The Pink Panther (1963) review “A totally average start to a funny franchise”

The Pink Panther poster

Color is something we often talk about with movies. Movies like The Grand Budapest Hotel and Blade Runner 2049 are movies frequently discussed for their beautiful color palettes, but before we were talking about colorful movies, we talked about their colorful titles. Many of my favorite movies have colors in the title. Soylent Green’s political intrigue, R.E.D’s hilarious moments and witty dialogue, or the combination of all of those things in Primary Colors, which is a great movie which has not been thought of at all during this very fun campaign year in America.

However, if you ever asked someone to name a movie with a color in the title, they’d say The Pink Panther. A classic comedy which gave us a franchise that lasted almost fifty years before Steve Martin brutally murdered it with two very unfunny films. So how good was the starting point in order to form an eleven film franchise?

Well, it’s not exactly the franchise’s best. Let’s just talk about it as a whole. So there is one thing that is really great about this movie, and that’s the one thing that has literally transcended the franchise to just be popular on its own. The very music that just says a series of “Do do dos” for a couple minutes. Written by Henry Mancini, the Pink Panther Theme is one of the most famous pieces of music written for any film, really only competing with things like the James Bond Theme, the Star Wars Theme, and the Batman ‘66 Theme for the most iconic score ever written.

The actual cartoon portion of it is fine. But the music manages to carry the film to towering heights. I also feel the need to say that by music, I mean the theme. The actual score is pretty basic and just a retread of the very familiar “Do Dos” over and over again. Still, the theme is one of the best ever written and automatically makes this a classic.

Peter Sellers in the Pink Panther

The other big thing I want to talk about for the best parts of the film are the performances, and two in particular, David Niven’s Charles Lytton and Peter Sellers Jacques Clousaeu. These two actors give so much life to their characters. Lytton’s poshness and over the top manners make for a very fun villain, and Clousaeu is his perfect comic foil. Sellers plays it as an idiot with the strongest of wills and a great moral compass.

While this is probably the weakest of all the Clouseau performances from Sellers, it’s still head and toe above any of the four people who tried to fill his shoes afterwards. There’s also some solid performances from the rest of the cast including Capucine and Robert Wagner, who combine with the first two to make one of the funniest scenes I’ve ever seen.

Now, moving to the bad, this film is shockingly uneven when it comes to comedy. The last third aside from a couple lines from Peter Sellers and  one very funny visual gag involving apes, cars, and a drunk is pretty mundane. There are several moments which do land in the film, but for every joke that does make you laugh, there’s one that doesn’t. It’s a cycle which is painful, because everytime you think to yourself “Hey, that was funny”, you begin to dread the joke that’ll come five seconds later that’ll make your mind’s ability to process joy shrivel up and die. 

The rest of the film’s attributes are fairly bland. Nothing that really deserves an entire paragraph. Instead I want to focus the rest of this article to the film which actually gave us the Pink Panther franchise as we know it, A Shot in the Dark. Blake Edwards released the movies in America within a couple of months of each other, and Shot in the Dark is much, much, better. Murder mysteries have always been a more entertaining idea than heist films, so it has an advantage on the original right off the bat.

Then going into the actual characters, Clousaeu becomes so much funnier, Maria is a great love interest, and our first appearance of Herbert Lom as Dreyfuss is just fantastic. So while The Pink Panther is a movie you should watch for the theme and some great performances, if you want a film for comedy and characters, A Shot in the Dark is your best option. And if you want to watch the other Clousaeu film from the sixties, Inspector Clousaeu starring Alan Alda as the titular Inspector, please seek psychiatric help at (785)-205-0878. 

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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