Thursday, November 27, 2014

#1,564. The Pink Panther (1963)

Directed By: Blake Edwards

Starring: David Niven, Peter Sellers, Robert Wagner

Tag line: "You only live once... so see The Pink Panther twice!!!"

Trivia: Yves Saint Laurent created the gowns for Capucine and Claudia Cardinale. This was the designer's first Hollywood film project

The majority of the Pink Panther sequels, from 1964’s A Shot in the Dark all the way up to 1978’s The Revenge of the Pink Panther, put the focus squarely on Inspector Jacques Clouseau, the bumbling French detective played by Peter Sellers. This is what makes The Pink Panther, the 1963 original, such an interesting motion picture; unlike the other entries in the series, Clouseau was originally supposed to be a supporting character in this film. In fact, you might even say he’s the villain of the piece. Of course, with an actor as talented as Peter Sellers in the role, this so-called "supporting" character quickly took center stage.

Despite his worldly demeanor, British playboy Sir Charles Lytton (David Niven) is, in reality, The Phantom, a notorious thief whose specialty is fine jewelry. In an interesting twist, Sir Charles’ accomplice and lover, the beautiful Simone (Capucine), is actually the wife of Inspector Jacques Clouseau (Sellers), the very man who has sworn to bring The Phantom to justice! All three converge on a ski resort in the small Italian town of Cortina d'Ampezzo, where Princess Dala (Claudia Cardinale), owner of the fabled Pink Panther diamond, is vacationing. In an effort to steal the Pink Panther, Sir Charles cozies up to the Princess, only to discover he actually has feelings for her. This, combined with the sudden and unexpected arrival of Sir Charles’ American nephew George (Robert Wagner), puts the entire plan in jeopardy. What’s more, Clouseau, who has no idea his wife is deceiving him, believes he’s closing in on the Phantom, and, in an attempt to capture him, doubles the guard around the Pink Panther. Unbeknownst to all, someone else is also after the diamond, resulting in a weekend none of them will soon forget.

Directed by Blake Edwards, The Pink Panther is a sophisticated caper comedy, with David Niven at his dashing best as the worldly Sir Charles. The scenes in which he’s trying to woo the Princess have an almost regal feel to them, and his ability to remain calm in any situation is the mark of a true gentleman. Yet as debonair as Niven is in the role of Sir Charles, The Pink Panther belongs to a bumbling idiot, namely Inspector Jacques Clouseau. Despite playing what was essentially a supporting character, Peter Sellers was given ample opportunity throughout The Pink Panther to show the world how gifted a comedian he was; at one point, Clouseau burns his fingers on a fireplace, then tries to cool them in a beer stein that his associate Tucker (Colin Gordon) is drinking from (naturally, his hand gets stuck in it). Yet as funny as the slapstick and pratfalls are, Clouseau’s best scenes take place in the hotel room he shares with his wife (one in particular, where Simone is trying to conceal the fact that both Sir Charles and George are hiding in the room, is absolutely hilarious).

Though initially intended as a vehicle for Niven, The Pink Panther will instead be remembered as the film that introduced Jacques Clouseau to the movie-going public, thus earning it a place of honor in the Pantheon of comedy history.

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