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Curse of the Pink Panther
directed by Blake Edwards
written by Blake Edwards, Geoffrey Edwards
starring David Niven, Capucine, Robert Wagner, Herbert Lom, Joanna Lumley, Robert Loggia, Harvey Korman, Burt Kwouk, Ted Wass
As the film opens, the theft of the diamond from the previous film is repeated. A mysterious man tries to sell it to Countess Chandra (Lumley) but she shoots him dead just after Clouseau appears as if he is about to foil the transaction. Chandra points the gun at Clouseau and the opening credits begin.
Clouseau is still missing and the Sûreté are looking for the world?s greatest detective to track him down. Chief Inspector Dreyfus (Lom) is less than enthusiastic over the search and devises a plan to ensure that the exact opposite of what is programmed into the computer is tabulated in locating the best man (or woman) for the job. Subsequently, another bumbling, clumsy idiot in the guise of Sergeant Clifton Sleigh (Wass) is found and put on the case.
Sergeant Sleigh in this film is entirely ineffectual as a physical presence in this film. The character, an obvious pacifier for those who deeply lament the loss of Peter Sellers and who nevertheless will settle for a substitute, lacks Sellers?s solidity and strong sense of place. Despite his buffoonish behavior Seller?s Clouseau was grounded albeit it directionless at times and anathema to any objects put in his path. Sleigh is as much of a stumblebum as the man he is attempting to find. Clearly, the film wants us to satisfy ourselves with Nutrasweet while the real stuff is tragically out of reach. Wass?s dialog is often wooden and combined with his presentation the result is a character who isn?t particularly easy to like or root for.
The mob, led by the affable and utterly winning Bruno Langois (Loggia) naturally do not want Clouseau found so they put out a number of hits on Sleigh which manage to fail in the same manner they did with Clouseau.
Sleigh meets with the luxuriating Sir Charles Lytton (Niven) and his gallant wife Lady Simone (Capucine) who remain surprised that Clouseau hasn?t turned up yet. They discuss the diamond and the disappearance of Clouseau. This scene features one of several blatant sexual references in the film. Somehow Sleigh manages to get a rubber raft in the shape of a duck attached to his bottom so that when he sits down the ducks head peaks out between his legs so it looks like wood. They play with this gag for quite a long time as every time he moves or falls down the same head keeps bobbing away.
Also, there is a scene where Sleigh has just left Professor Auguste Balls?s disguise shop with an inflatable companion that Balls has sold him for a diversion. The scene changes and Sleigh sits outside a French café with his new toy. He lights her a cigarette and the ashes burn a hole in the doll. So, Sleigh puts his head very suggestively between the doll?s legs in order to attempt to blow her up or whatever you want to call it.
Sleigh is certainly a bumbling, stumbling mess but he moves and speaks like a character from ?The Forbidden Zone?. It?s amazing if you compare the film and this cop. It?s as if he stepped straight off of that set onto this one and remained the same character for both films. After a while it becomes easier to like Sleigh because one begins to feel horribly for him; one develops a feeling of pity for him. He is lowly and unfortunate throughout although he does manage to get a girl interested in him. She is named Juleta Shane as well as Julie Morgan (Leslie Ash) and she meets Sleigh at a club where she is clearly interested. They had actually seen each other at the hotel they are staying at and later when she appears in his room she is ready to go. She?s one of the more ribald and blatantly sexual female characters in this series and she is basically grinding for it.
There is a tremendous openness at Countess Chandra (Lumley)?s health spa which includes hot mud baths and other various extravagances. It?s an exceedingly clean and vital place and every time the film goes back to it, it is infused with an intense energy that comes directly from the various stations at the spa.
The clumsy antics of Sleigh are over the top to put it mildly. It?s possible that he?s even more vertically challenged than Clouseau is in the first several films. Regardless, he?s a serious wreck and cannot step two feet without stumbling over himself and putting others at serious risk. There are really none of his falls that are particularly amusing. They have the physical characteristics of Sellers?s work but none of the style or grace. They are ugly and perhaps less choreographed but in the end they come across as second rate when compared to the master. But, one can hardly blame young Wass for this. He does what he can in his role which is an attempt to capture the essence of Sellers in the body of another character. It certainly is a smarter move than taking another stab at a Clouseau replacement which lowered the impact of ?Inspector Clouseau? with Alan Arkin.
The end of the film is certainly curious and it involves Roger Moore tripping over everything in sight, speaking in an exaggerated French accent, and spending most of his scenes with an ice bucket on his head. It?s clear from the beginning who this really is and it?s a whole lot of fun because Moore isn?t exactly known for slapstick and this display shows him in fine form. These scenes tie the film together and make sense of it. In a way it?s too much, too soon as prior to that the film seems to meander a ways before finally getting to the point. Still, the ending is very appealing in its way and ultimately satisfactory. Indeed, it?s the perfect ending for this part of the series. It would be ten years before another one, ?Son of the Pink Panther?, was attempted and that film really has little to do with the tremendous 20 year ride between the original Panther and ?Curse?.
This film combines extended gags with short riffs where Sleigh trips over his feet and destroys a piece of furniture or a display. In its way it is successful at what it is attempting to do. It creates a character who is similar enough to Clouseau to not be a shock to long term fans of the series while molding a passably entertaining story around it. It works quite well and the film maintains its directive throughout without succumbing to self-parody.
The performances in this film are all impressive. I?ve decided that Ted Wass is brilliantly playing a wooden character with no rhythm and that he is supposed to be that way. Wass has a certain affability that he exploits routinely. He?s got natural comic timing which comes in to play throughout the film. Joanna Lumley also possess a fantastic comedic touch. She and Roger Moore have excellent chemistry here and it works to the film?s advantage. Herbert Lom is, as usual, very discomforted as Dreyfus and phenomenally agitated at the prospect of Clouseau being alive. It?s a testament to the series that it manages to make Dreyfus?s neuroses regarding Clouseau fresh and novel every time they attack it. Dreyfus is really the central character in these films and Clouseau is merely the comic relief.
Overall, this film captures the spirit of the earlier films without quite managing to create their elegance or style. Tedd Wass of course isn?t as dynamic and thrilling as Sellers but that isn?t what the film is going for here. Wass is an entirely different animal even though he shares the same afflictions as Sellers in terms of his lack of balance and inability to avoid falling down. He is a repressed, buttoned-up nerd with no clue about the world, and especially women. Next to him Clouseau is Casanova. Seller?s Clouseau, despite his tendency to destroy inanimate objects, is a man of the world. He?s sophisticated in a way that Wass?s is not. The film wonderfully gives us a character who doesn?t try to be a mock-up of Clouseau and instead carries on with his own personality quirks that come in the end to define the character.
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