Pink Panther Movies: Facts And Trivia About Inspector Clouseau
Cool and off kilter, the Pink Panther films, starring Peter Sellers, are the perfect films to take the bite out of the spy craze of the 1960s. The films are full of pratfalls and slapstick comedy, but they also manage to be incredibly sexy thanks to some crackerjack casting. Pink Panther movies depend on the comedic chops of Sellers, the English actor who took the business of being funny very seriously. Soundtracked by Henry Mancini, Inspector Jacques Clouseau bumped and bumbled his way through a series of films, with each one growing more outrageous than the last.
The Pink Panther is a diamond, not a character
Even though the Pink Panther is the namesake of the film series, there’s not actually a character with that name in any of the film. If you’re a fan then you know that, but if you’re just vaguely familiar with the series then you may not be aware that the Pink Panther is a rare jewel that’s the focus of the first film. It’s named as such because of a small imperfection in its center that looks like a little pink panther. Even though the jewel is basically a MacGuffin in the first film, it continues to pop up and drive the action of at least six of the movies in the Pink Panther franchise.
The films weren’t initially centered around Clouseau
While the films are best known for Inspector Clouseau and his increasingly bizarre costumes and pratfalls, the first film in the series focuses a character named Sir Charles Lytton played by David Niven. He’s suave, he knows about fine wines, and he has a ton of one liners. He’s basically everything that Clouseau isn’t.
Niven is great in the film, but audiences fell in love with Peter Sellers as Clouseau. Sellers wasn’t meant to be in much of the film, but as he and director Blake Edwards worked up more and more elaborate physical gags, on top of multiple improvisational moments in the film, Sellers’ screen time grew.
The sequel to The Pink Panther, A Shot in the Dark, was released a few months later and it featured Clouseau as the main character in the film.
Blake Edwards saw Sellers as the avatar for his slapstick bits
Director Blake Edwards was a rising star, having won acclaim for the tragicomic Breakfast At Tiffany's (1961) and the downer Days Of Wine And Roses (1962), but his heart was in slapstick. He and Sellers were two of a kind. Edwards was desperate to scratch his pratfall itch and Sellers had yet to appear in any kind of role that got him attention stateside. Edwards explained:
For years I'd been getting bits of what I wanted into films, as writer or director... but I had never had an area in which to exploit my ideas to the full. Then along came Peter, a walking storehouse of madness, a ham with an almost surrealist approach to the insanity of things, and we found an immediate affinity.
Clouseau's disguises are the stuff of legend
In the first film in the series Inspector Clouseau is less worried about disguising himself and he’s more interested in catching The Phantom, but as the series progresses he picks up a knack for disguising himself as people of various ages, races, and ethnicities. This is perfect for Sellers, who has an ability to change himself into anyone from phone company operator to a hunchback with a giant nose.
Sellers was always more interested in wordplay, but through Edwards he discovered how talented he was with physical comedy and it turned him into a completely different kind of actor. Edwards said that the idea for Clouseau’s haphazard pratfalls came from his own life:
Being a genetic Clouseau myself, that’s what would probably happen to me. I, in my life, have broke just about every bone in my body, and usually if I relate those instances, I can get you laughing.
Cato’s constant attacks were brought in to up the ante
One of the wackiest additions to the Pink Panther series is Cato Fong, Clouseau’s Chinese manservant who not only drives him hither and yon but who’s been instructed to attack the inspector at all times, to keep him alert. Added in the second film, Cato only added to the physical humor of the film. As time went on, the fights between Clouseau and Cato only grew more intense and over the top. Burt Kwouk originated the role, and even though he spent a lot of time with Peter Sellers when he was at his most irascible, Kwouk never said anything publicly about the star. Following Sellers’ death all Kwouk said was, “Some days I liked him, some days I didn’t like him.”
Dreyfus' insanity is somewhat understandable
Like Cato, Chief Inspector Charles LaRousse Dreyfus makes his first appearance in A Shot in the Dark. Over the course of a few films, Clouseau drives Dreyfus insane. Dreyfus is cursed to be the only one who can see the emperor has no clothes -- specifically, he can tell Clouseau is a complete idiot who only "solves" cases accidentally, and who causes widespread damage for no gain. As Clouseau's reputation as a great detective grows, Dreyfus' sanity slips away. All of the accidental physical assaults slowly warp Dreyfus’ mind until he’s trying to kill his therapist and build a death ray to go after the inspector. The over the top storyline is honestly inspired, it’s seriously insane character development.
When it came time to hire an actor to give the character life, Blake Edwards hired Herbert Lom not because he was such a ham on screen, but because he took his job seriously. Lom explained:
I was invited to have lunch at the Dorchester with Blake Edwards. He told me he had seen me playing heavy villains and thought I was funny. At first I didn’t take it as a compliment. But then he explained that he did not want a comic actor who would play Dreyfus for laughs. I loved playing the part of a blabbering lunatic of a police inspector. I think people like to see the police in such trouble; they enjoy seeing the inspector reduced to an utter, twitching wreck.
The Pink Panther series is hilarious and a kind of hard to follow
As far as film sagas go, the Pink Panther films get confusing pretty much immediately. The sequel to The Pink Panther is called A Shot in the Dark (1964), and it wasn’t meant to be a Clouseau film, but Sellers reached out to Edwards and the two reworked it until it turned into a Pink Panther sequel. A Shot in the Dark was followed by Inspector Clouseau (1968), which stared Alan Arkin in the title role and was not directed by Blake Edwards -- so despite its name, it isn’t really considered part of the Pink Panther canon.
After a decade away from the role, Sellers returned as Clouseau in The Return of the Pink Panther (1975) and The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976), which serve as a one two punch. The story for these films was meant to be a British television show, but Sellers and Edwards decided to turn the story into a movie instead.
The films were so successful that Sellers and Edwards kept rolling with Revenge of the Pink Panther (1978), a semi-retcon of the previous films that sees Clouseau investigating the attempted murder of Dreyfus. Unfortunately, Sellers passed away at the age of 54 in 1980 from a heart attack. Edwards didn’t stop making Pink Panther movies.
He used unseen footage of Sellers as Clouseau to make Trail of the Pink Panther (1982) about a reporter searching for the detective and interviewing people from his past. One year later, Clouseau made his final appearance for a decade in Curse of the Pink Panther (1983) when Roger Moore appeared as the character, explaining that he’d undergone plastic surgery to change his appearance once and for all. Even though the films became broader and more over the top, they continued to be successful until the final two films of the original run. That’s not bad, especially for a bumbling French detective.