The Dreyfuss Affair

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.

10 Responses to “The Dreyfuss Affair”

  1. A Shot in the Dark stands out because it was adapted from a boulevard farce that as perfomed on stage in France, England and the U.S. had nothing to do with Clouseau. Edwards adapted it quite neatly to the needs of the character he had created and the raving madman who played him.

  2. A really lucky thing the play came along when they were thinking of continuing Clouseau’s career. I’d be interested in comparing play to script — I’m assuming Cato is an Edwards/Blatty addition, since he’s parodying The Green Hornet and Bruce Lee.

  3. I think A SHOT IN THE DARK came out before the TV series of The Green Hornet was made, so Cato is more likely to be a lift from the 40’s films, where he was played by Keye Luke.

  4. The Keye Luke Connection! He’s everywhere: the 20th century would literally not have been possible without him. Impressive that they had the balls to take the character seriously on TV after Burt Kwouk’s gleeful demolition job.

  5. I was just about to talk about the play that provided the basis for SHOT IN THE DARK. It was adapted — or, at least, the version seen in New York was adapted — by Harry Kurnitz (cf. WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION). Cast included Walter Matthau, Julie Harris, William Shatner, and Gene Saks. That production, which only had 389 performances, was directed by Harold Clurman (mostly a stage name, but also the director of the Woolrich-ite DEADLINE AT DAWN).

  6. Love Deadline at Dawn.

    The question is, who played who? Matthau as the Clouseau figure sounds interesting, but I’d be VERY excited by the thought of him as Dreyfuss and The Shat as Clouseau.

  7. Mrs. HaroldClurman — Juleen Compton — directed two movies of interest that remain quite obscure. Stranded (1965) starred the now-just deceased Gary Cole and was about the friendship between a straight woman and a gay man on Fire Island.

    The Plastic Dome of Norma Jean (1966) starred Sharon Hugeney and Sam Waterston. It was about a young woman whose mysticalpowers get exploited. You can guess from the title who t was modelled after. Michel Legrand wrote the score.

  8. Here’s the main theme from Norma Jean I do hope you can get around to Juleen one of these days.

  9. I hope I get a chance — nothing seems to be available at present, but it’s bound to turn up sooner or later, I guess.

  10. My Bad. That was Gary Collins.

    e ha”Cahiers” crew was terribly superfond of Juleen — especially Luc Moullet.

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