The Pink Panther (1963)


(director/writer: Blake Edwards; screenwriter: Maurice Richlin; cinematographer: Philip H. Lathrop; editor: Ralph Winters; music: Henry Mancini; cast: Peter Sellers (Inspector Jacques Clouseau), David Niven (Sir Charles Lytton), Capucine (Simone Clouseau), Robert Wagner (George Lytton), Claudia Cardinale (Princess Dala); Runtime: 114; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Martin Jurow; United Artists; 1963-UK/USA)

“I found it overrated.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Blake Edwards directs this beginning version for what proved to be a popular series because of its depiction of the endearingly inept detective and the film’s trademarks that became appealing such as the animated pink panther slithering across the opening credit sequences and Henry Mancini’s recognizable score. Maurice Richlin is the co-writer along with Edwards. It’s strictly a lightweight and meaningless comedy exorcised by the comic skills of Peter Sellers as the bumbling French Inspector Clouseau who tweaks the character further with his peculiar French accent and the ability to foul up everything he touches. I grew restless with the act before the film transpired, but The Pink Panther franchise only grew and became part of the pop culture scene over the years. Despite the film’s promising start, it all grew heavy-handed after one bump into the door too many.

Top billing in the first installment actually went to David Niven. He stars as the suave and sophisticated Sir Charles Litton, leading a double life as a jewel thief with the moniker of “The Phantom.” Vacationing in a luxurious winter Alpine resort, Cortina d’Ampezzo, Litton aims to steal the Pink Panther diamond, a gem of great monetary value owned by the beautiful Indian Princess Dala (Claudia Cardinale). Litton helps his cause by seducing and becoming the princess’s lover.

The Phantom keeps eluding the detective, even though Clouseau has been on his trail for years. He does it with the help of Clouseau’s wife Simone (Capucine), who is Litton’s lover and warns him about her husband’s moves. Also joining the hunt for The Phantom is Litton’s brighter but just as smug American nephew, George (Robert Wagner). Simone now has two probing men to keep off her lover’s trail, and George proves to be harder to fool as he competes with Litton for Simone’s charms in the bedroom.

The film has more gags that don’t work than do. The most labored might have been the gorilla suit conclusion. While the best might have been the bedroom sequence where Clouseau’s wife has hidden both Litton and George, as Sellers enters for some lovemaking. The slapstick, pratfall comedy and the idea of the stupid detective couldn’t be sustained throughout; the film hit too many dull and grating spots for my taste. It might be considered a comedy classic by the uncritical, but I found it overrated. It should be noted that Peter Ustinov and Ava Gardner turned down the Sellers and Capucine roles.