Pretty good film.
All things considered.
Alan Arkin is impressive.
Second half drags.
Pretty good film.
All things considered.
Alan Arkin is impressive.
Second half drags.
Ugh. Ay carambas! Yikes. This film is torture. I will not claim to have made it all the way through, but I held on as long as I could.
This really is just a travesty all around. It starts well enough. Harvey Korman is an admirable Auguste Balls. “Maybe they did have enough outtake footage to patch together a film,” I thought. I kept as alert as possible, trying to find the inevitable and unenviable “break point.” It comes after Sellers exits the elevator: the last laugh.
It is a jaw-dropping stroke of hubris…Sellers doing soft-shoe on the spilled rice and then the exact same set piece with the keys in the door and the ripped trousers. It’s all downhill from there. It turns into a “greatest hits” playback of scenes from the previous films with stupefying ennui courtesy of interviewing those who had known Clouseau.
I must say, however: I made it further into this debacle than I thought I would. At least the “pup-out” lighter scene was priceless (truly the last laugh). Perhaps I will return to this revolting pastiche once my stomach has calmed down…in a couple of weeks.
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.
This is a brilliant film. And though I doubt the Quasimodo disguise kit which Clouseau just happened to have on hand prior to learning of Dreyfus’ escape was spun-off into a product tie-in, it should have been.
The problem with the prior film (The Return of the Pink Panther) is remedied here in spades with liberal experimentation. Having Dreyfus form a S.P.E.C.T.R.E.-like crime organization is as ingenious as it is utterly ridiculous. Students of German cinema may be left wondering whether Professor Fassbender is actually a reference to Rainer Werner Fassbinder. No matter: the joy of this film is how little it takes itself seriously.
Clouseau once again is buoyed by his charmed existence: like Charlie Chaplin meets Forrest Gump. The world’s top assassins (assigned to kill our beloved Inspector) are no match for Clouseau’s fateful luck–stumbling over each other like a bunch of amateurs in his wake–and he is none-the-wiser (being both detached and oblivious). Peter Sellers was pure nitrous oxide when he was at his best. His visual humor has been near-unparalleled in the history of cinema. His performance in this film ranks with The Party as among his best.
Awkward men everywhere can exult in the clumsy attempt Clouseau makes near the end of the movie to simply get undressed (similar to his misadventures with Capucine in the original installment of the series).
Director Blake Edwards expanded on the “psychedelic” touches of The Return of the Pink Panther by having more outrageous slow-motion scream-groans in the primary karate skirmish between Cato and Clouseau. It is a truly masterful instance of surrealism.
In short, it is a viewing experience not to be missed. This is your dossier.
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.
If you are not paying strict attention it may escape you that A Shot in the Dark is the second installment in The Pink Panther series. After playing second fiddle (literally…in bed…a “Stradivarius”) to David Niven in The Pink Panther, Peter Sellers parlays his upstaging of Niven into this starring vehicle loaded with bombs, murders and surprise karate attacks.
After receiving a “beump” on the head, Maria Gambrelli (Elke Sommer) is rendered unconscious. While out, a gun is placed in her hand making her appear to be the culprit in a mysterious murder. Leave it to a crew working in Britain and relying heavily on fake French accents to name a key character Dreyfus. Think Alfred Dreyfus…1894-1906…not at all a funny affair in the annals of French history.
What is more, the newly introduced character Cato could not be further from the lofty Cato the Younger of Roman history. The two Catos, however, do share a stubborn tenacity. But more about that later…
Clouseau (Sellers) is as bumbling as ever and, as always, blinded by love. After being cuckolded and taken by Capucine in the first installment, this time he lets love rule in his passion for Elke Sommers’ character. Unlike the first film, his blind faith this time turns out to be vindicated.
The scene at the nudist colony is almost as good as the quintessential Sellers movie The Party (1968).
Things start to really go downhill for Clouseau’s boss Commissioner Dreyfus when the man in charge manages to chop his own thumb off in a guillotine-shaped cigar cutter. Dreyfus proceeds to “go postal” in an attempt to rid himself of his least favorite employee (Clouseau): the bane of his existence.
Burt Kwouk’s character Cato (actually spelled Kato, but only for this episode of the series) keeps the good inspector on his toes by attacking him at all hours of the day and night. They are, apparently, friends. Their sparring makes for some interesting phone calls as Cato answers “Inspector Clouseau’s residence” and hands the phone to Sellers who is twice breathing heavily from a just-finished skirmish. It leaves the impression that Clouseau might be homosexual and that perhaps a “passionate moment” has been interrupted by the caller. Indeed, Clouseau is always (without fail) in the wrong place at the wrong time (and alternately, the right place and the right time). His is both a cursed and charmed existence. Coupled with his indecipherable accent, he is a complete enigma. The film seems to be asking, “How does this man even exist?!?” And that’s what makes his story so entertaining.
For serious film nerds, notice Monsieur Ballon’s wife as being Tracy Reed: the one and only actress in Dr. Strangelove. I admit…it’s hard to recognize her without her bikini.
Graham Stark is great as Hercule LaJoy (no doubt an Agatha Christie/Hercule Poirot reference). Perhaps no greater embodiment of patience has existed in the history of cinema outside of Officer LaJoy.
It should be noted that director Blake Edwards was a native of Tulsa, Oklahoma: not exactly the place from whence you would assume such humor to emanate. Indeed, this film is all about Edwards and Sellers.
Let us not forget the timeless Operation Petticoat (1959…even the timeless have times) with Cary Grant which Edwards helmed. Even Andrew Sarris noted the achievement of Edward’s film Breakfast At Tiffany’s (1961). And we musn’t forget 10 (1979) with Dudley Moore and Bo Derek.
It’s a long way from Tulsa to Portsmouth, U.K. where Peter Sellers was born. The thing about Sellers is that he really was a late bloomer as regards international stardom. He was 38 when he first played Clouseau on screen and 39 for his turns in Dr. Stranglove and A Shot in the Dark.
For fans of The Kinks, it should be noted that the Sellers family relocated to Muswell Hill when Peter was aged 10. He was of a Protestant father and Jewish mother so naturally (?) he attended Catholic school. Sellers was, in fact, an accomplished drummer and was at one time billed as “Britain’s answer to Gene Krupa.” (!) His first studio album (sketches and comic songs) was produced by George Martin in 1958 and released on Parlophone (reaching #3 in the U.K. album charts). In 1960 he recorded an album with Sophia Loren (including the #4 U.K. hit “Goodness Gracious Me”…also produced by Martin).
Sellers made his directorial debut in 1961 with Mr. Topaze.
But back to the film at hand. Even Bosley Crowther himself admired Sellers’ performance in A Shot in the Dark.
Sellers really had a wild year in 1964…what with Dr. Stranglove…A Shot in the Dark…and the eight heart attacks he suffered over the course of three hours from popping amyl nitrates prior to having sex with Britt Ekland.
Sellers received a CBE shortly after leaving (quit or fired) the set of Casino Royale (1967).
“What’s that you say? Oh…”
Reporting from Lugash…I just have word that Cortina d’Ampezzo is a real place. It cannot be confirmed at this time, but the report indicates it was the location of the 1956 Winter Olympics. What is even more unbelievable is the claim that a James Bond movie was shot there in 1981.
There is no disputing that Switzerland has four official languages (including Romansh), but our fabled Cortina is said to have a language called Ladin. This is, I know, hard to fathom. It is even said that Hemingway wrote for a short time in Cortina, but I do not believe it for one second.
Now…Skardu, in Pakistan: that is an actual town! [and not too very far from Lugash, I might add] But one must never confuse Akbar the Magnificent with the Mughal Emperor Akbar. They are approximately 450 years apart chronologically. There are some rumors of a mountain called K2 in the vicinity of Skardu, but do not pay this any mind. It is simply a myth, I tell you. It would behoove these mythmakers to concentrate on more pressing problems such as Y2K. The world is still in danger, I tell you! Think, for instance, if a clock was 15 years behind, yes? It could be this very New Year’s Eve when this very real menace finally brings our technological world to its knees. But I digress…
Now, let me tell you about this lake in the vicinity of the very real Skardu (near to the very real Lugash). Shangrila Lake is as lovely as the probably-fictional Cortina purports to be. There is even a restaurant in the fuselage of an aircraft which crashed nearby. See: you would never have such an obviously real detail in the notes of a “place” like Cortina. One must use logic and deduce what is faux from what is not faux. Now then…
I tell you all of this back story because I firmly believe Sir Charles Lytton to be one and the same with Sir James Bond. I know this may seem to be a stretch to the untrained mind, but I will elucidate my reasoning in due time. I would also be willing to bet my job with the Sûreté that this same Sir Charles is the elusive Phantom for whom I have been searching my entire life. In due course I will explain this, this…how do you call it? Triple agent!
I, of course, am now writing from the Gaol here in Voghera. I believe that the very real Princess Dala was conspiring with someone (I don’t know who…certainly not my wife) and that she stole the Pink Panther herself so that it would not be taken away from her by the government of the very real country of Lugash (Voghera being a little-known hamlet in the Lombardy area of Lugash). I will address the claims that I am homosexual at a later date.
The fact that I was made to testify against myself in court was really a sneaky gambit on the part of Sir Charles’ barrister. I must admit that I passed out in shock from having the Pink Panther fall from my coat pocket. Now they are claiming I also stole some ridiculous and obviously nonexistent jewel called the Hope Diamond, but I tell you…I am about 400 years too young for that to even be possible. And contrary to accounts, I have never gone by the name Tavernier.
I would like to clear up some further controversy. The Daria-i-Noor diamond does not exist. I can see how some might mistake it for the very real Pink Panther because of the preposterous similarities between the very real Lugash and some fictional country called Iran, but I can assure you that there is no Iran. India? Yes. Persia? Of course. Iran? It sounds like a song by The Flock of The Seagulls. It is obviously a lie.
Most importantly! I do not plan to be held in the gaol for much longer as I am sure the real Phantom will strike again. At that point, I intend to resume work for the Sûreté (having been properly exonerated of all wrongdoing).
Furthermore, I have never heard of this silly Alfred Itchcock nor his supposed film Foreign Correspondent so I cannot answer claims that any of my story bears resemblance to his film. But be well-advised: when I chase a criminal, I always catch that criminal. As my great countryman Racine said, “There are no secrets that time does not reveal.”
One last note. Topkapi is just a movie. I will admit, I do not see the humor in the criminal aspects, but I do enjoy that the thieves are eventually dispensed justice. So to further clarify with the geography lesson: Topkapi is not a real place.
I have been asking for coffee here in my cell in Voghera in Lugash since I have been imprisoned and if Topkapı were really a neighborhood of Istanbul I would demand they bring me a Turkish coffee immediately (and it better be tonight). But you see, they could not…the whole concept is a farce…unlike my very sad and serious imprisonment. Please tell my darling Simone that I love her…and remind her not to be too frugal with the housekeeping money. I know she is quite capable of buying mink coats from the leftover money. She has done it before, my pigeon…