A Movie A Day: Quint on A SHOT IN THE DARK (1964) Give me ten men like Clouseau and I could destroy the world.
Published at: Sept. 11, 2008, 3:17 a.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
Elke Sommer bridges us from Italian Horror Master Mario Bava to the first of many Pink Panther films, A SHOT IN THE DARK.
I’m doing this a tad backwards, hitting the second Pink Panther film first because of the Elke Sommer connection, but I didn’t find myself lost and I’m very curious to see how the first film plays now. I’ve heard that Clouseau as he is in A Shot In The Dark isn’t exactly what is in the first film.
Now, I loved Peter Sellers growing up in DR. STRANGELOVE, that creepy as shit Alice In Wonderland movie, and perhaps one of my favorite forgotten comedies of all time MURDER BY DEATH. I later found his work in LOLITA (which is great) and had meant to dig into the Pink Panther films many times, but always seemed to put it on the backburner.
No more! And I’m so glad I’m finally putting these films before my eyes. I cackled during A SHOT IN THE DARK. Not laughing, cackling. Of course, Sellers is perfectly clueless and I love him in this movie, but what surprised me was that there’s another person in the movie that I found just as funny, if not funnier.
I am totally in love with Herbert Lom’s Dreyfus. He’s so goddamned crazily annoyed with Clouseau and just watching the inner rage boil and boil and boil just under the skin had me rolling. He plays the Captain who is forced to keep Clouseau on a murder case after he was mistakenly assigned to it and it tears him up inside.
The surprise was that Sellers wasn’t just surrounded by a good cast of incredibly funny people, but that some even came close to stealing his thunder. Lom in particular, but also the straightman partner, Hercule, played by Graham Stark, Elke Sommer’s ditzy blonde beauty, the main suspect in the murder mystery that anchors the plot and, of course, Clouseau’s live-in Asian man servant Kato (Burt Kwouk) who spends the movie trying to kill Sellers, attacking him at random points (all at Sellers’ request, of course) resulting in some crazy random fights all throughout the flick.
The murder mystery is ridiculously complicated, especially when you get to the end, but that only leads to the charm of the movie.
Clouseau, for all his clueless deductions and failed plans, is still right. He has no evidence to found his theory that Elke Sommer isn’t the murderer. He’s thinking with his dick, driving everybody crazy, but the fucker is right.
In the last scene he sets out to trick the murderer to revealing him or herself, which goes completely wrong. Of course it does, Clouseau is a fool and couldn’t pull off a simple plan, let alone a complicated one. But what’s great about the character is that he’s like Forrest Gump. He isn’t exactly smart enough to make things happen they way they should, but through sheer luck or incompetence he gets the same results he would get if he was a brilliant detective.
Blake Edwards deserves a helluva lot of credit here. His character direction is brave as hell. Sellers skates dangerously towards the stupid with his slapstick comedy, but Edwards keeps him from falling in… or at least trusts him to know where the lip is and stay away from it. Because if the movie had fallen down that hole even once the whole thing would have collapsed like a house of cards in a room with a woman who likes cake farts (don’t click on that link if you’re around your grandparents, children or co-workers).
The opening sequence, done in one long, complicated take, is awesome. The exterior of a building is shown, windows open, giving us our views of a handful of characters sneaking around, avoiding each other and ultimately ending in the murder that kicks off the plot… All done to music and sound effects, physical comedy used even here to great effect.
And the way Edwards uses repetition to sell his comedy is masterfully done. There’s one shot in particular that is repeated at least 4 times, as Clouseau keeps getting arrested and carted off to jail while in disguise… the camera is in the same spot, following the same police truck going the same way down the same street. The camera does the same pan, following the truck, but each time there’s something different about it, usually in direct relation to whatever ridiculous costume Sellers was trying to pull off.
The nudist camp scene is also something of wonder. It’s a lot more risqué than I expected it to be, considering it’s an early ‘60s film. Lots of side-boob.
Final Thoughts: A Shot In The Dark is just a beautiful movie, a fucking funny movie. It deserves its reputation, Sellers young and firing on all cylinders. Herbert Lom is my God (my favorite bit being his misuse of the cigar cutter) and Elke Sommer is hotter here than in any of the Bava flicks, even though the ditzy blonde ain’t exactly my type. I’m psyched to get into the next few Pink Panther flicks as I have a real fondness for David Niven. The appetite has been whetted.