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…”