Herbert Lom died today at the age of 95. When Germany threatened to occupy the whole of Czechoslovakia in 1939, the young actor (who was born in Prague) escaped. He was allowed into Britain, but not his Jewish girlfriend who was later murdered by the Nazis in a concentration camp. Predictably, Lom found a career as a heavy in British films during the war and was even on the verge of finding success in Hollywood were it not for his failure to obtain an American visa.
Lom was praised for his performance in The Ladykillers (1955), but he became famous all over the world thanks to the Pink Panther films. Lom’s character of Chief Inspector Charles Dreyfus first appeared in A Shot in the Dark (1964). This is a spoiler for those of you who haven’t seen this ingenious comedy. It is established already in this film that Jacques Clouseau (Peter Sellers) is so annoying to his superiors that Dreyfus is literally driven to a murderous rage. The other movies in the series deal with the varying degrees of Dreyfus’s insanity, but what really makes it work is Lom’s performance. The nervous eye twitching, hysterical laughter, clumsiness, intense hatred of Clouseau… Lom simply made Dreyfus’s suffering a lot of fun. In the clip above, he has been saddled with eulogizing Clouseau at a fake memorial service in Revenge of the Pink Panther (1978).
One of my absolute favorite scenes with him is the one from The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976) when Clouseau visits Dreyfus at the mental hospital and the poor patient (who was actually feeling a lot better before his colleague’s visit) is accidentally pushed into a pond… not once, but repeatedly. As Lom finally crawled out of the water after his last plunge, wheezing with exhaustion, I was on the floor laughing.
Since Sellers died in 1980, I guess Dreyfus won the battle in the end. May he rest in peace.