Shot in the Pink, A1995

Cue the Henry Mancini music and watch out for Cato--the gist of the Pink Panther series has been gathered in a six-disc boxed set. At the center of it is Peter Sellers's incarnation of inspector Jacques Clouseau, a hopelessly bumbling detective with a genius for resting his hands in the wrong place (on the surface of a spinning globe, for instance) and mangling the English language. Writer-director Blake Edwards cast Peter Ustinov as Clouseau in The Pink Panther, but Ustinov dropped out just before shooting began. Edwards (who recounts this story in a spotty commentary track included here) and Sellers bonded over their affection for Laurel and Hardy, and immediately transformed the character of Clouseau into a walking sight gag. The first film has a delicious swinging sixties vibe, while jewel thief David Niven, Claudia Cardinale, and Capucine occupy as much screen time as Sellers. Sellers really hits his stride in A Shot in the Dark, an elegantly funny tale of Clouseau sleuthing out a murder investigation. This one introduced Herbert Lom, as the increasingly frazzled Inspector Dreyfus, and Burt Kwouk, as Clouseau's houseboy-nemesis Cato. Sellers and Edwards, whose relationship was stormy, put Clouseau aside for over 10 years, until a trilogy of mid-1970s comedies restored the character to commercial (and dare we say cultural) primacy. Unfortunately, the very funny comeback picture, Return of the Pink Panther, is absent from this set due to rights issues with the studios involved. The Pink Panther Strikes Again has Dreyfus going bananas and targeting Clouseau; Revenge of the Pink Panther puts Clouseau in a hilarious series of disguises, climaxing in a wonderfully mounted sequence in Hong Kong. (Throughout the series, the calm, classical staging of gags by Blake Edwards reminds you of what a lost art this has become.) Trail of the Pink Panther looks better now than it did when originally released in 1982, shortly after Sellers's death; it's a batch of unused Sellers routines from previous pictures, strung together with a loose plot. In other words, it's a "deleted scenes" extra, and quite funny at times. Subsequent efforts Curse of the Pink Panther and Son of the Pink Panther are neither included nor mentioned. A half-hour documentary gives pleasant memories from Edwards, but feels incomplete. The cartoon Panther gets his own 11-minute mini-doc, plus six cartoon shorts including the Oscar-winning "The Pink Phink." --Robert Horton

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