A Movie A Day: Quint on THE PINK PANTHER (1963) Take your filthy hands off my asp!
Published at: Sept. 12, 2008, 2:40 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.]
Today we come to the first of the Pink Panther films, titled appropriately enough THE PINK PANTHER and starring David Niven (getting top billing) as Sir Charles, a smooth thief, Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau, Capucine as Clouseau’s unfaithful wife, Robert Wagner as a young troublemaker and the radiant Claudia Cardinale as Princess Dala.
I’m sorry Elke Sommer. There’s no comparison. You’re really, really cute, but Cardinale just makes me melt in this movie. I’ve thought she was beautiful in ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST and 8 ½, but damn, guys. There’s something in how she’s lit here, in this ‘60s pop quasi-technicolor comedy cinematography that compliments her.
Going into this film, I knew a few things. I knew that The Pink Panther was the name of a diamond, I knew that David Niven was a thief and I knew that Clouseau was going to be slightly different from the one I saw yesterday in A SHOT IN THE DARK.
I will say that Clouseau isn’t radically different as a character. He’s just as bumbling, but he is a little more competent than he is in A SHOT IN THE DARK. I’d call him more accident prone than bumbling, but there’s a fair amount of that in there. He doesn’t mix up his words as much, but it’s the same character.
It is true that he isn’t the lead, but the co-lead. Huge chunks of the film are seen through David Niven’s point of view as he woos Cardinale, his mark.
So I didn’t mind that Sellers wasn’t the main focus. I said yesterday I love David Niven and he’s on fire here, giving his character some real depth. He’s part happy-go-lucky thief, cocksure and happy with his life. He’s a womanizer, a slight boozer, but goddamn good at his job. But he’s also part middle-aged man, realizing his life is fleeting. All these parties, friends… they’re meaningless, passing things. The only thing he really has is the game, the set-up and execution of a robbery.
There’s a wonderful scene, a straight up real drama scene, as Cardinale gets drunk for the first time, Niven feeding her champagne. It’s a remarkable scene because it’s a good chunk of the movie (probably pushing 10 minutes) and isn’t played for laughs at all. In it we see that Niven and Cardinale would actually make a great couple. She brings out his humanity and he lets her hang loose, ditching her inhibitions and the strict code her father imposed on her.
I say the scene isn’t played for laughs, but there is comedy in it. It is just not the main focus. At this point in the movie, the focus is on two characters who could exists outside of the slapstick world of The Pink Panther. It’s a marvelous scene.
Sellers also has a lot of stand-outs, of course. Most of these I had seen, unfortunately out of context, like the introductory scene for Clousou, where he spins his globe to make a point and then goes to lean on it absentmindedly, sending him crashing to the floor and his “candle” moment during the costume party.
But there’s a fantasticly elaborate scene where both Niven and Wagner are in his hotel room with his wife and she’s trying to hide them both from her husband. It’s a spectacular juggling act and was amazing to watch.
I think the most surprising element to this movie is that A SHOT IN THE DARK is told 100% from Clouseau’s point of view and this movie almost none of it is from his point of view. We’re either following Niven or Capucine, but I think the bridge is there. The very end of the movie we shift POV into Clouseau, so there’s at least that.
And speaking of the ending, the climax of the picture takes place during a costume party and it’s crazy. Sellers is dressed in a suit of armor, which means, of course, that he has a restricted range of movement and a certain amount of noise involved when moving and falling, which is used to maximum effect.
You can’t talk about this movie without bringing up Henry Mancini’s iconic score. The jazzy theme really is the heartbeat of the movie and it somehow melds perfectly with the world on the screen, even if I couldn’t classify it immediately as a comedy score. It has become comedic by association, but you know what I mean.
Final Thoughts: The laughs don’t come as freely and constantly as A SHOT IN THE DARK, but it’s no less entertaining and even a bit more effecting thanks to some great character work by David Niven and Claudia Cardinale, who is easily in the top 10 of the most beautiful women ever to walk this earth. The comedy is staged to perfection and it keeps in tone with A SHOT IN THE DARK even if ASITD is probably the more fun of the two.