Friday, December 4, 2020

The Pink Panther Series: Part 2 (1975-78)

Return of the Pink Panther

The famed Pink Panther diamond has been stolen again, and the government of Lugash specifically asks for the 'great' Inspector Clouseau to be on the case, just as before. This time however there is another less official sleuth on the case-Sir Charles Lytton, alias The Phantom. Concerned he's being framed, and at the urging of his adoring wife, he travels to Lugash while she keeps Clouseau distracted. The case stretches across the continent and beyond, with Clouseau determined to catch both the diamond and Lytton in the act, no matter what sinister forces conspire against him...

Return of the Pink Panther came after a long hiatus for the series, but everyone returns to their roles like nothing has changed, nor has the passage of time from the 60s to 70s made a dent. The movie is still classically Parisian, and hasn't aged a day. Return is highly regarded as the series' best entry, as well as one of the best comedies of all time. You know you've hit a real winner when your biggest competition is yourself!

The story in Return of the Pink Panther is basic, and only an excuse for gags, but it mostly works in this regard. Clouseau's part to the story is him bumbling around in search of clues, and only finding them because he lingers long enough where he shouldn't be.

The other story meanwhile has Sir Charles journeying to Lugash to discover the real thief, all while evading various 'interested parties'. It's fun, though I kinda wish there was just a liiiitle bit more intrigue and more happening, since he figures out what's going on almost immediately and sets out to return home. But otherwise this is fine, and the way the two stories are tied together is very good. I wish Clouseau and the Phantom interacted more than just the one scene at the very end, though at least their interactions are gold.

What didn't I like about the movie though, if anything? The first fifteen minutes! Focusing on the jewel heist, there's no dialogue, and the whole scene is in almost total darkness. It's interesting seeing the tricks and gadgets the thief uses to make their way through the museum and steal the diamond, but it all could have been handled so much quicker, surely! It takes almost 20 minutes before our main characters even appear.

In lesser hands a character that's such a know-it-all who can do no wrong in their eyes could be a pain to watch, but Clouseau is the opposite. He's a loveable larrikin I find it hilarious how Clouseau is so singleminded he spends the week dogging Lady Litton's tracks, bugging her phone, and following her all the way to Switzerland, all to find her husband...when the police knew he flew to Lugash all the time.

The Phantom is a great addition to the plot. A more competent protagonist, he's devious enough without being a dick. The same goes for his wife too, and even their butler has his amusing moments. Dreyfus is funny and crazy as usual here, while Cato gets some hysterical moments too, always taking you (and Clouseau) by surprise.

Since this movie is from the 70s, you can imagine the swanky fashion on display, and it does not disappoint. This is especially true of Clouseau's amusingly cheesy disguise as Guy Gadoix

The comedy in Return is some of the best in the series, with hilarious dialogue, gags, and setpieces. What's especially great is the buildup! You'll get one funny thing happening, and you'll see where it's going, then something else happens, then another thing after that, and it makes you forget the first thing, making its return all the more satisfying! The recurring gags are used masterfully, like the pool dives.

The actors inhabit their roles perfectly. Peter Sellers is as hilarious as ever, handling each exchange hilariously, and bouncing off his costars with perfection. Christopher Plummer is a great Phantom, suave and smooth as he plays the film's straight man. Catherine Schell is also a delight, and is well known for her supposed unscripted laughing. She claims it was intentional, but either way it's great. There's something nice about a comedy when it makes even the actors performing it crack up uncontrollably.

The music in Return is lovely! There are so many great tracks, from the reliable main theme, to the glitzy and romantic Greatest Gift, and the brilliant Summer in Gstaad, which is one of my favourite pieces from the whole franchise. It really captures the setting, tone, and innocent charm in one perfect tune.

The look here is near flawless. The locations all spring to life, be they in France, Switzerland, or Lugash, and the sets make you wanna visit. Not all the effects are flawless though, as evidenced by the bomb explosion, where not only can you see the strings holding the couch up, you can see the actor touching them!

The animated intro is another highlight. I dig the minimalist black background and how it mixes with the colourful action, and glitzy marquees. The characters are fun, and I like the way they interact with the credits, from tapdancing up the names, to snipping them away

The problems in Return of the Pink Panther are all minor complaints in an otherwise fantastic movie, and you have to watch as soon as possible. It delivers on all the fronts a comedy should...

The Pink Panther Strikes Again

After years of rehabilitation, former Chief Inspector Dreyfus has finally recovered from his Clouseau-induced insanity, and is ready to be released. Everything is going fine, until Clouseau himself decides to visit for encouragement, directly resulting in Dreyfus relapsing. He escapes the asylum and begins plotting his revenge. Deciding that a man like Clouseau is impossible to kill with conventional means, he orchestrates a grand plan...

The Pink Panther Strikes Again is truly one of the greatest comedies of all time, and a crowning achievement for the series. I could tell when I first saw it, even knowing its reputation, that this was something special, and lived up to the hype.

This is also one of the more hotly debated entries. It's not that these fans don't like the movie itself, but rather feel it goes a bit too far and takes the series into a more farcical direction, and it's not hard to see where they're coming from. What started out as a simple crime-comedy is now a full on parody with mad supervillains conquering the world, with what was once just the beleaguered police chief now a Bond villain. How one feels about this really depends on whoever's watching, and there's no right or wrong answer. I'm sort of torn between both sides myself.

Another point of debate is whether it works featuring Dreyfus as the main opponent instead of an antagonistic foil off to the side. On one hand one might see their interactions as better in smaller doses, but on the other it is a natural progression, and anything to give Herbert Lom a larger role is fine by me. One definite problem though is that by nature of Dreyfus being the villainous mastermind, he shares very little screentime with Sellers. Just the beginning and ending.

The film is built on setpieces, from Dreyfus at the asylum, to Clouseau's investigation of the Fassbender household, or his attempts at getting into Dreyfus's castle, etc. These can be as long as 10 or 15 minutes, but breeze by and never feel tedious or overlong.

The fight at the beginning with Clouseau and Cato ranks as one of the best moments in the entire series, let alone one of their best fights. It's hilarious, with too many great moments to count, and perhaps the greatest use of slow motion in cinema history!

One thing though, I never understood how the whole Jarvis stuff was supposed to tie into the story. He's not part of Dreyfus's gang, he was just a random butler. If he could identify the bad guys, why wouldn't he have done so sooner? It's a bit of a tenuous link to keep the movie going, but at least the great humour forgives this. Though it's a bummer what happens to him. Oh well, at least he goes happily, not to mention like a badass!

I liked that the gay bar setting isn't milked for any mean jokes. It's a funny and colourful location, and Jarvis being a drag diva is darn impressive, especially with that singing voice!

An interesting bit of trivia about Strikes Again is its original runtime. Following from his 1965 opus The Great Race, Edwards wanted to make this a grand 3 hour Pink Panther film, to which I have to say, Thank God the producers had it cut down! I love these movies, but you can have too much of a good thing, and seeing 3 hours of the same story in one sitting might be enough to drive anyone crazy, no matter how good it might be. Although I am very curious what this missing hour and a half entails! You could release a whole movie's worth of deleted scenes!

The intro here is another classic bit of animation. While on one hand I'm not the biggest fan of the majority of the sequences just being parodies of other movies, they are at least very funny, ranging from Alfred Hitchcock, to King Kong, and even The Sound of Music. The angles the intro is shot in really work too, having a great feel. I also like how the music takes on the form of the movies it parodies, with my favourite being the Buster Keaton inspired jaunt.

If there is one criticism I could level at the film, it's that I can never remember what the name is. Is the title 'The Pink Panther Strikes Back' or 'Strikes Again'? Or maybe even 'Strike of the Pink Panther'!

The movie's settings are great, using a mixture of good sets and neat matte paintings, and cool location work.

The soundtrack is neat too, with some returning classic pieces, and a few new ones. There's a musical number later on, 'sung' by Jarvis, though an uncredited Julie Andrews is really doing the singing. It's a neat tune.

The Pink Panther Strikes Again is one of the great comedies, and a perfect movie to watch

Revenge of the Pink Panther

Organised crime has been foiled for too long by Inspector Clouseau, and so they come up with a plan to get their revenge. Thanks to a bit of bumbling and good luck on his part, Clouseau survives, but the rest of the world thinks he's dead. Many are sad, the mafia are satisfied, and Dreyfus is overjoyed, seeing an immediate release from the asylum. This happiness will be short lived though when Clouseau emerges very much alive, and begins a plan to foil the mob once and for all...

The sixth entry in the series, Revenge of the Pink Panther is where the cracks began to show.It's strange, you'd think only six films over 20 years would be fairly fresh, but I guess some things only last so long].

To start with, the story is pretty good. I like that it's attempting something new for the series, and it's following the previous entry's example, and not focusing on the diamond again (even if it does naturally stay in the title). Where it falters is more in the way its told. The mafia stuff is all handled like it's from an actual crime flick, and I didn't laugh or even crack a smile once in these scenes.

The whole tone of the movie is a bit off. I didn't like how American it felt at times, at odds with the rest of the series. I know Blake Edwards is a yank, but he always seemed accustomed with British humour. But this just felt like anything else from the States at the time.

While the comedy is weak in some places, there are some fantastic moments here, from the funeral speech, to Dreyfus chasing Clouseau through the fireworks factory.

The settings here are all over the place. We've got some neat French roads by night, some boring American office buildings, and a finale set in Hong Kong, with fireworks and junks aplenty. One thing I didn't like about the sets is that they're a bit too destructible, feeling more like a cartoon than reality, where for absolutely no reason rooms are full of open paint tins/baths.

A very welcome return to the series's roots is the seduction scene. And for the first time in goodness knows how long we see a more subtle Clouseau, in both looks as well as mannerisms. It's a breath of fresh air

What also really impressed me was the ending! Rather than end the movie on a huge spectacle, or a show-stopping gag to top the previous entries, Revenge instead ends on a low-key and subtle exchange, as Clouseau and Simone walk off into the Paris night and he tells her about his start in the Surete. I think it works really well as a definite ending for the series, ending as he reminisces about how it all began, so long ago...

The actors all do fine here. Peter Sellers delivers maybe his weakest performance as Clouseau, as he begins to get a little indecipherable in places, and some scenes verge on the annoying, but for the most part he's still great.

Herbert Lom is simultaneously underused here, and also used perfectly. On one hand the majority of his scenes just involve him doing same thing (gasping in horror and fainting), but he also gets some of the film's greatest moments. Despite not appearing as much, he proves himself to be every part Sellers' equal in this series.

Burt Kwouk gets maybe his biggest role, and he does well! It's a treat seeing his part expand, and be more talkative. Dyan Cannon is a decent love interest. It's interesting that she probably spends half the movie with her own story before crossing paths with the Inspector. Robert Webber is an ok villain, with a couple of mildly amusing moments. Robert Loggia also appears, and for the life of me I couldn't tell if he was the main villain, or Webber. All these mafia blokes look the same!

American karate master Ed Parker plays deadly assassin Chong, and has a unique look, even if he's not made up to look like a Chong in the slightest. He's underused though, and vanishes from the film after like 5 minutes. Lastly, Elizabeth Welch appears in an extended cameo, and she's a dear.

The animated sequence has a bit more of an intense vibe here, with the heavier iteration of the theme, and Clouseau looking genuinely pissed off and out for blood. There are some good moments, like the bombing of the title, and it's all decent enough, if not hilarious.

Overall, Revenge of the Pink Panther is by no means an irredeemable or even lousy picture. There are glimmers of genius here, but it all feels a little buried by medicrity. Coming hot on the heels of one of the greatest comedies of all time doesn't help either. But warts and all, this is still at least a legitimate entry in the series, which is more than what I can say about the rest...

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