IT’S SELLERS THE SLEUTH… AND THERE’S NOTHING HE WON’T DO TO TRACK DOWN A BODY – DEAD OR ALIVE!
When Blake Edwards’s The Great Race was released in 1965 it was touted as “the great laugh show of all time”. Of course it wasn’t, and Edwards in particular should know better because it could be argued that the movie he made the preceding year, A Shot in the Dark, should earn that honor. Everything about The Great Race that Edwards screwed up, he managed to get right with the second film of the Pink Panther franchise.
After a night of confusing trysts and door-slamming at the home of the wealthy Benjamin Ballon (George Sanders), a driver called Miguel is found murdered. The obvious suspect is Maria Gambrelli (Elke Sommer), a maid who was having an affair with Miguel. The Sûreté makes the mistake of sending Chief Inspector Jacques Clouseau (Peter Sellers) to the scene. The first thing he does when arriving is fall into the fountain. The second thing he does is meet Maria. After having a brief conversation with her he realizes that such a lovely lady couldn’t possibly commit such a vile crime. Even though every piece of evidence is pointing toward Maria, Clouseau continues to assume that Maria is innocent. His superior, Commissioner Charles Dreyfus (Herbert Lom), is painfully aware of the Chief Inspector’s uselessness and tries to remove him from the case, but Ballon insists on Clouseau leading the investigation. Then another murder is committed at the Ballon residence and this time Maria is found with the bloody weapon in her hands…
Introducing ingredients that would return
Edwards and his team initially intended to adapt the Harry Kurnitz/Marcel Achard play of the same name, with Sellers and Walter Matthau in the leads… but they soon realized that Clouseau, the character from the movie they had just finished, The Pink Panther (1964), would be perfect for this story as well. Never mind that Clouseau went to prison the last time we saw him – he’s back in full glory, perhaps even clumsier now. This film introduced several characters and ingredients that would return in the series. Sellers worked on his idiotic French accent and was ably assisted by people like Burt Kwouk as Kato the manservant (ingeniously introduced here), Graham Stark as Hercule (Clouseau’s long-suffering assistant) and André Maranne as François, Dreyfus’s assistant. Lom is clearly having great fun with Clouseau’s superior, a man who cuts cigars with a small guillotine and gets a nervous twitch in one of his eyes every time he hears the name Clouseau. He turns out to have a key part in the story, which is much brighter than one might initially think; original, romantic and even a bit exciting, it becomes a perfect vehicle for Clouseau who has no idea what he is on to. The film is admirably well paced, throwing us from one classic set-up to another without missing a beat. If only Edwards had learned from himself in some of his later, bloated movies. There are so many gags here, enthusiastically performed by Sellers who is at the absolute top of his game, that some are bound to disappoint but those simple slapsticky scenes are quickly followed by other, better moments; the sequence in the nudist colony is very charming and the series of events where Clouseau get arrested for various reasons is a hilarious example of the power of repetition. Henry Mancini delivers once again; his outstanding theme is a very effective accompaniment to the animated main titles.
The relationship between Edwards and Sellers allegedly deteriorated to the degree that they vowed never to work together again. It is a testament to their professionalism that this film is not only their best effort together, but also the greatest comedy of the decade.
A Shot in the Dark 1964-U.S. 101 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced and directed by Blake Edwards. Screenplay: Blake Edwards, William Peter Blatty. Play: Harry Kurnitz, Marcel Achard. Music: Henry Mancini. Song: “Shadows of Paris” (Henry Mancini, Robert Wells). Cast: Peter Sellers (Jacques Clouseau), Elke Sommer (Maria Gambrelli), George Sanders (Benjamin Ballon), Herbert Lom, Tracy Reed, Burt Kwouk… Bryan Forbes.
Trivia: Sophia Loren and Romy Schneider were allegedly considered for the role of Maria. Followed by The Return of the Pink Panther (1975), but also Inspector Clouseau (1968), which was made by other hands.
Quote: “Give me ten men like Clouseau and I could destroy the world.” (Lom)
Last word: “Within Peter, you really never knew what you were getting into. We came right back with ‘A Shot in the Dark’, and things were fine for the first half of filming, but then the shit hit the fan. [He] became a monster. He just got bored with the part and became angry, sullen and unprofessional. He wouldn’t show up for work and he began looking for anyone and everyone to blame, never for a moment stopping to see whether or not he should blame himself.” (Edwards, Playboy)