The Set of 400: #166 – My Favorite Priceless Steinway

Today! Because compared to Clouseau, this doomsday machine is just a water pistol –

The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976)

Directed by Blake Edwards (x2)

Starring Peter Sellers (x3), Herbert Lom, Burt Kwouk, Lesley-Anne Down, Colin Blakely (x2), Andre Maranne, Leonard Rossiter, Richard Vernon, Dudley Sutton, Deep Roy, Omar Sharif (x2)

The Pink Panther film series went through a variety of phases, from the genteel early ’60s comedies A Shot in the Dark and The Pink Panther to the one-off Alan Arkin film Inspector Clouseau to the zany return to Sellers in the ’70s to the bizarro pseudo-sequels and spin-offs of the ’80s and on and on. There’s a few cartoon shows and Steve Martin in the mix as well. But for my money, the only films that are really any good are the fourth, fifth, and sixth movies – after Edwards and Sellers were away from the franchise for over a decade.

And really, had he not died, Sellers seemed intent on playing Clouseau for many years to come. The unrealized Romance of the Pink Panther would’ve marked his sixth time in the role, and these films – while still funny – were getting a touch interchangeable. That’s why The Pink Panther Strikes Again always stuck out for me. As solid as Return of the Pink Panther and Revenge of the Pink Panther were around it, Strikes Again had the benefit of not being the first film back from the long hiatus, plus it had the genius decision of finally driving Captain Dreyfus completely insane. This is set up by the end of Return, where Dreyfus (Clouseau’s boss) attempts to kill him, and is institutionalized. Here, Dreyfus (played with manic zeal by the great Herbert Lom) morphs into a lunatic supervillain, intent on holding the world hostage, and it’s naturally up to Clouseau to stop him.

The movie features terrifically memorable set pieces, like Clouseau’s Quasimodo disguise – a helium filled hump floating him out a window – and his mangled interrogation/music room destruction. His slow motion battles with man servant Cato – trained to attack him at all times, to keep him sharp – are funny as ever, and Lom’s wildly over-the-top villain work elevates the film to the top of the series for me. All in all, it’s probably best they only had one more real movie left (unless you want to count the oddly cobbled together Trail of the Pink Panther, still featuring Sellers despite his dying before production started), as it was unlikely to reach the heights of Strikes Again, er, again.

Like Return of the Pink Panther the year before, Pink Panther Strikes Again was nominated for Best Motion Picture Comedy or Musical and Best Actor for Sellers at the Golden Globes, but it also managed to wring an Oscar nomination out of the Tom Jones’ song “Come to Me” – weirdly hard to find except in YouTube clips, maybe from the Oscar ceremony? It plays a verse quickly at the end of the movie, as the Murphy bed explodes them through the wall. Not a bad critical reception!

Blake Edwards joins the Two-Timers, following his excellent work on Switch, which I’m hoping has become a viewing staple of your household since its list introduction back at #358. Omar Sharif (#355 Top Secret!) and Colin Blakely (#374 Murder on the Orient Express) join the Two-Timer acting wing, while Sellers (#206 Being There, #245 Lolita) advances to the Threes. Spotlight!

I would give anything to see the deleted pie fight ending to Dr. Strangelove

Coming tomorrow! You were an animal then and you’re an animal now. I just gave you claws –

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