Monday, November 29, 2010

The Return of the Pink Panther (1975) & The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976) & Revenge of the Pink Panther (1978)

          British comedian Peter Sellers first played nincompoop policeman Jacques Clouseau in The Pink Panther (1963), but really hit his groove with the sequel, A Shot in the Dark (1964), for which he and director Blake Edwards elevated Clouseau’s ineptitude to a giddy level of farcical perfection. So it’s disappointing to view The Return of the Pink Panther in close succession with its predecessors, because the 1975 reunion of Edwards and Sellers is a minor effort for both men. All the usual tropes are here (animated title sequence, smooth scoring by Henry Mancini, glamorous European locations), but the filmmaking is enervated. The jokes are moronic, repetitive, and telegraphed; the camerawork is flat except for an exciting heist at the beginning; and the storyline is a pointless rehash of the original 1963 movie, with Christopher Plummer blandly essaying a role originated by the debonair David Niven. As for Sellers, he seems bored, and there’s not nearly enough of Herbert Lom as Clouseau’s insane boss/nemesis, Dreyfus.
          The 1976 follow-up The Pink Panther Strikes Again is much better, though by this point Sellers’ characterization is becoming overly reliant on elaborate makeup and goofy costumes. The James Bond-ish plot is silly fun, with Dreyfus escaping from a mental institution and threatening global destruction with a super-powerful laser beam unless Clouseau is surrendered to him, and the movie benefits from its supporting players: Lom’s cheerful-maniac routine is delightful, and Lesley-Anne Down smolders as a Russian agent. Strikes Again is too long, but that’s true of all of Edwards’ Panther movies, and while comic inspiration is in short supply, some of the gags are terrific, like Clouseau’s attempt at dentistry.
          The series ran out of gas with Revenge of the Pink Panther, which relies on insipid disguises (Sellers dressed as a gargantuan mobster), stupid puns (a shopkeeper whose surname is Balls), and tedious plotting about a crime boss conspiring to kill Clouseau. Lom’s comic mojo is defused when his character is “cured,” Dyan Cannon is wasted in a decorative role, and series supporting player Burt Kwouk (Clouseau’s manservant Cato) gets stuck in a series of foolish slapstick gags. Even the usually reliable Mancini contributes lackluster work, from the disco-ish version of the main theme that plays over the opening credits to the corny vaudeville-style number that accompanies the Hong Kong-set climax.
          After Sellers died in 1980, Edwards pillaged outtakes from various Panther movies for a pair of awful ’80s sequels, and more recently Steve Martin took over the Clouseau role in a pair of critically drubbed comedies.

The Return of the Pink Panther: LAME
The Pink Panther Strikes Again: FUNKY
Revenge of the Pink Panther: LAME

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