The Nod

I decided to read, after discovering to my surprise that it’s available online, the screenplay for ROMANCE OF THE PINK PANTHER, the Inspector Clouseau films scripted by Peter Sellers and one Jim Moloney, to be directed by Clive Donner, Sellers having successfully elbowed out Blake Edwards.

Since Sellers had reportedly been bored of playing Clouseau by the second time he did it (which was the first film in which the bumbling inspector was lead character), his eagerness to revisit the role can only have been an attempt to prove to the world, and Edwards, and himself, that he, Sellers, had always been the principal genius behind the most successful comedy franchise in screen history. I had a feeling the script, left unfilmed after the star’s death, wasn’t going to do that — after all, the same pair of “writers” were to blame for THE FIENDISH PLOT OF DR. FU MANCHU, an absolute steaming load of cack which became Sellers’ last film, rather marring the beautiful valediction that is BEING THERE.

Sure enough, ROMANCE is dreadful. Scene one, in which Professor Auguste Balls, master of disguise-making, sells Clouseau a Louis XIV chair disguise, did make me laugh out loud, actually. Well, FIENDISH PLOT had one good bit — the “elephants on the knees” routine, in which somebody looks through a microscope and sees archive film of elephants. It’s very much Goon Show humour, which is Sellers’ default mode, borrowed wholesale from his chum Spike Milligan, and you can hear him dropping Milliganesque catchphrases into the Clouseau films and elsewhere (“It must be hell in there,”) from the very beginning.

It wouldn’t have really worked onscreen, because a Louis XIV isn’t something a man of woman born can hide in. So you’d have an unavoidable surrealism that has nothing to do with the PINK PANTHER series’ style. But it was amusing to read, and to think of Sellers maybe being somehow influenced by Edogawa Rampo.

The rest of the thing is dross, though you can imagine Sellers, if he was on good form, getting some laughs out of the deeply inane, underplotted material. He’d done it in the past. What really interested me was this ~

romance2

The writing, you will note, is clunky and childish. Moloney was an actor, like Sellers, and clearly the junior party, lucky to be in on the thing. One pictures Sellers pacing while Moloney types. What seemed odd to me, given that there were two men present for the writing, was that an obvious idiosyncrasy, the idea of people nodding to indicate “NO” rather than shaking their heads, like humans, had survived the collaborative process.

But OK, it’s a one-off, I thought.

romance1

Argh. There it is again. So I think we can project ourselves into the writing room now…

SELLERS: …and she nods ‘no’ almost imperceptibly.

MOLONEY: Nods ‘no’?

SELLERS: What was that?

MOLONEY: You said, “Nods ‘no.'”

SELLERS: I know that.

MOLONEY: Don’t you mean…?

SELLERS: I know what I mean!

Moloney shrugs, types “…and she nods ‘no’ almost imperceptibly.”

OK, maybe I’m making too much of this.

romance3

I’m definitely not making too much of this. I know this looks almost like the same passage but it’s not, it’s another, nearly identical passage from much later on.

SELLERS: Clouseau nods ‘no’ almost imperceptibly.

MOLONEY: Peter…

SELLERS (a note of warning): Yes?

MOLONEY: Nothing.

romance4

A theory can be formed. Perhaps some of Sellers’ craziness, his temper tantrums and paranoia and resentment, is that he really did think people nodded no. Being a Hollywood star, he would be surrounded by yes men, but sometimes, as is the way of those things, those yes men would have varied things up a bit and nodded instead of saying yes. And Sellers, the poor deluded fool, would have thought they were refusing him, defying him. Some of those instances would have been really disturbing, as they would seem to be changing their minds capriciously in mid-sentence. It would be enough to destabilize the sanest man. The effects on a raving maniac can barely be calculated.Footnote 1: the neanderthals in William Golding’s wonderful novel The Inheritors shake their heads in agreement.

Footnote 2: experts in micro-body language say that a “barely perceptible nod” when saying “no” indicates a lie. Like the truth is trying to blast out of you even as you fib, like Gepetto yelling from inside Monstro the whale.

Footnote 3: I once knew a chap who shook his head yes and nodded no. There seemed no reason behind it. He clearly wasn’t lying about whether he’d had breakfast. He missed his vocation as personal assistant to Peter Sellers.

romance5

4 Responses to “The Nod”

  1. Nodding is complicated. In some cultures it does mean “no”. According to wikipedia, for exampe: ‘in Greece, Iran, Turkey, Bulgaria, Albania, and Sicily a single nod of the head up (not down) indicates a “no”. Some cultures also swap the meanings between nodding and head shaking.’ I don’t think it means ‘no’ in Japanese, but I vaguely recall nodding and shaking your head there not being as straightforward as in English-speaking cultures.

  2. The chair disguise reminds me an Edogawa Ranpo story: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Human_Chair

    Also, the end of Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows (which I quite like, primarily because of Jared Harris as Moriarty). Beware big spoilers, just in case you care: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RlOwLUwAbbQ

  3. Jeff Gee Says:

    In the early 90s I worked in a bakery with a Bulgarian immigrant who shook his head to mean ‘yes’ and nodded vigorously to mean ‘no.’ It led to endless insanity on the baking floor when he was asked things like “Did you put the yeast in yet?”

  4. Delightful! Neither my friend nor Sellers were Bulgarian. Though they did have a certain intent faraway look in common. Either one would have been good casting as the other.

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