From the start it is a pale imitation of Topkapi.
But the film is salvaged by upping the ridiculousness of Sellers’ French accent.
The grand premise is similar to Hitchcock’s To Catch A Thief (1955), but the Pink Panther series had by 1975 lost that je ne sais quoi which made the first two films of the series minor masterpieces.
This film is really all about Sellers’ uncanny skill at impressions (and there are some good ones): the phone company man, the German-speaking housekeeper and even the Tony Clifton-esque playboy.
It is interesting to note that Sellers actually did have a residence in Gstaad (one of the principal settings for this film).
Also interesting to note is that Graham Stark (who had previously played Hercule LaJoy in A Shot In The Dark (1964), the second episode in the series) plays the role of Pepi. Pepi is actually the only other interesting character in this whole film. There is a sort of “Signor Ugarte meets Marty Feldman’s Igor” about his performance.
The direction at least has some interesting “psychedelic” moments (I’m thinking of the two slow-motion shots of Sellers flying through the air attempting an unsuccessful karate kick).
One thing is certain: Sellers had a comedic magic which even caused his fellow actors (Catherine Schell in this film) to visibly “crack up” during takes. The “corpsing” (as it is known) will be familiar to viewers of Saturday Night Live. Sellers really embodied the part (as any good purveyor of imitations would). When true comedic genius is present, it is often hard to find a Zeppo Marx.
But what I find most fascinating about this awful film (awful aside from Sellers) is that the director Blake Edwards had just three years previous made a fantastic drama starring James Coburn called The Carey Treatment (1972). Edwards was no slouch as a director. That then brings into question the underrated acting skills of Coburn (Derek Flint for spy-spoof enthusiasts).
With the immense talent of Sellers and the thorough competence of Edwards, I can only surmise that (like the Bond series beginning with You Only Live Twice (1967)) the series itself became a stale constraint due to pressure from above. The only real innovation allowed to happen was in the liberties Sellers took with the Clouseau character. The accent is more indecipherable, yet that becomes formulaic over the course of 114 minutes as the new gag is run into the ground. The imitations are creative and elaborate (almost like a playful take on Dr. Strangelove), but none of them seem particularly well thought-out. Somehow there was a disconnect between the talents of Sellers and Edwards. Had they been creating as one, this awfully good film might have been great.