Monday 4 March 2013

Movie Review: The Pink Panther (1963)

An attempt at suave comedy, The Pink Panther is a plodding, mostly unfunny farce. A caper involving the attempted theft of a large diamond quickly skids off the road into antiquated flat jokes and an unconvincing romance.

At an exclusive ski resort in Europe, expert jewel thief Sir Charles Lytton (David Niven), better known as The Phantom, has set his sights on stealing the famous and massive Pink Panther diamond owned by the deposed Princess Dala (Claudia Cardinale). The diamond has a flaw that resembles the image of a panther, but is nevertheless worth a fortune. Sir Charles gets close to his target by attempting to romance the Princess.

Also at the resort is inept French Inspector Jacques Clouseau (Peter Sellers), tasked with putting an end to the Phantom's crime spree. A bungling idiot, Clouseau's speciality is walking into fixed objects and knocking things over, mostly himself. Clouseau's wife Simone (Capucine) is The Phantom's silent partner and lover, helping to plan and pull off the thefts. With Sir Charles' nephew George (Robert Wagner) making a surprise appearance and adding to the reigning chaos and raging lust, the theft of the Pink Panther will not be an easy task.

The Pink Panther climaxes with a wild costume party, a favourite plot device for director Blake Edwards, with various cast members decked out as gorillas or knights in clunky armour, and blundering attempts to break into a safe and steal the diamond. Earlier, there is an interminable scene with Sir Charles and his nephew George simultaneously caught in Simone's hotel room and having to hide under the bed and in the bathtub as Inspector Clouseau unexpectedly barges in on his wife. It's all supposed to be hilarious, but the script by Edwards and Maurice Richlin causes the odd chuckle at best. The timing is slow, the actions and dialogue a lot more dull than smart, and the shenanigans contrived rather than calculating.

The romance between Sir Charles and Princess Dala is warmed-over rather than spicy, with Niven and Cardinale unable to generate meaningful heat. The bed-hopping escapades centred on George are best described as infantile, Robert Wagner never appearing sure as to his role in the movie.

Peter Sellers as Clouseau induces the most sympathy and a few good laughs, but tripping over every conceivable object gets old fast. In his first movie appearance, Clouseau is missing the supremely bloated self-importance that would become key to his character in future outings. Here, Clouseau is just a dim police inspector seemingly unable to stay on his feet, and wrapped tightly around the finger of his devious wife.

The humour and the romance may be flat, but at least the Henry Mancini score brings some stylish respect to the film. As the actors fall all over themselves, the gracefully drawn panther sneaks his way to fame, moving to a magically languid tune.

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