The Pink Panther (1963) Director: Blake Edwards
The Pink Panther is the first film in the “Pink Panther” series, featuring Peter Sellers as the bumbling but lovable French inspector, Jacques Clouseau.
Unfortunately, Inspector Clouseau is something of a secondary character in this first picture, with the focus turned primarily to Sir Charles Lytton (played by David Niven), however in the coming years, writers realized that Peter Sellers was the true appeal of the films. At any rate, the film begins with a young Princess Dala in Lugash (a fictional country from the “Pink Panther” series modeled on a country like Iran). Her father presents a gift to Princess Dala – the largest diamond in the world. It has one unusual characteristic: if one looks closely in just the right light, a leaping panther can be seen in the diamond. The film cuts to twenty years later when the Princess (played by Claudia Cardinale) is forced to flee Lugash due to a military uprising after the death of her father. The new government seeks to claim her famous diamond, but she refuses to give it up. She exiles herself in the Italian alps where she happens to meet a notorious playboy, Sir Charles Lytton (he moonlights as a secret jewel thief, “The Phantom.” His calling card is a white glove). His nephew George (played by Robert Wagner) arrives at the resort. Meanwhile, Inspector Clouseau tails Sir Charles, and unbeknownst to him, Sir Charles is having an affair with his wife, Simone (played by French fashion model, Capucine). She is helping Sir Charles in his heists under the oblivious nose of her husband. Sir Charles begins a passionate affair with Princess Dala, who then invites everyone to a costume party (with Clouseau making some hilariously clumsy mistakes in his costume dressed as a knight). At the party, both Sir Charles and his nephew dress as gorillas and try to steal the Pink Panther from the Princess’s safe only to find it already missing. Inspector Clouseau catches them in the act, but they flee the chaotic situation until a car catches leads them to be caught and put in jail. Princess Dala reveals (privately) that she stole the diamond, herself, in order to keep from turning it over to the new Lugash government. She now wants to help Sir Charles escape prison.
The following morning is a climactic trial in which the defense, surprisingly, calls one sole witness to the stand: Inspector Clouseau. The defense brings forth a number of leading questions that implicate Clouseau as the “Phantom” and publicly make mention of his wife spending great sums of money (which leads the audience to pity Clouseau in some ways). In a fit of sweat, Clouseau pulls his handkerchief out of his pocket, but the Pink Panther diamond is attached. He has been betrayed and framed by Princess Dala. Clouseau is rushed to prison with hordes of women admirers now following him. Meanwhile, Sir Charles reassures Simone (Clouseau’s wife and Sir Charles’s lover) that Clouseau will be exonerated when the “Phantom” strikes again.
Peter Sellers’s performance inspired an entire series of sequels focusing on the accidental successes of Inspector Clouseau:
The Pink Panther (1963)
A Shot in the Dark (1964) (followed by a film called Inspector Clouseau in 1968, but this film contained none of the original actors, not Henry Mancini’s score, and thus is not typically considered to be part of the “Pink Panther” series)
The Return of the Pink Panther (1975)
The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976)
Revenge of the Pink Panther (1978) – this was the last “Pink Panther” film to feature Peter Sellers. He died two years after the film was released, however production studios continued to make “Pink Panther” films with other actors.
The Pink Panther is a fun adventure, though it is certainly not the best film in the series. In many ways, the audience pities Inspector Clouseau for being a cuckold and framed by the very people he is hired to help. However, he does have some classic moments of buffoonery (notably dressed as a knight in full armor at a costume party). Clearly, Peter Sellers is the best part of this film (despite it being initially billed as a David Niven film), along with Henry Mancini’s brilliant theme song. There are better “Pink Panther” films in the series that follow this one, including A Shot in the Dark in 1964 and later The Return of the Pink Panther in 1975.