Archive for The Pink Panther

The Dreyfuss Affair

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , on October 16, 2012 by dcairns

Blake Edwards to Herbert Lom: “I’ve seen you in all these serious dramas. I think you’re very funny.”

THE PINK PANTHER was followed so quickly by sequel A SHOT IN THE DARK — before, one would have thought, the box office figures would be available — that it seems probable that Sellers and Blake Edwards knew they were onto something hot from the collaborative process alone. Of course, neither could have suspected that Edwards would rack up eight PANTHER movies, or that three of them would be made after Sellers’ death.

While the first film is the most rounded, Clouseau fans must in some ways prefer the films in which he dominates. Though I’ve come to really enjoy David Niven, Capucine, Claudia Cardinale and even Robert Wagner in the original, Clouseau only really comes into his own later. To scroll through the films Sellers was around for –

As noted by a correspondent earlier this week, A SHOT IN THE DARK introduces the supporting cast, notably Herbert Lom and Burt Kwouk. It’s the only film in the series without the words PINK and PANTHER in the title, and it follows that it’s a little less formulaic: we’re seeing stuff being invented rather than just variations on a theme.

RETURN is one I haven’t seen in years. I remember Christopher Plummer being an oddly unsympathetic Phantom (gratuitously breaking Graham Stark’s fingers — Edwards always did favour an unusual degree of viciousness in his slapstick) but some of the gags being very good. Never seen it in widescreen.

When I was a kid, STRIKES BACK never seemed to turn up on TV, to my endless frustration, whereas the other films were never off the screen. Finally catching it was a disappointment — it’s the one with the very elaborate and beautiful Richard Williams titles (animated by Tony White), but somehow turning Herbert Lom into a Bond villain seemed to loosen the series’ already palsied grip on reality.

I saw some of REVENGE not that long ago and was surprised at how much of it I enjoyed. More grotesque in the slapstick than ever, with Sellers’ disguises perhaps intended to provide variety, but in fact Clouseau is no Man of a Thousand Faces so the star is still stuck with his most famous and inflexible creation. But Edwards seemed to be enjoying the Euro-thriller stuff, making a film that looks a lot like late Melville, or at least Henri Decoin.

Anyway, I meant to say — I re-watched most of A SHOT IN THE DARK after Herbert Lom died. In the middle it does become a series of repetitive running jokes, with only the stuff involving Lom really standing out. The violence is startling — the thumb and the nose are nasty enough, but having the character stab himself in the side with a letter opener is pretty remarkable.

But the whole first act is terrific, with Clouseau used the way he should always have been used, interacting with other characters who don’t know they’re in a comedy. George Sanders is slightly wasted at this, but his gravitas does anchor things.

The moment I want to focus on is just a bit of really elegant filmmaking. The opening sequence is a long-take bedroom farce with a mournful chanson on top — an odd beginning, really. Then there’s the comedy titles, then we meet Lom as Dreyfuss, who gets the bad news that Clouseau, already obviously a thorn (or letter opener) in his side, has been inadvertently assigned to an important and politically sensitive case. Lom’s eyes close in pain as he hears the name pronounced –

This is a nice foreshadowing of the twitchy eye motif introduced later. But we cut to –

Sellers, being driven to his case, OPENING his eyes wider to stare ahead determinedly — the Grey-Eyed Man of Destiny. Of course the Marseillaise plays on the soundtrack.

This visual rhyme — two eyes close, two eyes open — is charming in itself as a purely formal device, but each shot contains a character point that’s funny in its own right — Dreyfuss’ pain, Clouseau’s self-conceit. Stuff like this could convince a person, perhaps, that Edwards was as good a filmmaker as the French claim.

John Zorn does Henry Mancini. Nice.

An Inspector Calls

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on October 13, 2012 by dcairns

In honour of Herbert Lom, who died in his sleep recently at the impressive age of 95, I was looking at A SHOT IN THE DARK — an experience which will prompt a future post. But it also got me thinking about the strange, morbid and attenuated way that the PINK PANTHER films evolved after the death of Peter Sellers ~

BONES OF THE PINK PANTHER

In which Peter Sellers’ embalmed corpse is suspended from piano wires and puppeteered through a succession of slapstick routines. With the voice of Rich Little.

HIDE OF THE PINK PANTHER

In which Seller’s face is sliced from his corpse’s skull and work, Hannibal Lector style, by Ted Wass from the TV show Soap, in a succession of slapstick routines. Burt Kwouk guests.

SOUL OF THE PINK PANTHER

Celebrity medium to the stars Derek Acorah channels Seller’s spirit in this late entry in the series, bumbling vicariously through a series of slapstick routines and annoying Herbert Lom. Guest starring the essence of David Niven.

SEED OF THE PINK PANTHER

A succession of slapstick routines are enacted by Roberto Benigni while carrying a phial of the late Peter Sellers’ semen inside his body. With Claudia Cardinale.

ASHES OF THE PINK PANTHER

An elegant urn, possibly containing Sellers’ ashes, is rolled through a succession of slapstick routines. Features archive footage of Robert Wagner forgetting his lines and laughing. Surprisingly good.

WARPAINT OF THE PINK PANTHER

In which Steve Martin soaks the ashes in tap water and applies the grey mixture to his face as a kind of comedy-imbued woad as he steps into the shoes of the bumbling Inspector Clouseau. Features a succession of slapstick routines and a bit where Graham Stark breaks wind on a dog.

CONCEPT OF THE PINK PANTHER

Alan Arkin returns triumphantly to the role he failed to make his own in 1968. Co-starring with an animated panther, the 77-year-old actor walks carefully through a succession of slapstick routines surrounded by props that were once personally touched by Peter Sellers and which may, just possibly, give off some kind of psychometric trace of the departed comic.

SHIT OF THE PINK PANTHER

Fiona: “STOP.”

Stark reality

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 28, 2011 by dcairns

THE SPY IN BLACK (above), is notable not just for being the first screen collaboration of Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, nor for being a nifty wartime thriller with Conrad Veidt as a surprisingly sympathetic Nazi spy — it’s also the first known screen credit of one Graham Stark, seen at screen right — the larger bellboy.

Yes, that familiar soft, chewing-gum face, surmounted by a huge, angular cranium, like a baby snail peeping from under a cardboard box, is familiar to us from numerous Blake Edwards and Richard Lester films, the common link being Stark’s friend Peter Sellers.

Stark plays Inspector Clouseau’s sidekick, Hercule LaJoy in A SHOT IN THE DARK, for my money the funniest of the PINK PANTHER sequels, and he’s Auguste Balls, supplier of theatrical costumery and disguises in several later PP movies. He nearly bookmark’s Lester’s career, showing up in the early TV work and THE RUNNING JUMPING & STANDING STILL FILM, and again in the silent comedy credits sequence of SUPERMAN III, as a blind man with a runaway guide dog.

In TRJ&SSF, he’s recipient of the world’s greatest and most profound visual gag (starting 9 mins and 10 secs in) ~

He’s also directed a couple of nice silent comedy inspired shorts, and one feature film, THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN DEADLY SINS, which is mainly, uh, not great, but has a nice Spike Milligan scripted chapter on the theme of sloth, a sepia-tinted silent which shows his true strengths — a shame Eric Sykes and Graham Stark didn’t get to make wordless feature films, their shorts were rather popular.

Graham Stark is still with us at 89 — a few years back, a student of mine tried to recruit him for a short film — he was up for it, but his wife wouldn’t let him come out and play. Still, he remains a grand old man of British comedy, part of a noble troupe who enlivened backgrounds or embodied inane stereotypes at the drop of a bowler hat, performing an essential service all through the fifties and sixties.

Addendum: RIP, Graham Stark.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 362 other followers