What happens when a studio has a nice little franchise going but a major player decides they don’t want to return? If you think that’s stopping anyone then you don’t know much about movies. In 1963 Blake Edwards’ The Pink Panther was a big hit with Peter Sellers, who was not the lead character, stealing the show as the bumbling Inspector Clouseau. The following year Sellers and Edwards returned for a follow-up, A Shot in the Dark. But after that, actor and director had a bit of falling out and neither had any desire to see Clouseau return. However, the producer, Walter Mirisch, wanted things to continue. So with a new star, Alan Arkin, and a new director we got the often forgotten third chapter in the series… 1968’s Inspector Clouseau.
The story, which I admit had me lost for a good portion of the film, concerns a crime wave that has struck England. The authorities are concerned that there may be a mole within Scotland Yard, so they call in an outsider to handle the case…Clouseau. Once he arrives, he doesn’t seem to do all that much for quite awhile. He accidentally avoids an assassination attempt, but the investigation doesn’t really move forward.
At one point, Clouseau happens upon a lovely young woman whose car has broken down. He helps her out, taking her to a hotel, and the next thing we know the two are sharing a room. Of course, she’s one of the baddies. She and her co-horts use the opportunity to drug the inspector and then take a mold of his face. From this they create masks that will be used by a band of crooks to commit a string of bank robberies across the world, simultaneously, all of which will be blamed on Clouseau.
Of course, plot doesn’t really matter with a Pink Panther film. The big question is if the gags and physical humor work. The answer is “yes and no.” Alan Arkin is a fine actor…but when it comes to material like this, he’s just not Peter Sellers. That’s not to say Arkin completely falters. His first scene in the movie is actually a very funny sequence where he deplanes and forgets his shoes. He then has to fight his way back up the stairway to get his shoes. It’s a physical comedy sequence that is right in the tradition of Seller’s Panther films. As things progress, though, the film gets very talky and seems to forget that one of the real strengths of the Panther films is the physical humor.
Arkin does try to make Clouseau his own in many ways. He’s not impersonating Sellers, which in some ways may have been a wise decision. He doesn’t even make an attempt at Sellers’ voice and doesn’t quite hit the mannerisms. His approach is much more subdued compared to Sellers, which I think is why I really struggled to get on board with him as the character. It was probably about 15 minutes before the end of the movie that I finally became more accepting of him. I actually think Arkin’s more skillful moments are when he plays the fake Clouseau’s that are robbing banks.
The supporting cast of the film are pretty forgettable. Many of the characters seem to just blur together which makes it really hard to keep track of things. I also got really confused trying to follow why Clouseau was jumping from one country to another. I mean, he goes to England and then suddenly he ends up in France…I totally didn’t know why.
There is certainly a fair number of laughs peppered throughout this third entry in the Pink Panther series. Ultimately, I think what it’s lacking can all be traced to the chemistry that came with putting Blake Edwards and Peter Sellers together. It’s a formula that’s impossible to duplicate…so naturally this film falls quite a bit short of its predecessors.