“You have a bimp on your head.”
By the time The Pink Panther Strikes Again was made, everyone involved knew how popular the series was, thanks to the witty writing and directing of Blake Edwards, and a series of memorable performances by chameleon-like actor Peter Sellers. Going into this fourth film, the creators already knew that Sellers’s Inspector Clouseau was a bona fide pop culture sensation. This meant Strikes Again had a blockbuster budget and a wide-open opportunity for Edwards and Sellers to make their comedy as outrageous as they wanted.
When we last saw Head Inspector Dreyfus (Herbert Lom, 1962’s The Phantom of the Opera), he had been driven into an insane asylum by the bumbling antics of Inspector Clouseau (Peter Sellers, Being There). But that was years ago, and today, he’s fully healed and ready to go back to work. That’s when Clouseau reenters his life, knocks him into a lake, and announces he’s taken over as head inspector.
This drives Dreyfus more insane than ever, so he escapes from the asylum and sets in motion a high-tech plot that could destroy entire cities. Now, he’s holding the world’s governments hostage, insisting that Clouseau be killed in seven days. While all this is happening, Clouseau spars with his butler, attends Oktoberfest, shows off his gymnastic abilities, impersonates a dentist, romances a Russian spy, and mangles the English language.
As I said above, at this point in the series, The Pink Panther was well established as a comedy sensation. So, for this film, Sellers and Edwards went for broke, and as a result the both the comedy and the plot are larger than life. Clouseau does very little detective work here, as there’s not much of a mystery to be solved. Instead, the plot is patterned, somewhat obviously, after a James Bond film. There’s a villain with a plot that could destroy the world, and a maverick—or in this case, clueless—hero who is the only one who can save the day. As you get farther into the film, the Bond influences become blatant. Of course, you could argue that the film is spoofing Bond, and that’s certainly a valid argument.
If there’s any uncertainty that The Pink Panther Strikes Again was made knowing its own place in pop culture, then check out the opening animated sequence, which is of course set to the iconic theme by Henry Mancini. This cartoon features the caricature of Clouseau pursuing the titular feline through a movie theater. With this set-up, the toon spoofs a series of popular and classic movies. The cartoon sets the stage for the film itself, as if to inform audiences ahead of time that everything’s bigger, bolder, and broader this time around.
But you’re not really interested in the film’s influences or its place in movie history, are you? You want to laugh. It almost doesn’t need to be said, but I’m going to say it anyway: Peter Sellers is superb as Clouseau. What makes the character work is that he does not know he is a buffoon. In Clouseau’s mind, he is a man of action, one who is in charge of every situation, and who always produces results. In his own little world, he’s the coolest guy around. By having him completely unaware of just how ineffective of sleuth he is just makes him all the funnier. Naturally, Clouseau’s butchering of the English language adds to the character’s charm, as well as some of the oh-so-clever disguises he dons. And although Sellers is arguably most well known for adopting different personas in various films, this film shows just how skilled he was as a physical comedian, as some of the best laugh-out-loud moments here are the slapstick ones.
I don’t know how I ever watched this movie cropped to full screen on TV years ago. It’s obvious right from the start that Edwards has a firm understanding of the widescreen image. He might be more famous as a comedy filmmaker than a visual stylist, but in this film he fills the 2.35:1 screen nicely, with an attention to detail not seen in a lot of today’s more sloppily made Hollywood comedies. Building on that, the visual quality on the DVD looks nice as well. It’s not quite “could have been made yesterday” quality, but any flaws are minimal. Likewise, the audio is clean and immersive. Normally, I’d bemoan the lack of subtitles, but, in this case, not knowing what Clouseau is saying is half the fun. A trailer and a photo gallery are the only extras. All the other extras are missing. Quick, get Clouseau on the case! No, wait, get someone competent!
I have to admit, the plot kind of got away from after a while. Like why was Clouseau at Oktoberfest? Was there a plot point there that I missed, or was it just a random excuse for a series of comedy set pieces? I know, I know, you’re just watching the movie to laugh. But although all this is wildly hilarious, the jump-around narrative might be a bit much for the more discerning, nit-picky movie snobs among us.
This is one of the hardest reviews I’ve ever had to write. It’s pretty tough stretching “It’s really funny” into 1,000 words.