Thursday, December 17, 2020

The Pink Panther Series: Part 3 (1982-93)

Trail of the Pink Panther (1982)

The Pink Panther diamond has been stolen again, and Clouseau is once again assigned to the case. But midway through his investigation, he disappears after a plane crash, and plucky reporter Marie Jouveat must solve the mystery...Or not...

Trail of the Pink Panther is a truly bad film! It is wretched, moreso than you could believe. Not only is it a bad film in its own right, it makes the classic material showcased here seem bad. The movie gets around Sellers's absence by way of deleted scenes and stock footage, stitched together 'seamlessly' to give the impression Clouseau is still up and about. This goes over like a lead brick, and never works.

The film was ultimately faced with the problem of how to conclude a story made up of unused footage. You can string together as much as you want, but it won't mean anything, because there is no ending. They deal with this by eventually making the hero disappear halfway through, and making it into a mystery to be solved. What happened to Clouseau, and where is he? ...But there IS no mystery, the lead actor is fucking dead! It feels disingenuous to turn the real actor's death into a big mystery for the movie to 'solve', when it can never be answered or developed. Also it's more than a little disrespectful to turn this deceased actor's character into a villain, although we see the worst of that in the next film.

The plot here is the simplest stuff imaginable! Someone has stolen the Pink Panther, so Clouseau is told to go to Lugash. That's it! No characters, no development, no intrigue, just Clouseau pissing about, doing everything but go to Lugash! There's no strong reason for anything to happen, and then halfway through the movie we're just casually told through a phone call that he has 'died' offscreen. This is a mixed blessing. On one hand it's a ridiculous and out of nowhere. But on the other hand it means the movie finally has to get its shit together and tell a proper story! Or so you'd hope.

The entire second half feels like a television clip show, with he plucky journalist asking old friends and enemies of Clouseau about him. All this feels like an excuse to just pad things out. It gets so desperate that there's literally a moment when Lytton says "I'll never forget that old man across the street", just as an excuse to show a bit of archive footage that happens to feature a random old man walking the street besides all the action.

The pacing here is awful. This is most evident in the last act. I checked the time and was shocked to see there were only 10 minutes left, because it didn't feel like it at all! It's not a good sign for your movie when you're in the last 10 minutes and the action hasn't ramped up even a little. What are you waiting for? Even old movies that were just an hour long knew how to pace themselves properly!

Blake Edwards to his detriment tried justifying this miserable affair. Among other reasons, he tried to excuse the poor product by saying he didn't have enough time. If you're that unconfident then good god man, ask for more time! The last Panther movie had only come out a short time prior, not to mention your star is dead! Surely you can get an extension! I also take issue with Edwards using lack of time as a defence when this is literally made up of stock footage! Oh boo hoo, you didn't have enough time to cobble together a few random clips and call it a movie. I am so glad that Sellers' late wife sued the production, and won. It absolutely deserved it.

Trail fundamentally misunderstands Clouseau's character. He's clumsy, and arrogant. He's not a weirdo who mails people 3000lbs of jelly (Also, it's jelly in England, Blake Edwards, not Jell-o). I also wasn't fond of the wartime flashbacks. As silly and daffy as Clouseau may be, it's a great touch that he served in the underground. It adds a little depth and humanity to him, knowing that this dope still knew enough to effectively fight the nazis! The flashback here rankled me because it has his typical clumsiness. It makes sense in character, yeah, but it's just unpleasant, seeing a whole army of nazis roll into France unimpeded and it's all his fault.

There's little direction here to speak of, and most of the new stuff is akin to a TV documentary. There is one shot I really liked though-The transition after young Clouseau blows his apartment up.

The acting here is mixed. Poor Herbert Lom has to do most of the heavy lifting here. It's a thankless task and he does his best, bless him, but there's only so much a bucket of water can do against a house fire. A young Joanna Lumley has the starring role throughout the second half, and is ok, but nothing special. Of note is the sheer amount of returning faces from the classic era, even going as far back to the original entry, by featuring Capucine, and David Niven as the original Phantom. They all do ok with their crummy walk-on roles, but that's it. Niven was in too frail a condition to even speak his lines, so was dubbed over by someone who sounds nothing like him, and doesn't mesh with the film's audio well.

The animated sequence is pretty subpar, and has annoyingly topical references such as Pac-Man, though I did at least like how that leads into the nifty winding trail that is the film's title. The music note charming bit was creative too, as was the floor sawing away. Moments like this are tempered though by gross or repetitive humour. I get it, you've played Pac-Man!

Trail of the Pink Panther is not only the worst entry in the series, I honestly think it's one of the worst movies ever made. It fails so utterly, in storytelling and cohesion, while also being the most disrespectful film this side of the 'Brucesploitation' movies. Ignore this one like the plague...

Curse of the Pink Panther (1983)

A year after the famed Inspector Clouseau's disappearance, Chief Inspector Dreyfus is charged with mounting a new investigation to find him, using an advanced supercomputer to track down the world's second greatest detective. Horrified by the idea that the plan could succeed, Dreyfus sabotages the computer, making it instead send him the world's worst detective. This turns out to be NYPD Sgt. Clifton Sleigh, who sets out to not only discover the whereabouts of Closeau, but also the Pink Panther diamond...

Curse of the Pink Panther is yet another degradation in the series. It was made back to back with Trail, as evidenced not only by the recycled plot elements and returning actors, but by reused footage and dialogue to boot. Thankfully this is at least a real movie, so it's already on a better footing than its loathsome predecessor.

The plot still bears some of the same problems as Trail, in that Sleigh is given a simple instruction, and yet pisses around the whole movie doing any random thing. More focus is given on him going from one spot to the other while people try to kill him, that's it! It takes 56 minutes before he has his first lead, and he spends the next act completely ignoring it as he ambles around with a dummy. Because of this I honest to god forgot the Pink Panther was even involved, and when Clouseau showed up I was surprised. In the first 70 minutes he only has two tiny scenes. It's absurd!

So much time is wasted on nothing, despite the wealth of material the movie sets up. 20 minutes left and Dreyfus hasn't even gone killcrazy yet. And there's still the mafia plot to deal with, and the hunt for Clouseau, as well as the Pink Panther theft. The last act of this movie is jumbled to say the least!

New lead Clifton Sleigh never really get a proper introduction. The first time we see him is midway through a case, where he's disguised as a woman. When he and Dreyfus finally meet, the scene is ludicrously short, as I'll get into later. I like his sense of honour expressed in his introduction, but after that he's pretty much a blank slate. Just a Clouseau wannabe to walk though all these shenanigans. Most offensive of all is him being American, which clashes greatly with the whole Pink Panther aesthetic. Get a new lead character if you must, but please don't let them be a Yank!

It is a shame we never see him get a proper resolution with his family and colleagues back home (aka, the naysayers), but then again he didn't even do anything! He watched a sexy lady beat up some gangsters, then chatted with Joanna Lumley, and declared the case closed. I bet his grandfather and police chief do still hate him!

Semi love interest Juleta acts slutty and petulant, as well as duplicitous. I liked her kung fu skills at least though. Her whole character is confusing. She gets hit with a tranq dart an hour in and is never seen again, and we hear she used to work for Countess Chandra. O-kkkkk? Does that mean her infatuation with Clifton was fake? What were her motives in helping him fight the gangsters though? Was she serious in trying to get him to stay with her, or was everything a distraction to stop him from finding Clouseau? Who did hit her with the knockout dart?? These are questions the movie does not bother to answer. Frankly you could've cut her out. Have Clifton fight Chong and the gangsters with drunk-fu, and shave 20 minutes off the bloated runtime.

Dreyfus is his usual self, trying to ensure his nemesis is never found, but ends up creating an all-new nemesis, and suffering frequently.

As for Cato, he's bizarrely out of character, as he now goes on about how much he hated Clouseau fighting him, and is glad he's missing, becoming actively pissed at the idea of him returning. Huh? Cato? He's the noblest most trusting character in the series, so why's he suddenly acting the total opposite? It's especially weird considering this is written by the same man who wrote all previous and successive entries in the series, where he's as noble as ever. This makes for an unpleasant shift in character that we really could've done without. Poor Burt Kwouk must've been confused!

The villains are a pretty weak bunch. The gangster Bruno Langois appears for his third time running, and if you were wondering if there was an epic payoff to three movies worth of build-up, you'd be wrong. He's anticlimactically knocked out midway through an alley-fight, and is never seen again! We never see hm arrested, or hear a word ever again. I guess we're just to assume the mob's finally had it? At least they get more of a finale than the Lugash dictators, who have one scene then vanish without any resolution.

Another baddie is the weird karate master Chong, played by a guy who doesn't even attempt make-up. He actually reminded me of Turkish action superstar Cuneyt Arkın, with his weird grey hairstyle and ludicrous karate moves. He even karate chops boulders in half! He's ok I guess, and at least distinctive visually, but only has one big scene, then is out of the movie.

And now we come to the main villains...I think? Inspector Clouseau has gone bad for reasons completely unexplained (and contrary with Trail's 'noble' ending analysis), and teamed up with the Countess Chandra, who we have never seen or heard of before. Confusingly enough, she is played by Joanna Lumley! No, not as the plucky reporter from the last movie. That would would have at least made sense, partially. We get zero insight into these two, and they barely appear.

From its constant use of recycled actors/characters, to the mostly subpar locations, this feels like a cheap movie. The majority is just random sets, while exotic locations like Lugash literally get a single scene, in a windowless room.

The music in Curse is decent. The opening theme has a darker tinge to it, to fit with the title. It sounds decent, but neither the spookier music nor that title ever really play into anything. The animated intro is ok, but that's about it. There's some 'spooky' moments, a strangely invisible Sgt. Sleigh, and with no Clouseau to torment, the Pink Panther is once again the victim of all the slapstick here.

The acting here is alright. Ted Wass is a decent lead, with an impossible task. Herbert Lom is fun as usual, and Burt Kwouk has his moments when the script doesn't let him down. The whole Lytton family returns, including Robert Wagner. Rich Little does a better job with Niven's voice this time round, and he's given a better role this time. Joanna Lumley is alright, and we do get to see her naked (WHAT?), but that's about it. Now we come to Roger Moore. Consensus has always been divided on whether his turn as Clouseau is comic genius in an otherwise horrid movie, or the pinnacle of awfulness. It's hard to say! If he were in a better movie, perhaps it would be hilarious, but I can't judge as it is.

Overall, Curse has little redeeming features. There are little things here and there which aren't half bad, but it's just not a good time at all. Its reputation is well-deserved, and I recommend you steer clear from it!...

Son of the Pink Panther (1993) 

After the debacle of the last two films, and a 10 year hiatus, the Pink Panther series finally stopped trying to copy Peter Sellers, and leave his shadow. This was the right decision to make, but the low quality of this latest movie coupled with audiences really having lost their patience finally killed the series for good. Was such a harsh reaction warranted, or was Son of the Pink Panther a hidden gem, and a return to form?...It wasn't, but we can live and dream...

The princess of Lugash is kidnapped, and the only clue to her whereabouts is the eyewitness account of a local French patrolman-Jacques Gambrelli. Something about this man bewilders Chief Commissioner Dreyfus, for reasons unknown, but he decides to take the young officer under his wing. Gambrelli is eager to take the case, and to finally prove his worth, and when it turns out he is the illegitimate son of the legendary Inspector Clouseau, the villains will surely quake in terror. Along with everyone else...

Son of the Pink Panther isn't quite the return to form Blake Edwards hoped for (and certainly not what anyone else expected), but as far as movies go, it's not that bad. It's an alright sequel that does a few things right, and a few hings wrong, and is ultimately a slightly mediocre experience.

Jacques Gambrelli is a decent hero. Bumbling and a bit of a know-it-all, but goodhearted, and never an asshole. He's just about the most Italian person you can imagine, which is often cheesy, but if you like opera you may get more out of it.

Princess Yasmin starts off very unlikable by smoking like a chimney. Hey, those things'll kill ya, you stupid girl! I thought you were an exercise nut too, but here she is lighting one up! I really take it personally when the sweet demure love interests in movies have such bad habits.

The romance is as predictable and kinda lazy as you can imagine. Their meet-cute romance would be cute, if she wasn't drugged and he wasn't still off his tits on novocaine. The characters in this movie get drugged a disturbing amount!

The villains here are ok, but a bit lacklustre. They have their moments, but once they kidnap the princess they really don't do much. They disappear almost completely, and are an afterthought, even in the final minutes. The strangely named Yussa gets the most to do in the climax, with a couple of fights between Jacques and Yasmin, but the main villain not only barely appears, but he's covered under a cigar, hat, and huge shades, then covered in soot. You can barely even tell who he is, especially when he starts copying Clouseau's phrases out of nowhere.

Something I've always liked about the film is the attention to continuity, not only with the return of Dreyfus, but in Maria Gambrelli! And this also gives a perfect explanation for why the son of Clouseau would be Italian. There is one issue though. Maria and Dreyfus have met (one presumes)! He tried getting her rung up for murder in A Shot in the Dark! This is never mentioned though, and it seems like the writer are just ignoring that completely, and just treating her as a random woman Clouseau just happened to know and hook up with.

By far my favourite thing about this movie is what it does with Dreyfus! It could've just repeated old stuff and had him be crazy, but instead it goes a different direction, and gives Lom and the character new territory to explore. Firstly, he's exasperated by Jacques, but sees him as a mentor, and decides to take the boy under his wing. He never once tries to murder him. And this is a good thing, because the other new addition is a romance! Dreyfus hits it off with Maria Gambrelli, which is rather sweet! Clouseau may have had Maria when she was an ultra hot 23 year old, but here's Dreyfus having a sweet middle aged romance.

The surprise reappearance of Cato is a lovely treat too! We get a really nice insight into his relationship with Clouseau, as he proudly says that if not for his clever surprise attack regiment, the Inspector would have been dead long ago. His advanced English also works too. In the earlier films you get the impression he's a presumably recent immigrant, but 30 years have passed since then, so it would stand to reason his English (I guess technically French!) would have improved.

Onto a less amusing character-Dr. Auguste Balls. Ugh, that name! Isn't it just the most annoyingly American humour you've ever heard? One last character to mention is one I won't spoil (even though I've spoiled every other surprise here, because god knows no-one's clamouring to watch Son of the Pink Panther), but sufficed to say they're a very amusing addition, and interact greatly with Dreyfus! Though one wonders why Maria never mentioned them until after the wedding.

The comedy here is mixed. Some of the scenes are tolerably funny, some are meh, but others are just painful. Perhaps the worst is when Dreyfus has a heart attack and flatlines, and it's played for laughs! Man, getting knocked out of a window is funny, but that just comes off as too real and more offputting than funny.

Another scene I didn't like was Jacques in disguise. It's not that it's unfunny, per se (although it does contain Benigni at his more annoying), but rather we've barely even gotten to know the lead yet and we're already seeing him in disguise. Maybe save that for later, when we're used to him.

The acting here is all competent enough, with Herbert Lom and Claudia Cardinale being highlights. Roberto Benigni is grating in some places, but decent in others. As far as successors to Peter Sellers, he doesn't compare, but he also doesn't attempt to copy him, which counts for a lot. Although whoever told him he was funny with muscle relaxant was a black liar.

The direction here is quite good, with some neat establishing shots. No real surprise here, as while Blake Edwards may have long since lost his hand at comedy, the man still knew how to frame a good shot. The pacing is pretty good, and if nothing else the film is never boring, though it is weird how the film has two endings. Both are fine, but having two in a row just seems a bit weird.

The music here is fairly standard stuff too. Some enjoyable Parisian tracks, some Arab-enthused flavour, and a frankly bizarre rescoring of the Pink Panther theme, done over a very minimalistic Roger Rabbit style credits sequence, where we just see the Panther and Jacques potter about a sound stage.

Overall, Son of the Pink Panther is an underwhelming return, and hardly comparable to the classics of the series' heyday, but it's not terrible, and has qualities I really enjoy. I recommend watching it for Herbert Lom alone, but otherwise, watch it if you're interested, but you don't need to see it...

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