Peter Sellers' 'Pink Panther' movies debut on Blu-ray this week
Posted June 28
If you are of a certain age, you know that 1964 was the year of the British invasion as John, Paul, George, Ringo and Peter became superstars.
That’s right, the Beatles — and Peter Sellers.
Beatlemania took over the music world but Sellers dominated the movie world.
True, 1964 brought us other famous, still-popular films — “Goldfinger,” “Mary Poppins,” “A Fistful of Dollars,” among others.
But Sellers, who had been laboring primarily in British movies over the previous decade, starred in four Hollywood productions that year, and all were box-office hits: “The Pink Panther,” “A Shot in the Dark,” “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” and, to a lesser degree, “The World of Henry Orient.”
This week, Sellers’ comic genius is being celebrated by the Shout! Factory on its Shout Select label with a new Blu-ray set that includes “The Pink Panther” and “A Shot in the Dark.”
It’s the brilliant English comic as the bumbling French cop in “The Pink Panther Film Collection Starring Peter Sellers” (1964-82, six discs, six movies, audio commentaries, featurettes, photo galleries, trailers, TV/Radio spots, 28-page booklet).
This release marks the Blu-ray debut of all six of Sellers’ comedies as Inspector Jacques Clouseau, each film sparkling with upgraded picture and sound. All previously issued bonus features are also here, as well as several that are new.
In addition, unlike previous collections, this one includes “The Return of the Pink Panther,” an independent production excluded from earlier sets.
How Sellers and writer-director Blake Edwards created Clouseau is reiterated in the booklet and, as with many classic movies, much of what brought “The Pink Panther” together was a series of happy accidents.
Sellers was not the first choice to play Clouseau. During the film’s development, Peter Ustinov had the role. But he dropped out at the last minute, bothered that the detective would play second fiddle to David Niven’s jewel thief.
Then, at the last minute, Sellers stepped in, and his comic sensibility immediately clicked with Edwards as they polished the klutzy policeman, and added a string of intricate, perfectly timed, hilarious sight gags.
“The Pink Panther” has more plot and character development than the other films, and Niven remains the nominal lead. He also gets his share of hearty laughs, as do several supporting players.
But Sellers deftly steals the show with Clouseau’s physical blunders, his buffoonish bluster and his obtuse observations, all the while attempting a misplaced sense of dignity. As Sellers says in the booklet, the deluded Clouseau really does think he’s “one of the greatest detectives in the world.”
In addition to its plot about a stolen diamond that contains a flaw resembling the titular cat, “The Pink Panther” also gets a boost from Henry Mancini’s iconic score and the humorous cartoon credits (which would spin the panther into a series of animated shorts, the first of which won an Oscar).
The second film, “A Shot in the Dark,” was adapted from a play and Clouseau wasn’t a part of it. But Edwards got the idea of building the murder-mystery plot around Clouseau, and added a pair of supporting characters that would become staples of the franchise — his increasingly angst-ridden boss Commissioner Dreyfus (Herbert Lom) and his valet Cato (Burt Kwouk), who tests Clouseau’s reflexes by attacking him without warning.
This one also introduces Clouseau’s penchant for disguises and makes his French accent thicker, mangling the English language (specifically with the words “bump” and “moth”).
“A Shot in the Dark” is much more rapidly paced and overflows with hysterical bits of business, highlighted by a destructive game of pool and a cleverly orchestrated nudist colony sequence, which gets a lot of mileage out of Clouseau’s embarrassment.
That might have been the end of the series, were it not for the careers of both Sellers and Edwards taking a nosedive during the early 1970s. Both needed a hit, so 11 years after “A Shot in the Dark” they came up with “The Return of the Pink Panther” (1975).
That film’s success led to “The Pink Panther Strikes Again” (1976) and “Revenge of the Pink Panther” (1978), and after Sellers’ death in 1980, Edwards cobbled together outtakes from earlier films to create “Trail of the Pink Panther” (1982).
There are also several Pink Panther films outside the franchise with other actors playing Clouseau, or Clouseau stand-ins; ignore them all.
The Sellers films are the real deal, and while some of his sequels are better than others, even the weakest entries have sequences that are guaranteed to make you laugh.
Chris Hicks is the author of "Has Hollywood Lost Its Mind? A Parent’s Guide to Movie Ratings." He also writes at www.hicksflicks.com and can be contacted at email@example.com.