It all starts to blur together. After the masterful return to form in The Pink Panther Strikes Again, this film fails to distinguish itself from the series. There are some amazing moments. True. But perhaps it would have behooved the creators to have set the entire film in Hong Kong rather than merely the last portion.
The saving grace of the Bond series from Eon Productions is that, though formulaic, one can differentiate one film from another (more or less) by the location shooting. The original Pink Panther movie boded well for just such expectations by having Clouseau go off to Cortina d’Ampezzo for a postcard background. When one thinks of Bond, we can picture Jamaica (Dr. No), Turkey (From Russia With Love), Japan (You Only Live Twice) and Switzerland (particularly On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, but also Goldfinger) to name just a few. Such differentiation was sorely lacking in this parallel string of sequels.
Back to the film at hand: it is not at all bad. It just becomes difficult to tell it apart from the preceding four installments (not including 1968’s Inspector Clouseau which featured Alan Arkin rather than Sellers). [I suppose Arkin is the Lazenby of this franchise.]
There are some nuggets in this film–some “set pieces” which make it wonderful viewing in spite of its meta-laziness. When Sellers manages to kill Ed Parker…that’s surely a laugher. But what follows is even better. As Clouseau has the floor sawn from beneath him, we once again enter a surreal world of Sellers vs. Kwouk (which Blake Edwards had begun to capture ever more rivetingly in the preceding two films). Sellers ends up largely covered in blue paint (which also splatters on the walls of the apartment beneath his…a half-finished renovation) and the whole thing begs the question as to whether Sellers and the creators of this film were versed in the history of Yves Klein. Klein, of course, in addition to “patenting” a particular shade of blue (International Klein Blue) was also a martial arts enthusiast (becoming a master of judo at age 25). And. He was, of course, thoroughly French.
Dyan Cannon looked lovely in this film and the scene with Sellers by the fireplace is both charming and hilarious (in a Samuel Beckett sort of way). Sellers as Godfather Scallini presages the Austin Powers “fat suit” antics of Mike Myers. Finally, the medal presentation at the end of the film is befitting for the aging Sellers: a grand exit from the series proper. [One last trio of antics…the faulty sword, the pigeon on his gendarme casque, and the thorough unraveling of the French president’s necktie.]
Graham Stark is excellent in yet a third separate role (over the course of the series) as Auguste Balls. Special notice should also be given to André Maranne who was an iconic face and personality throughout the franchise’s run.
Sellers contributed a magnificent archetype to cinema with his storied presentation of the Clouseau character over the course of these many films. He is, and always will be, (notwithstanding Casino Royale) the anti-Bond. Farewell sweet soul.