Something of a curio in the long running series (11 films and counting including the upcoming Steve Martin sequel), 1963’s The Pink Panther was the cinema going public’s first glimpse of Peter Sellers as Inspector Jacques Clouseau, even if the film’s makers had no intention of him being the star.
Conceived as a vehicle for the talents of David Niven as jewel thief Sir George Lytton aka The Phantom (David Niven), as he tries to steal the infamous Pink Panther diamond, the film was set to become the first in an ongoing series for the character.
Enter Inspector Clouseau.
Although actor Peter Ustinov was originally cast as the bumbling French policeman, fate intervened and Goon Show star Peter Sellers ended up as the comic icon we all know today. Only in this film he isn’t quite the comic icon he would go on to become.
Minus the recognisable accent and confused diction – and the coat and hat that would later become so associated with him – this initial appearance of France’s least distinguished Gendarme is a more subdued one.
Sir Charles’s attempts to pilfer the Panther from its owner, Princess Dala (Claudia Cardinale) while on holiday in the Alps, attracts the attention of the French police, who send Clouseau to track down the notorious Phantom, whose identity is still unknown.
And that’s the plot in a nutshell. The rest of the film revolves around Niven being suave, Cardinale and Capucine (playing Clouseau’s wife) looking gorgeous and Sellers honing his performance, doing exactly to the film what Sir Charles was aiming to do to the diamond: stealing it from under the noses of the rest of the cast.
Although the first hour or so of the film isn’t exactly a laugh riot, farce descends in the second half, with a standout bedroom scene helping to twist and turn the plot into new directions.
As well as Sellers, the other memorable part of The Pink Panther is of course the music. Henry Mancini provides one of the most perfect theme tunes in cinematic history, rivalling Bond for it’s sheer hummability.
Director Blake Edwards leaves the actors to get on with things, allowing a touch of improvisation to scenes which bring them alive.
Now finally on Blu-ray, the film looks beautiful. Crisp and clean, this could have been made yesterday and wouldn’t look out of place on a cinema screen.
There’s little to complain about here, with this little slice of Sixties chic gifting the world a memorable comic creation who would go on to entertain generations of film fans.
And I haven’t even mentioned the “character” of the Pink Panther himself who was spun off into his own TV series, but that’s another story…
Blu-ray Special Features
Director Blake Edwards provides an informative commentary on this Special Edition, tinged with sadness at the fact that many of the cast and crew have now passed away.
A film buff himself, whose love of silent cinema shines through here (Edwards was at one time an acquaintance of Harold Lloyd) the director’s fondness for David Niven is clear, while his stunning leading ladies also get a mention more than a few times.
Part of old Hollywood, there are some great behind the scenes stories dotted throughout.
Elsewhere there’s a nice documentary covering the film’s genesis and an interview with Robert Wagner, clearly still delighted to be associated with the film.
There’s also a morally dubious interview with “celebrity” jewel thief Bill Mason that’s odd to say the least.
Those extras in full:
- Blake Edwards audio commentary
- The Pink Panther trailer (3 mins 30 secs)
- The Coolest Cat in Cortina: Robert Wagner (10 mins 52 secs)
- Diamonds: Beyond the Sparkle (6 mins 52 secs)
- The Tip Toe Life of a Cat Burglar: A Conversation With Former Jewel Thief Bill Mason (9 mins 42 secs)
- The Pink Panther Story (30 mins)
- Beyond the Feline: The Cartoon Phenomenon (10 mins)
- Release Date: 9 February 2009
- Format: Blu-ray
- Running Time: 114 mins 56 secs
- Certificate: PG
- Price: TBC