A Shot In The Dark (1964) Director: Blake Edwards
In many ways, A Shot In The Dark is the first true “Pink Panther” film, despite technically being the second “Pink Panther” picture after the prior year’s The Pink Panther (1963). It features the great Peter Sellers with a perfected thick French accent, his spiteful boss, Commissioner Dreyfus (played by Herbert Lom), and Clouseau’s attack-ready servant, Cato (played by Burt Kwouk).
Notably, the plot of A Shot in the Dark does not involve the Pink Panther diamond. The film opens with a mysterious but well-staged shot from a gun at a large mansion. Inspector Clouseau is accidentally assigned to the case before the police realize it is the country home millionaire, Benjamin Ballon (played by George Sanders who played a variety of other leading roles, including as Jack Flavell in Hitchcock’s Rebecca). Clouseau arrives at the mansion and instantly falls into a fountain. Mr. Ballon’s chauffeur has been murdered. He as having an affair with one of the maids, Maria (played by German actress Elke Sommer), and she was left standing with the smoking gun in her hand, but she has no idea how it got there. Clouseau believes she is innocent, mainly because he finds her attractive. However, Commissioner Dreyfus quickly pulls Clouseau off the case, only to reinstate him due to requests from the family who found Clouseau charming. Naturally, the Commissioner is distraught: Maria (the maid) is the top suspect, yet his bungling inspector believes she is innocent because of her beauty. In a scene of pure hilarity, Clouseau investigates Mr. Ballon at his home and they play a game of pool in which Clouseau manages to use the only curved pool cue, tear up the pool table fabric, and break several other pool cues before walking into a wall on his way out.
Clouseau and Maria go on a variety of absurd dates together, where someone keeps trying to kill Clouseau (unsuccessfully). Clouseau also trails Maria into numerous silly situations -he is arrested for selling artwork on the street without a license, he is arrested for hunting without a hunting license, and he trails Maria into a nudist colony where another person winds up dead. Clouseau and Maria escape in a car fully naked together, but they become stuck in a traffic jam and then arrested. This sets Commissioner Dreyfus over the edge as he appears to have a psychotic breakdown when a nude Clouseau is arrested, covered, and brought to his office. Clouseau goes to the Ballon household to confront the situation head-on and discover the identity of the killer, meanwhile Commissioner Dreyfus trails Clouseau in an attempt to kill him. In Clouseau’s confrontation, each character eventually points the finger at another, revealing them all to be killers leaving Clouseau completely confused. They all escape into Clouseau’s car when the lights go out (a ploy set by Clouseau with his assistant outside), however Commissioner Dreyfus has placed a bomb in the car in an attempt to kill Clouseau. The car blows up with all the guilty parties dying in the car. Dreyfus goes totally mad, while Clouseau and Maria finally kiss each other, but Cato suddenly attacks Clouseau.
Apparently Peter Sellers and Director Blake Edwards hated working with other throughout this film, and at the end they pledged never to work together again (though they thankfully made several more “Pink Panther” films in the 1970s).
With Peter Sellers accidentally tearing up pool tables, walking into walls, stumbling into fountains, getting arrested numerous times, and accidentally wandering through a nudist colony into a traffic jam, A Shot in the Dark is a hilarious film. Peter Sellers has perfected the brilliant character of the silly French investigator and the people around him. The film is part of the “Pink Panther” series, however the diamond makes no appearance.