Title: The Pink Panther
Language: English, Italian
Genre: Comedy, Crime, Romance
Director: Blake Edwards
Music: Henry Mancini
Cinematography: Philip H. Lathrop
John Le Mesurier
Brenda de Banzie
Blake Edwards’ THE PINK PANTHER, which launches Peter Sellers’ beloved character Inspector Jacques Clouseau onto the celluloid, is originally deemed a star vehicle for David Niven’s Sir Charles Lytton, whose secret identity is a roué jewelry thief, aka, “The Phantom”. Mr. Niven oozes an innate luster of urbanity tinged with bashfulness and innocuousness which is disarming and photogenic, women shall be enamored with him, and men would love to be him because his philandering mischief will hurt no one. Indeed, the script insouciantly glosses over its criminal technicalities in favoring of a goofy comedy upstaged by Mr. Sellers’ comic tics, Inspector Clouseau is a bungling caricature, unwittingly two-timed by his wife Simone (Capucine), and conscientious to catch The Phantom before he lay claims to the titular diamond in possession of an Indian princess Dala (Cardinale, whisked to Hollywood in a race-insensitive role trading on her gorgeousness and she is quite a delight in capturing a whiff of tipsy feline bewitchment).
Dawdling from a picturesque ski resort in Cortina d’Ampezzo to Princess Dala’s imperial villa in Rome, where a masquerade is followed by a pyrotechnic commotion, the film is conspicuously light in its action (the only set piece is a midnight four-vehicle caper witnessed by an aloof old man in the square), but predominantly elicits laughter from its cartoony context, the most delectable one actually takes place in a bedroom which involves Simone painstakingly trying to hide two men from her husband, who feels frisky to assume their nightly amusement.
Peter Sellers makes great play of Jacques’ flat-footedness and unassuming persona to a sparking extent, its drollness would be further and maximally exploited in another Edward-Sellers comedy THE PARTY (1968), the mismatch of his unyielding physicality and dead-pan expression is a winning combo. A silk-stocking Capucine also relishes in her duplicitous flip-flopping with mild exasperation mingled with simmering gaiety, but Robert Wagner’s George, the prodigal nephew of Charles, comes across as a drag vaunting his shallow good-looking and brazen chivalry. Also, singer Fran Jeffries contributes a swooning MEGLIO STASERA (IT HAD BETTER BE TONIGHT) which is forever inscribed in one’s cortex along with its ear-worm theme ditty, both penned by Henry Mancini.
In toto, it is a comforting experience to see Blake Edawrds’ THE PINK PATHER still holds its allure amazingly with its exquisite patina of sophistication and humor, unadulterated by vulgarity and snobbery – the pathology prevalent in modern-day studio comedy wheeled out from Hollywood, a blessing from the past.