Archive for Return of the Pink Panther

Party Down

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 26, 2019 by dcairns

Why didn’t I find THE PARTY funny as a kid? It’s weird, as I was a big Peter Sellers fan, a big PINK PANTHER movie fan. I laughed once — the flying shoe caught me by surprise.

Of course, I was watching the film on TV, pan-and-scanned. But I was used to that. In fact, an early occasion when I became aware of film style was when I noted the strange mechanical movements in RETURN OF THE PINK PANTHER — faced with Edwards’ audacious use of the widescreen, the hapless clod charged with having the film “adapted to fit your screen” was forced to pan, with grinding slowness, from one side of the 1:2.35 frame to the other, creating the exact effect of HAL’s lip-reading in 2001. As a tiny tot, I didn’t know what was behind this, but I thought it an interesting directorial choice.

Since a lot of THE PARTY is about social embarrassment, maybe that just didn’t speak to me as a kid. In fact, a lot of it’s about feeling lost at a party, something I’ve experienced a lot more in the interim. God, it’s agonizing, and that’s where the funniness comes from, as usual with Edwards. Sellers’ character, Indian actor Hrundi V. Bakshi, is cinema’s great lonely man. I mean, he has it way worse than Travis Bickle, who at least was a native English speaker. Bakshi wanders the big crazy LA house, humiliating himself in every imaginable way, clumsy, unlucky, unable to read social cues, not knowing anyone… it’s just terrible. I laughed quite a lot, and I was always on his side.

And yes, it’s slightly racist. The idea of a white man impersonating an Indian for comic effect is uncomfortable today, but if we accept that this was not abnormal at the time, we can admire the sympathy and skill of Sellers’ performance. As David Wingrove pointed out in a recent conversation, he’s not Mickey Rooney in BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S — who I found myself shamefacedly guffawing at when they screened the first reel on 35mm in Bologna last year. The sheer energy of the burlesque, you know. But BAT treats Mr. Yunioshi as a clown because of his race — he’s unworthy of being taken seriously. Whereas THE PARTY, I think, takes Bakshi VERY seriously. That strange, sad little coda…

The most troublesome bit is the opening. The plot requires Bakshi to make Hollywood enemies — the prologue explains how he came to be brought out to Tinseltown to appear in some kind of Raj epic. And the joke seems to more or less explicitly be, “If an Indian actor were brought to Hollywood, it would be a disaster because he would be an idiot.” Bakshi takes an outrageous amount of time to die (so he’s a bad actor), he wears a waterproof wristwatch in a Victorian period movie (actually it’s someone else’s job to prevent that) and he steps on a detonator and blows up a whole building before the cameras are rolling (could happen to any of us).

Each of these gags is moderately amusing, but they don’t add up to a coherent character sketch, and although the sequence is necessary to the plot, it still feels like the movie really starts as Bakshi arrives at the party, at which it becomes funnier and more sympathetic.

One day after admiring Peter Cook’s red socks in BEDAZZLED (a fashion choice also favoured by Michael Powell) I was charmed by Bakshi’s footwear. He wears white shoes, so that when he steps in mud it’s as bad as it could possibly be. And red socks, so that when he loses is a shoe, it’s as bad as THAT could possibly be.

Comedy, it seems, needs to be both cruel and kind.

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.