Once an actor becomes synonymous with a role, it is nigh on impossible to replace such a person. Peter Sellers, then, for all his memorable roles within Being There and Dr. Strangelove, will be known to many as the man who brought life to a beloved, bumbling detective. Jacques Clouseau is that man, and embarrassingly enough, in my childhood, I was led to believe Sellers played the titular Pink Panther. No such nonsense is found within Blake Edwards’ comedy, though. Not much is found here, to be blunt about the whole sordid affair. It is a film, that, like many from this period, has coasted on respectable cast members and a whispered utterance from golden tongues from generation to generation.
Such talk has blown The Pink Panther and its few merits out of proportion. Those expecting a masterclass in brilliant blunders and charming characters are going to be short-changed and left without much of a finishing shot. Sellers is exceptional, but he always is. I would be hard-pressed to name a role where he has not given it his all. Well, outside of Casino Royale and What’s New Pussycat. There was that time on Ghost in the Noonday Sun, too, but that is now a series of urban legends propelled into the public view. Regardless of his past and future discrepancies, The Pink Panther sees him embody the Clouseau role well, and better than anyone else could hope to manage.
He was replaced, removed and returned from time to time, and it is difficult to see what was so alluring about the role aside from the brand awareness. While the short, animated films are a delight, the same cannot be said for The Pink Panther and its live-action origins. There are a few moments fitted with fleeting bouts of laughter. They flurry on and off the screen with just the same pacing you’d expect for a giddy romp through the early years of the Swingin’ Sixties. Women are around Clouseau often but never involved in anything pertinent to the story. Throw in David Niven for good luck and hope to God that it pays off. It almost does, and to give credit where it is due, Sellers and Niven make for some remarkable draws in a comedy otherwise devoid of any major, memorable laughs.
A fine film, that is as much as can be said for The Pink Panther. It is neither daring nor convincing enough to turn itself into more than a quietly deflating piece looking to adapt and popularise a popular flushed feline. A dangerous cat at that, but one all the same. Its mystery is conventional and uninteresting, its comedy unpolished and unvarying, swaying from raunchy embarrassment to slapstick trivialities. The only thing keeping The Pink Panther together is the man embodying him. By him, I mean Clouseau, not, as I thought all those years ago, the panther itself. Still, maybe it’d have been a real delight and treat to see Sellers don a furry suit and prance around the streets of Paris.