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STUDIO: Focus Features
RUNNING TIME: 119 Mins.
SPECIAL FEATURES: Zero,
zip, zilch. Nada!
The Return of the Pink Panther was heralded as the triumphant return of the de facto cinematic genius of Peter Sellers, although by this time the franchise had been sullied by the odd-man out film inhabited by Alan Arkin (that film – Inspector Clouseau, is rather lacking, and contains neither the zaniness or absurdity that both director Blake Edwards and Sellers bring to the table). After rushing out A Shot in the Dark and the first madcap Pink Panther film almost a decade prior, I suppose everyone was primed for this next go-around, which you might have noticed was conspicuously absent from the spectacular MGM boxed set (purchase that from CHUD here) a couple years back.
As I’ve heard it, a rights issue (with Artisan) prevented Return from even getting close to shacking up with the felt set. I’m not quite sure how it found its new home at Universal’s Home Video Department, but for the fans, the film is out there once again to be snuck up upon with Cato’s fists of fury.
Obviously, she was impressed with Internet Writer’s manly physiques.
As with the other Panther films, the precious diamond on which its namesake resides is pilfered by a crafty thief shrouded in darkness and fancy Q-like gadgetry. The faux ruling country in which the flawed jewel resides – Lugash – quickly dispenses with its pleasantries and enlists the infamous Inspector Clouseau (Sellers, but did you need to know? His character is almost a comedic hallmark, a cultural institution that I think is ingrained into even the evilest of spawn) to track down the culprit and bring him to justice. In short, he’s done it before and can do it again.
The formula of the films has Sellers getting in way over his head, but not without its fair share of sight gags, bon mots, and other assorted hilarities that should leave you smiling if not laughing during the over-the-top antics between the cast and Sellers. Further complicating things is that Sellers believes the theft to be masterminded by the elusive Sir Charles Litton, otherwise known as The Phantom. However, as word spreads across the Pyrenees, Litton insists he has nothing to do with it, and sets about traveling around Lugash attempting to clear his dirtied name.
"Keep going! Don’t stop because I let go all my built up souls!"
Meanwhile, back in France, Clouseau arrives fresh from Lugash with a prime directive to apprehend Litton and once again prove his worth to the force. It’s unfortunate that Lady Litton (played by the ravishingly stunning Catherine Schell) has other plans for Clouseau – most involving sending him off on false adventures that keep him busy while her faithful husband wanders the seedy Lugashian backsides trying to stay one step ahead of their secret police. Clouseau also has to work around the nefarious advances of Captain Dreyfus (the incomparable Herbert Lom) who is slowly breaking down into madness. Hilarity ensues.
The plot in most Pink Panther films is really secondary (even though there’s usually two of them running side by side, the A story, Clouseau’s, and the B – which, by the way, informs us of the killer early on to absolutely no one’s surprise) to the amount of cartoonish situations the filmmakers can get Sellers into. As such, it’s an Edwards hallmark that these characters are subjected to a wealth of jokes played out to the nth degree – you’ll see Sellers tussle with a vacuum cleaner and suck his moustache right off, enough mispronunciations to last you a former lifetime (‘reum’ being a standout), and arguing with a blind man’s ‘minkey’ – in each hyper-stylized cartoonish situation. There’s no subtle shading to these films; they’re all colorful, bright, and cheerful in their primary assault to make you chuckle from your unclean bowls. It’s tough to not laugh when there’s a bird defecating onto our hero. I care about a good poop gag as much as the next, and there’s enough in here to fit the bill.
"I hear Larry Wachowski also enjoys this …"
Edwards’ abilities as a highly competent (and respected) directorial journeyman don’t disappoint and the scenes with Sellers battling Cato (the return of the slightly racist caricature of Burt Kwouk) in various enclaves bring about a smile if not a cackle here and there. More specifically, it’s when Cato pops out of a fridge, icicles protruding from his back, where I was more inclined to guffaw than with the seemingly pedestrian instances of Christopher Plummer (as Sir Charles Litton) working the beat to clear his reformed name. It was in those many shots of slo-motion jump kicking into the blind lunacy that is comedy, and Edwards handles these sublime moments with something of a deft touch and enough reverence to know when to move on. Before using it again and again, that is. But I’d be remiss to not say that each and every one is damn funny even if it does feel a little repetitive.
I’ll cop to stating matter-of-factly that I haven’t seen all of the Panther films yet – especially when people tell me the franchise deteriorates into sight gag after sight gag with wanderlust well into arguably the train wreck calamity that will surely be this next month. The Return of the Pink Panther feels like a turning point to me within the series, not only because Sellers looks a little tired (possibly having a heart attack on Billy Wilder’s Kiss Me, Stupid will do that to you) but because the slapstick appears, to me at least, to be gearing up towards informing the plot as much as it becomes joke after joke strung together in semi-coherency.
"For the last time, I only eat those babies to stay young."
A saving grace is the retro-cool aural notes of Henri Mancini’s iconic theme, which buoys the narrative along with its toe-tapping qualities. Another is the fantastic appearance of the actual cartoon of the Panther, a childlike point of glee for myself that still brings a much needed warmth to my beaten-down veneer. Even more so are those moments when the film actually clicks – and most have to do with Seller’s bumbling figure that he’s honed for however long. His donning of Clouseau’s garments (hat, moustache, trench coat) doesn’t feel like much has changed, and Return of the Pink Panther has enough good moments of inspired lunacy that it’s tough not to recommend … with reservations.
It’s not a spectacularly good movie by any means, but it’s not as dreadful as the cliptastic The Trail of the Pink Panther, largely considered to be a terrible atrocity of the need for more money. The Return of the Pink Panther is something of an entertaining show through the curiously adroit comedic minds of Sellers and Edwards, and you could definitely do worse than continuing on with the further adventures of Inspector Clouseau. After all, he makes Attila the Hun look like a Red Cross volunteer.
7.7 out of 10
"Hey Baby – that PBR?"
If you previously purchased that Artisan disc, the imagery (presented in an anamorphic 2.35:1 aspect ratio) has been cleaned up – but not by much. Hazy in a few spots and sporting some ware (check out one screencap for some scratches), the print isn’t quite as good as you’ve been accustomed to in this beloved series. Consider it docked.
7.5 out of 10
A rather robust Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track. It had been a while since I’d heard Mancini’s bouncing score, and through my surround sound I was pleasantly surprised. Not much else to say.
"Polly want to be John Holmes – that’s WHAT."
8.2 out of 10
Nothing. No trailer. No extra Dolby Digital 5.1. remix. No featurette on the film’s significance in relation to the series. Just a stupid menu screen that looks cobbled together in a bad Photoshop hatchet job. See?
It’s too bad, and such a shame.
0 out of 0
Rudimentary. Having Sellers perched with magnifying glass in hand does bring across the right tone of the film. And while even the regular posters for the film weren’t really standouts in a field of poster art, it does somehow work, ever-so slightly in peaking one’s interest towards the ongoing saga. The people behind these works understand you’re in it for Sellers, so in that respect they’re doing a simple job in coming across. I’m no wizard in the field of graphic Home Video design but that doesn’t mean I can’t gripe about it either. So – gripe, gripe, gripe!
3.0 out of 10