What is your current threshold for slapstick?
The Return of the Pink Panther (1975): 5 out of 10: After an eleven-year absence (or a seven-year absence if you are one of those weirdos that consider Alan Arkin’s Inspector Clouseau a proper Pink Panther film) Inspector Clouseau is back on the case. Someone has stolen the Pink Panther diamond. They have left the calling card of Inspector Clouseau’s old nemesis the notorious Phantom.
The Good: Herbert Lum as Chief Inspector Charles Dreyfus is for my money the best thing in the movie. His gag with the cigarette lighter that looks identical to his service pistol never fails to get a laugh and is easily the funniest thing in the film.
The opening credits by Who Framed Roger Rabbit animation director Richard Williams are incredible. The Return of the Pink Panther sports some of the best opening credits of any film in the seventies, and yes I include James Bond films in that statement.
There is some lovely scenery in The Return of the Pink Panther with location shooting in Gstaad and Morocco among others.
The Bad: Do you like slapstick? What is your current threshold for slapstick? The Return of the Pink Panther is going to test those thresholds. Part of the problem is that slapstick has both fallen out of favor since 1975 and gotten a bit more creative and sophisticated. Jackie Chan falling off ladders one after another is a world apart from Peter Sellers with a bad false nose accidentally vacuuming a bird.
The Return of the Pink Panther isn’t just slapstick mind you there is also a diamond heist that honestly is right out of a Mission Impossible movie. It is very well done but has nothing to do with the rest of the film tonally or otherwise outside of getting the MacGuffin in play.
Speaking of not fitting the tone of the rest of the film… Look, I love to see Christopher Plummer tan, blonde, and happy but good Lord is he wrong for this role. Replacing David Niven as Sir Charles Litton, alias “the notorious Phantom,” Plummer has a different feel to him. Plummer looks like he can kill someone with a karate chop… possibly because in actual life he can.
Then there is the plot with which The Return of the Pink Panther saddles poor Christopher Plummer. It is one straight action scene after another with Plummer in a white dinner jacket as if he was rehearsing for a Bond film or a Saint reboot. The straightforward homage to Casablanca in these scenes was so over the top that Overdrawn at the Memory Bank was embarrassed.
The Ugly: Burt Kwouk as Kato. What was a fan favorite in 1964’s A Shot in the Dark simply doesn’t work here. It isn’t just Peter Seller’s continually saying things such as “Cato is in hospital. They nearly blew his little yellow skin off!” that sounds a bit rough to my delicate modern sensibilities. The more significant issue is that Kwouk is too old to play a houseboy, looks awful in drag, and doesn’t seem as fun as he did in A Shot in the Dark. Maybe it is because the surprise is gone and the gag had run its course.
Not in Conclusion
Not in conclusion. I don’t know where to put the former Bond girl and Space 1999 alumni Catherine Schell on this list. She plays Christopher Plummer’s wife and bluntly has a more prominent role than he does. On the one hand, she is easy on the eyes with an adorable smirk that reminds one of Priscilla Barnes or Cameron Diaz.
On the other hand, she keeps laughing uncontrollably during her scenes with Peter Sellers. She is like a female Jimmy Fallon. I can only imagine how bad were the takes they didn’t use.
In conclusion: I don’t think The Return of the Pink Panther was ever a great film, but I can’t help think it was once an entertaining film. It has aged fairly badly but make no mistake, this is hardly the worst Pink Panther movie ever made. There is some stiff competition in that category.