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Steve Martin Pink Panther Peter Sellers

With the release of THE PINK PANTHER 2, there will have been 5 Pink Panther films since the great Peter Sellers died in 1980. One was made from Sellers outtakes, 2 of them were failed reboot attempts with actors Ted Wass (as an actual original character named Clifton Sleigh) and Roberto Benigni (as Clouseau’s son), and then in early 2006 a new re-imagining of the series hit the theaters featuring Steve Martin taking on the role of the world famous detective Inspector Clouseau. It was supposed to be a prequel to the Sellers movies somehow and though it wasn’t a direct remake it was just called THE PINK PANTHER. It was met with horrible reviews and outrage over Martin’s wrongness for the part, yet still the film was a huge success making close to $200 million and it did introduce a new generation to the clutzy character.

I just couldn’t bring myself to see the film. Seeing the trailers and TV commercials was bad enough Martin’s pencil thin mustache, his unconvincing accent, and his forced slapstick was unbearable in small doses so I knew watching the entire film could be akin to a nightmare. Also I just simply couldn’t believe he was doing it. I grew up with the comic work of Martin as much as I did Sellers. From his stand-up to SNL to a string of still great comedies (THE JERK, THE MAN WITH TWO BRAINS, DEAD MEN DON’T WEAR PLAID, ALL OF ME, etc.) I savored the guy’s career. Unfortunately his later film work (with the possible exception of SHOP GIRL) leaves a lot to be desired. Broad commercial crap like CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN (and its sequel) and BRINGING DOWN THE HOUSE typifies his current oeuvre. What I saw of his Clouseau capering looked more in line with the bland family fare of late instead of a desired throw-back to his “wild and crazy guy” days.

And then there’s the case of the actual character Inspector Clouseau (“Chief Inspector!” I hear his ghost correct me). Over 5 films from 1964-1978 directed by Blake Edwards, Peter Sellers crafted one of the most unique comic creations in film history. As a definitively bumbling police detective who somehow rises in rank at the French Sret, Sellers developed a preposterous, yet still believable, overly accented voice and perfected some of the most dangerous looking physical comedy ever seen on the silver screen. 2 years after Sellers’ death, as I previously mentioned, a film was assembled out of mostly unused footage called TRAIL OF THE PINK PANTHER. It was the first attempt to keep the series going and it featured this notable and regrettable title card during the tradtional opening cartoon: “To PeterThe One and only Inspector Clouseau.”

Halfway through the movie they run out of outtakes and we are told that Clouseau is missing. The film then becomes a “best of”-type exercise with former Pink Panther vets (David Niven, Capucine, Burt Kwouk, Graham Stark, etc.) recalling their favorite moments with Clouseau like one of those filler TV episodes full of previous clips. The next in the struggling series was CURSE OF THE PINK PANTHER. It involved a new, just as bumbling, detective recruited to track down Clouseau. Ted Wass, best known for work on the sitcom Soap and as the Dad on Blossom
(which means he’s not really known), filled the shoes and actually did a decent job of it but could Edwards really believe he could keep the series flying? Clouseau only appeared at the end played by, wait for it, Sir Roger Moore. The intrepid detective had plastic surgery to make himself look like the former James Bond after going into hiding for reasons I forget and I just rewatched the damn thing! You see I just got this Blake Edwards Pink Panther DVD boxset from Costco but I digress…

10 years later there’s another reboot attempt SON OF THE PINK PANTHER (1993) with Roberto Benini as Clouseau’s outrageous offspring. Not much good to report here but it did have the last appearance of series regular Herbert Lom and Claudia Cardinale – who despite playing Princess Dala in THE PINK PANTHER (1964) appeared as Maria Gambrelli here, a character that was played by Elke Sommer in Clouseau’s second screen aventure A SHOT IN THE DARK. Whew! Elements like that make The Pink Panther series to be unquestionably the most inconsistent movie series ever – character and plotline-wise that is. By the way, SON OF… was Edward’s last ever film as director – for so many all too obvious reasons.

After those unsuccessful efforts (TRAIL, CURSE, and SON OF
which at least they were more imaginably titled than with sequel numbers) you’d think that that 3 strikes and you’re out but as John Belushi would’ve said “but Noooooooo!” Earlier this decade, still wanting to keep one its previous cash cows alive, United Artists announced plans to revive the series and names like Kevin Kline and Mike Myers were tossed around as possible candidates to don the trenchcoat, tweed hat, and apply the fake mustache. It was indeed shocking that Steve Martin, not a man known for accents or imitations of any kind, got the part and even more shocking was the sight of the first released pictures of him in Clouseau garb. It all just seemed like it couldn’t really be happening it was just a bad joke, right? Well, yeah a bunch of bad jokes strung together to save a franchise but they were really happening as I could see when ads appeared full of embarrassing clips of the phony Clouseau falling out windows and causing mass destruction at every turn but with none of Seller’s charm.

This week Roger Ebert in his review of THE PINK PANTHER 2 wrote: “Peter Sellers was a genius who somehow made Inspector Clouseau seem as if he really were helplessly incapable of functioning in the real world and somehow incapable of knowing that. Steve Martin is a genius, too, but not at being Clouseau. It seems more like an exercise.” I am usually very strict about not judging a movie before I see it but I believe I have incredible amounts of evidence that these movies are abysmal attempts to rekindle the flame that Sellers sparked 40 years ago and that it would further depress and anger me to see them. With 11% (so far) on the Rotten Tomatometer I seriously doubt that PP2 is going to be THE DARK KNIGHT of comedy sequel reboots but I’m willing to listen to people stick up for the Martin Panther movies. That is if there is actually anyone out there that really likes them. I just can’t go there, you understand? Otherwise I implore my fellow bloggers and readers to stay home, rent an old classic Peter Sellers Pink Panther film this weekend, and avoid this unholy concoction. I’m sure Sellers is tired of spinning in his grave, but I bet by this point he’s probably used to it.