember a lot about Gerald Ford circa 1976, the jokes here are totally dated and useless. 

There are some saving grace moments, one of which features Graham Stark, in old-age make-up as a Bavarian hotel desk clerk. Spotting a dog in the hotel lobby, Clouseau asks if the clerk’s dog bites. He’s assured it doesn’t. Clouseau leans in to pet the canine (“Hi, deuggie…”) and is viciously attacked. 

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“I thought you said you’re deug did not by-ete.” 

“Zat is not my dog.”

A few physical stunts (Clouseau in the gymnasium, for example) land well. The darkly comic sequence at the Munich Oktoberfest (aided by a little second-unit location filming) where about a dozen assassins kill each other rather than Clouseau elicits a morbid laugh or two, and one of Clouseau’s disguises — an elderly German dentist called upon by Dreyfus to remove a tooth with a liberal dose of laughing gas — is worthy of Sellers’ early ‘60s character heyday. The very fetching Lesley-Anne Down is perfect as a Russian hitwoman who assassinates via seduction.

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The rest is just tiresome. As Edwards’ biographer, Sam Wasson, pointed out, why didn’t Dreyfus simply point his doomsday machine (which had a very precise targeting system from over 3000 miles) at wherever Clouseau was, and eliminate him without all the fuss?

Edwards’ first cut of the movie ran over two hours, and twenty minutes was trimmed before release (this will be important later). Though the critics’ notices were growing increasingly mixed, the public still loved Sellers as Clouseau, and The Pink Panther Strikes Again was another huge success over the 1976-77 holiday season. Another sequel was inevitable, but Sellers was fading. A new pacemaker was installed after another coronary episode in the spring of 1977, but he remained weak, and tired easily.

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Written by Blake Edwards, Frank Waldman, and Ron Clark

Produced by Blake Edwards for Sellers-Edwards Productions, Jewel Productions, Pimlico Films

Released through United Artists

Blake Edwards figured one more successful Panther picture would put him back on top and allow him to do other films again, so he summoned the visibly deteriorating Sellers to, as one author put it, “try and squeeze one more Clouseau out of a dying man.” This time the limp, haggard Clouseau barely even registers as a character, leaving a huge hole at the film’s center. He no longer exudes inflated pride as he bluffs his way through the accidental damage he does, he simply makes meek apologies. (And since it’s 1978, Mancini’s classic theme music is presented here in a pulsating “disco” version.)

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Dyan Cannon as Simone Legree

Phillippe Douvier (Robert Webber), a millionaire businessman (and secret head of a drug-smuggling operation), decides to prove his worth to the organized crime syndicates he’s involved with by having the world’s most famous detective — Inspector Jacques Clouseau — killed, along with Douvier’s secretary/mistress, Simone (Dyan Cannon), because she “knows too much.” In a case of mistaken identity, the hit on Clouseau is believed to be successful. Clouseau takes the opportunity to go undercover and find out who wants him dead. Along the way, he inadvertently thwarts the attempt on Simone’s life, and the two team up (joined by Cato) and travel to Hong Kong to foil Douvier’s massive heroin deal with an American mafia organization. Robert Loggia turns up as one of the mob gunmen.

In a subplot, upon hearing of Clouseau’s “death,” former Chief Inspector Dreyfus is miraculously cured of his psychosis (and, it appears, no longer disintegrated) and goes back to work. His grip on sanity is tested when he keeps bumping into the undercover Clouseau by coincidence, and thinks he’s hallucinating. He and a team of French police follow Clouseau and company to Hong Kong for reasons that are never quite clear. It all ends in mayhem — car crashes, fireworks, and everyone at one point or another falling into Victoria Harbor.

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Revenge of the Pink Panther lurches along, not bothering to muster up the oversized James Bond silliness of Strikes Again. Dyan Cannon is charming, and Burt Kwouk as Cato finally gets something to do other than attack Clouseau in their apartment. Cato is the instigator of many of the physical gags in the film’s final third, seemingly substituting for the frail Sellers. We are also treated to another eccentric Graham Stark appearance as “Dr. Auguste Balls,” Clouseau’s disguise-maker. As the film goes on, Clouseau is in disguise more often than not, making it easier on the stuntmen and doubles who do most of the work. 

Revenge of the Pink Panther was yet another financial success, but Edwards and Sellers had publicly renewed their vow to leave the series (and each other) behind. No one believed them.

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Written by Blake Edwards & Geoffrey Edwards (additional material by Frank & Tom Waldman)

Produced by Blake Edwards for United Artists/Blake Edwards Entertainment

Released through MGM/UA Entertainment Company

The Pink Panther diamond is stolen for the third time. Once again, the Lugashi government requests Clouseau’s assistance. He responds by flying off to…England, because he’s absolutely certain that English jewel thief Charles Litton (“the notorious Phantom”) is responsible. With no leads in England (mainly because Litton has lived in Nice for decades), Clouseau finally departs for Lugash. His plane disappears somewhere over the ocean, and Clouseau vanishes from the film thirty-eight minutes in, never to reappear except in flashbacks. For its remaining running time, it becomes a very different movie, with investigative TV journalist Marie Jouveat (Joanna Lumley) looking into Clouseau’s disappearance, and interviewing his friends, family, and former adversaries. 

What’s going on here?

What’s going on is that on July 21, 1980, the inevitable finally happened — Peter Sellers was struck down by a massive heart attack in his suite at the Dorchester Hotel in London. He lingered in a coma for thirty-six hours before dying early in the morning of July 24. He was 54. Among his belongings in the hotel suite was the second-draft script for something called Romance of the Pink Panther — the first Panther movie he would have a hand in co-writing. It was not to be.

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Edwards, riding high in Hollywood again thanks to the Panther series and the 1979 hit 10, decided to create Trail of the Pink Panther as a “tribute” to Sellers. He took the twenty minutes cut from Strikes Again (remember that?), which mostly detailed Clouseau’s visit to England to investigate Professor Fassbender’s kidnapping (repurposed here to depict him trying to find the Phantom), along with some bits of physical business at his office desk, and a sequence in Dr. Auguste Balls’ costume shop (the esteemed Dr. Balls is portrayed here by Harvey Korman). Through the use of clever editing, voice dubbing, body doubles, and a few exposition scenes with other characters, Edwards managed to piece everything together into the opening third of Trail. 

That opening third is predictably pretty terrible. Then something amazing happens. When Maria Jouveat begins making the rounds, interviewing Clouseau’s associates, the film becomes lighter, more relaxed, good-natured, and — enjoyable? Lumley is wonderful as the film’s new main character, and our patience is no longer tested by Edwards’ pain-obsessed attempts at physical comedy. Among the highlights are her interviews with the always-unpredictable Cato, who has some lingering hostility but clearly feels a little lonely without his his old boss, and Clouseau’s former assistant Hercule (Graham Stark, finally reprising his Shot in the Dark role), now retired and fishing off his houseboat with an unbaited hook (“I don’t miss excitement.”) She butts heads with yet-again reinstated Chief Inspector Dreyfus (Herbert Lom is always great, no matter how silly Dreyfus gets) who can’t conceal his glee that Clouseau is dead, and Robert Loggia is no longer the second-banana gangster of Revenge. He’s now the mob godfather, Bruno Langois, who tries to charm and then intimidate Jouveat into dropping her investigation.

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Niven and Capucine return

In one of the film’s sweetest moments, Jouveat scores an interview with Charles Litton and his wife Simone (the former Mrs. Clouseau). Both characters are played by the actors who originated the roles in 1963 — David Niven and Capucine. Litton speaks with obvious fond affection for his former nemesis, and praises his perseverance. (Wait, what happened to Claudine Litton?) 

And hey! There’s Porkins, Star Wars’ Red Six in the (ample) flesh, in a tiny part as a cab driver. William Hootkins’ minute-long scene with Lumley may be funnier than anything in the previous two movies.

Trail of the Pink Panther concludes with a visit to Clouseau’s elderly father, a doddering, senile old winemaker (played by an unrecognizable Richard Mulligan) who fills us in on the inspector’s childhood and adolescence (with different younger actors playing him at various ages in flashbacks). The final shot of the film is a strong hint that Clouseau is still alive out there somewhere.

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Joanna Lumley (Maria Jouvet) and Richard Mulligan (Monsieur Clouseau)

Interspersed with all this are the best bits from every film in the series, making the film something of a “clip show.” The highlight reel continues as the credits roll. 

That’s it, right? Blake Edwards would have the good sense to shut down the series after this “tribute,” right? Wrong. Edwards had cynically latched onto the idea that the Pink Panther name meant money in the bank. 

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Written by Blake Edwards & Geoffrey Edwards

Produced by Blake Edwards for United Artists/Blake Edwards Entertainment/Tilt Productions 

Released through MGM/UA Entertainment Company

Whatever goodwill was generated by the Sellers tribute Trail of the Pink Panther (and there wasn’t much) was thoroughly destroyed by its immediate sequel. Its style, tone, and performances are no different from the four movies that preceded it in the series, but this one was hated. For no other reason than thoughtlessly pushing the series forward with no Peter Sellers. Audiences and critics took it as an affront.

Curse has the most convoluted plot of any film in the series, and I simply don’t have the space or patience to go into it here. Both the Pink Panther diamond and Jacques Clouseau remain missing. Beyond that, all you need to know is that 1. Chief Inspector Dreyfus uses a super-computer to find the “worst detective in the world” to sabotage the search for Clouseau — New York police detective Clifton Sleigh (Ted Wass) fits the bill, and causes the usual amount of clumsy Edwardsian destruction. 2. Clouseau is, in fact, alive and well and has had plastic surgery to look like actor Roger Moore (he’s played by none other than Roger Moore in a cameo). 3. The Pink Panther ends up in the hands of Charles Litton (“the notorious Phantom”), who sails off into the sunset with Lady Simone and his loutish nephew George (Robert Wagner returns.) 

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Ted Wass as Clifton Sleigh

Cato pops up briefly (ambushing Sleigh in a darkened apartment, of course), Robert Loggia’s mobster is the main villain, and Joanna Lumley is back, too — but has a hideous black wig and plays a different character. Look fast for Graham Stark as a bored waiter. Ted Wass (originally of the popular 1977-81 daytime drama parody Soap) made a cottage industry of appearing in sub-par comedy sequels in the early ‘80s, and had a short but bland run as the dad on Blossom in the early ‘90s, before ditching acting and wisely moving on to sitcom directing. (And William Hootkins makes a welcome return as the cab driver.)

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In the film’s last few minutes, good ol’ Roger Moore absolutely nails a dead-on Sellers/Clouseau impression, complete with exaggerated French accent and a series of pratfalls, ending up with an ice bucket stuck on his head. That and just observing David Niven being cool and sophisticated on a yacht are the two of the film’s enjoyable moments. It was Niven’s final film appearance. He filmed his parts in Trail and Curse simultaneously, and was so ill from ALS that his voice had to be dubbed by impressionist Rich Little. (Niven died on July 29, 1983, two weeks before the release of Curse.) In fact, all of the post-Sellers sequences from Trail were filmed at the same time as Curse — so Edwards had no idea that Trail would be a box office disappointment as Curse was being produced. 

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Roger Moore filmed his cameo while on a day off from filming the 007 movie Octopussy

Curse of the Pink Panther would go beyond “disappointment” and become yet another flat-out Edwards bomb. It was Peter Sellers who was the draw for the series. Not Edwards’ possessive name over the title, not the Clouseau character, not even the always-enjoyable animated opening titles.

Edwards paused the series for ten years, partly due to lawsuits and counter lawsuits he and MGM kept throwing at each other through the rest of the 1980s. But he hadn’t given up flogging what he still thought could be a cash cow.

69151Son of the Pink Panther (1993)

Written by Blake Edwards, Madeline Sunshine & Steve Sunshine

Produced by Tony Adams for Filmauro and United Artists

Released through MGM/UA Distribution Co.

At this point, it seems Clouseau really is dead and gone. Evidently, he had a son with Maria Gambrelli, the maid from A Shot in the Dark, that he was unaware of. That son (who likewise does not know who his father was) is now a police officer in the French Riviera. He has inherited his father’s clumsiness, and gets mixed up with a kidnapping in the Lugashi royal family. 

Again, the plot is not worth going into because the movie is hammered-flat dogshit. If you thought Curse was bad, rest assured, the series can and does sink lower. The injury-as-comedy stuff is dialed down a tiny bit, but the casual racism is dialed way up. Dreyfus, Cato, and Dr. Balls (Graham Stark again, taking the role back from Harvey Korman) all show up and do their expected bits, but don’t look too happy about it. Claudia Cardinale — Princess Dala from the original Pink Panther — returns to the series, but here she plays Maria Gambrelli (originally played by Elke Sommer.) There’s lots of bombs blowing up, heads getting bashed, and people getting drugged and taken away in vans — all of which looks like it was edited with a poorly-maintained chainsaw.

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Nauseating

I’ll save the worst for last — Roberto Benigni as Jacques Gambrelli (later “Jacques Clouseau Jr.” when he learns of his parentage). Benigni suffers from Jerry Lewis Syndrome in a big, big way and has always been a colossal annoyance every time he shows up in something, doing that same stupid “innocent idiot clown” routine that Europeans seem to find so endearing. 

Sellers, even at his lowest, always managed to infuse Clouseau with an innate dignity, mostly through his soulful eyes. Benigni has not a scrap of dignity, innate or acquired — he mugs shamelessly and grovels for the audience’s attention at every turn.

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Hebert Lom (Dreyfus), Claudia Cardinale (Maria Gambrelli), and Fuckwit

Edwards (or maybe it was co-screenwriters the Sunshines, both former executive producers of, God help us, Webster) decided Benigni needed a fun catchphrase. So they took a mildly humorous throwaway line of Sellers’, who declared “Well…that felt good” after his disastrous gymnasium “workout” in Strikes Back, and gave it to Benigni to frequently bellow in his chinless, gape-mouthed fashion — “ZAT FELT GOOOOOOOD!!

Jesus Christ, this movie is awful in every way and there was never a moment when I didn’t want to hit Benigni in the face with a coal shovel. (Not to be funny, Blake. To take him out.)

I haven’t seen everything he’s done, but I’m willing to bet Son of the Pink Panther is Blake Edwards’ very worst film. It was also his very last, marking the beginning of an almost twenty-year retirement.

And now, after spewing 10,000 words on the subject, I have to ask myself (as you are doubtlessly asking yourselves): What was my point again? Simply to denigrate the legacy of a director who many admire, but I find low-rent, tasteless, and crass?

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Benigni and Edwards

Well, yeah, partly. 

But mostly the idea began rattling around in my head when I heard these films described as “classics” for the hundredth time and wondered if they held up. They mostly don’t, then I began to wonder why they don’t, and the blame must be laid in the lap of the director/producer/co-writer of each one. 

Sometimes “classic” status is based on nothing more than nostalgia, and I have my blind spots in that area, too. The Dan Aykroyd/Tom Hanks Dragnet movie from 1987 is a “classic” as far as I’m concerned, so what the hell do I know?

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