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pink panther

THE PINK PANTHER (1963)

“The Pink Panther” is the first of what would become a series of great Crime Comedies featuring infamous British actor Peter Sellers as the hilariously bumbling inspector Jacques Clouseau who is on the hunt for the notorious gem thief, the “Phantom” who is recently on the search for the largest diamond in the world: the pink panther.  A series of hilarious events and complex intrapersonal relations make this screwball comedy all the more hilarious and timeless.

The cast includes: David Niven, Peter Sellers, Capucine, Claudia Cardinale, and Robert Wagner.

Written by: Maurice Enlin and Blake Edwards. Directed by: Blake Edwards.

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Genre: Comedy, Crime.

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Once upon a time in a land far, far away, (presumably the middle East), there was a ruler who was given a beautiful pink diamond by the people of his land.  Placing it on his daughter he admires how the largest diamond in the world’s tiny flaw resembles a “pink panther”.  So our adventures concerning the pink panther begin.

Here our story switches to contemporary Rome where a famous gem thief, the “Phantom”, does away with a valuable purse: in return he leaves his trademarked glove, marked with a P, for “Phantom.”  But his plans are slightly foiled as another man interrupts his escape plan.  Meanwhile pan to Pierre Luigi, photographer, and his partner George Whitman (Robert Wagner) who apparently owes a group of trench coat clad men $40,000.  As the men approach the photographer’s office, George makes his great escape and heads to destination to-be-determined.

Back in Paris one man observes the headlines, “Phantom Strikes Again: Half Million in Gems Stolen” just before he prepares to make a deal concerning part of the stolen treasure with a rather attractive woman- presumably an ally of the phantom.  While one inspector, Jacques Clouseau (Peter Sellers) racks his brain trying to deduce who the identity of the woman could possibly be, little does he know that his own wife, Simone Clouseau (Capucine) may perfectly match the criminal’s profile.

Still more plot intricacy develops in a posh Italian vacation resort in Cortina D’Ampezzo, where a group of holiday vacationers are enjoying the sun and the snow and their fellow celebrity guests, including Princess Dala (Claudia Cardinale), who is apparently in some hot water with that coveted pink diamond pendant given to her by her father many years ago.  Turns out the government has been usurped by rebels who are now demanding the diamond be “returned” to the people.  Likewise, comedy is evoked from the transparent motives of socialite Angela Dunning (Brenda De Banzie) prances all over the resort in her pretentious outfits in hopes of turning heads and mingling with the highest of society.

While the Princess skis on, a man in brightly colored sweaters, allegedly Sir Charles Lytton (David Niven) follows her every move, which includes his coincidental espying of her sleigh being high jacked.  Quickly discerning his motives to be less than admirable audiences watch him make his move on the Princess in hopes of getting close to the covetous diamond.  Meanwhile Inspector Jacques Clouseau is back on the case and in the mountains with his beautiful wife, Simone (Cappucine).  While the inspector works to crack his case audiences quickly discover him to be an A-rate klutz.  Likewise, as Jacques’ luck would have it, not only is Inspector Clouseau's wife a thief, she’s having an affair with Sir Charles. 

So we learn the intricacy of the mystery: Princess Dala’s pink panther, the necklace, is coveted and in demand from rebels.  Inspector Jacques Clouseau suspects that the Phantom will be lurking close by the Princess in hopes of ascertaining her diamond for his own benefit.  So it seems Sir Charles most appropriately fits the profile of the Phantom, and Clouseau’s wife, his partner in crime.

As dinner parties and hilarious bedroom scenes ensue, Princess Dala begins to fall for the imposter Sir Charles who, after pretending to stop a staged kidnapping, equally feigns a bum leg, Simone bosses and demands the most tedious of requests from her husband whom she obviously gathers great pleasure in watching his earnest and unappreciated efforts.   Meanwhile the champagne flows next doors and Princess Dala finds herself talking to fur rugs and asking Sir Charles to inspect her lips, which he does so without a second invitation.  Still, with the “Virgin Queen” being quite unaccustomed to champagne, several glasses later and the comic interlude ends when Simone confronts Lytton about his mysterious royal liaisons, and of course, his nephew George (Robert Wagner)- the man who ran from the trench coat clad men after running up a huge debt, who has mysteriously turned up at the vacation resort. 

While Simone attempts to give skiing lessons to the brash and completely inconsiderate and sexually aggressive George, Sir Charles is back on the heroic boat trying to run down the car that stole her doggy.  Of course the entire thing is staged and as yet Princess Dala hasn’t quite made sense of the massive con building around her.  Cut to a strange, albeit entertaining musical montage with a beautiful woman set center stage.  While she dances around some snowbound guests the rest discuss the potential location of the cunning “Phantom”.  As most of our guests continue dancing and enjoying the evening’s entertaining prospects, Jacques resorts to fumbling around with his hand which he has recently got stuck in a beer stein.  The bumbling continues in his bedroom as he prepares for yet another sleepless night. 

So the classic scene unfolds in the Clouseau’s bedroom as Simone attempts to keep her husband from acknowledging the unwanted presence of two other men.  While Sir Charles dodges repeatedly in and out from under the bed, his equally Simone-smitten nephew George prances about the bedroom and bathroom in hopes of wooing Simone with or without her husband’s approval.    All the same exploding bottles of champagne and an intrigued nephew begin to complicate both Jacques’ efforts to crack the case as well as Charles’ efforts to pull off the job respectively.  Still, when Tucker (Colin Gordon) tips off Jacques that the Phantom may in fact be Sir Charles, the criminal allegedly goes missing. 

Meanwhile Jacques pays Princess Dala a visit concerning the identity of the Phantom.  As Princess Dala prepares to host a grand party back in Rome people arrive in fanfare style, as guerillas, princesses, and other masqueraded wonders (Jacques himself is appropriately clad a knight), Jacques and Tucker prepare to stake out Sir Charles while everyone else dances to the twist.  Still, the presence of two guerillas promises to make things complicated as one is the honest ambassador, the other, George who has allegedly arrived at the party in hopes of stealing the pink panther for himself.  Likewise Sir Charles somehow manages to enter the property in hopes of acquiring the covetous pink gem. 

As guerilla and painter dance through the banister, Simone escapes the protective bonds of her husband in time to try and help Charles pull off the job.  Meanwhile Jacques lights off fireworks inside Princess Dala’s estate, helping to quickly evacuate all guests, while Sir Charles, now clad as a guerilla himself, faces off his mirror image, the equally guerilla-esque George to nail the job.  Al the while a hilariously hairy pantomime ensues, including two guerillas driving cars and a tipsy zebra in hot pursuit, Sir Charles and George are disappointed to discover that someone has nabbed the pink panther and left behind the phantom’s glove, that being Charles’, in the process. 

Still, after a Curly and Mo car crash, Sir Charles and George are placed behind bars in hopes.  Though Jacques has big hopes of nailing them for the theft of the pink panther, all the same, love intervenes to further complicate matters.  As Simone approaches Princess Dala with a confession of both her and Charles’ complicit attempts to steal the gem, she likewise pleads for help. Still, when Princess Dala produces the pink panther from her own safe, “safe and sound”-pardon the pun, she promises to help get Sir Charles off by framing the theft on someone else.  But who are the women to frame?  As a surprise defense witness makes their way to the stand, the case concerning the theft of the pink panther and the milieu of the notorious phantom’s well chronicled career just may be pinned on a hapless victim because the bumbling Sir Jacques Clouseau once again fails to put the picture together. 

British actor Peter Sellers as the bumbling inspector Jacques Clouseau.  From the expensive and lavish sets, to the amazing costumes, to the very context of the characters: everything about this film screams high society, money, and culture.  This film is about a ritzy group of socialites idling their time away at the very cosmopolitan Italian skiing resort while a bumbling Jacques Clouseau does his best to unmask their pretentious masquerade and reveal the complicit “phantom”.

David Niven is mesmerizing as the cunningly debonair Sir Charles Lytton.  Likewise Peter Sellers delivers a deft performance; one should expect nothing less, as Jacques Clouseau.  Cappucine brilliantly plays his beautiful and infidel wife: she exudes the perfect mixture of beauty and slapstick farce that make her as compelling as detestable of a character. Likewise Claudia Cardinale is rapturous as the stoically exotic Princess Dala.  Arguably her strongest scene, and likewise Niven’s, is the “seduction” scene which involves a lot of champagne and an oversize tiger skin rug. 

This film exudes the lavish and over-the-top vision of most Bond films, especially the early ones starring Connery.  On the upside however, rather than being a typical “guy flick” overabundant with macho everything, “The Pink Panther” has the frequent play of comic relief which is as compelling if not more so than the intricacy of the action plot: although arguably the irony with the “Panther” is that the plot, however complex, is all too transparent, at least for the audience. 

Another great scene in this film is the random music montage which features a beautiful Italian export singing and dancing to the melodic rhythms of some upbeat Italian love song.  The entire way Blake Edwards directed this scene underscores his vision of a loveable high society who, for all their wealth and pretense is still human- thanks to their many obvious character flaws.  Of course the most loveable and genius of these is Peter Sellers as Jacques Clouseau whose performance, however dated, is still arguably one of the strongest and most memorable of its genre.  

The cinematography and direction in the “Panther” were superb.  Edwards is right-on with the timing, vision, and plot development of his hilarious crime film.  Likewise the art and set direction astound the eye with pleasing arrays of wealthy luxuries from the lavish lodgings to the brightly silken costumes.  Perhaps the most obvious has yet to be referenced, however: the music.  Now a hallmark measure, Henry Mancini’s original “Pink Panther’s” score is fun, funny, and fantastic.  Here one watches Edward’s incorporate the standard seamlessly into the razzle dazzle of this bamboozled burglary film.  Likewise the insertion of the iconic animated “Pink Panther” himself, both in the credits and at the end of the film, help affirm the genius of Edward’s work.

“The Pink Panther” was nominated for the 1965 Oscar for Best Music Score (Henry Mancini).  Likewise the film was proudly nominated for another 5 critical film awards and received an additional two: the 1988 ASCAP Film and TV Music Award for Most Performed Feature Film Standards (Henry Mancini) and 1965’s Laurel Awards’ 2nd place Golden Laurel for Best Comedy.  The film was also nominated for the 1965 Golden Globe for Best Actor (Peter Sellers). 

Main Characters:

David Niven plays Sir Charles Lytton, the “Phantom”.

Peter Sellers plays Jacques Clouseau, the bumbling inspector.

Capucine plays Simone Clouseau, Jacque’s cunning wife.

Claudia Cardinale plays Princess Dala, the woman in possession of the covetous gem.

Robert Wagner plays George Lytton, Sir Charles Lytton’s rascally nephew.

Brenda De Banzie plays Angela Dunnig, the high-pitched socialite.

Colin Gordon plays Tucker, Jacques Clouseau’s sidekick.

Memorable Quotes : 

Sir Charles: Oh champagne’s not drinking: it’s the minimum of alcohol and the maximum of companionship.

Sir Charles: Well are you?

Princess Dala: What?

Sir Charles: Are you what they call you?

Princess Dala: What’s that?

Sir Charles: The “virgin queen”?

Princess Dala: I’m not a queen.

Princess Dala: Mmm.  I’m plastered.

Princess Dala:  Oh no.  I prefer to remain conscious. 

Simone:  I’m just being a woman. 

Sir Charles:  George has got my Do-It-Yourself Phantom Kit.