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Pink Panther, The (Collector's Edition) (1963) Print E-mail
Wednesday, 04 March 2009
ImageI'll say this much up front: I'm not a big fan of slapstick comedy.  Sure, I get a good chuckle out of Lucy and Ethel in the chocolate factory, Will Ferrell and buddies rumbling with rival anchormen, and even Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern getting plunked on their noggins by swinging paint cans.  But it's not a genre I actively seek out.  I much prefer the champagne and caviar variety of screen comedy – witty repartee, double entendres, and obtuse references – to the beer and pretzels feel of slapstick.  Yet like a good beer (and those yummy Dutch pretzels), I can appreciate good slapstick, but it doesn't tickle my funny bone in the same way as a zingy one-liner.

I secretly hoped, however, that Blake Edwards' original version of 'The Pink Panther' might finally make me feel all warm and fuzzy toward slapstick.  After all, I've always admired Peter Sellers' comic genius, but  I had never seen his iconic portrayal of Inspector Clouseau, other than in isolated clips.  (I know, I know, there have only been about a bajillion sequels, but somehow I managed to escape them.)  So when I popped the disc in my player, I looked forward to a breathlessly paced, high-energy, off-the-wall, brainless romp filled with stunts, sight gags, and zany caricatures.  What I got instead was a sluggish, run-of-the-mill bedroom farce that provided only a few half-hearted laughs.  In other words, 'The Pink Panther' wasn't dumb, just boring.

If anything – and I can't believe I'm writing this – 'The Pink Panther' needs <em>more</em> slapstick to jumpstart its sputtering engine.  The only scenes of the film I really enjoyed were ones involving broad physical comedy – Sellers resting his hand on a spinning globe and tumbling to the floor; Capucine banging her head on a bar counter; people tripping, slipping, and walking into walls.  Take away the pratfalls and we're left with mundane dialogue and a story that never takes flight.

The promising premise concerns Jacques Clouseau (Sellers), a bumbling French inspector, who follows a classy cat burglar known as "The Phantom" (David Niven) to a fancy-schmancy Alpine ski resort, where, he believes, the priceless pink panther diamond will be swiped from a vacationing Indian princess (Claudia Cardinale).  Unbeknownst to the clueless Clouseau, his wife Simone (Capucine) is in cahoots with The Phantom (and also in his bed), and The Phantom's nephew (Robert Wagner) also has designs on the diamond and Clouseau's wife.

Sellers is marvelous as Clouseau, but he's still honing the character's finer points in this first film of the series.  Though Niven was supposed to be the movie's true star, Sellers pulls the rug out from under him and steals the show; it's tough to concentrate on anyone else while he's in the frame, and guessing his next outrageous move is more interesting than the film itself.  Niven sleepwalks through his suave, sophisticated role, the striking Capucine asserts herself well, and the dashing Wagner provides some eye candy for the ladies.  Star power, though, only goes so far, and like many '60s comedies, 'The Pink Panther' is all fluff.  Despite high class production values, gorgeous locations, and breezy performances, the pieces don't fit together well enough to produce a cohesive whole. I haven't seen any previous incarnations of 'The Pink Panther' on home video, but it's impossible to imagine a version that's bolder or more eye popping than this 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC transfer.  Noticeable grain (combined with faint mosquito noise) doesn't distract, and the spanking clean print lets us revel in the lush, vibrant color palette.  Niven's ski sweaters (one yellow, one red) are gorgeously saturated, and the azure sky set against the jagged Alpine peaks is a high-def lover's dream.  Dense, rich blacks contrast well with stable whites, and fine details are generally clear.  Fleshtones are properly pitched as well.  This is a strong rendering from MGM that greatly enhances this 45-year-old film.

The DTS Master-Audio track features clean, bright, and well-modulated sound.  Dialogue is always clear and comprehendible, and the familiar saxophone strains of Henry Mancini's iconic theme enjoy good fidelity.  The front channels provide a broad audio field that gives the illusion of surround sound, but the rears and subwoofer remain quiet.  There's no distortion on the high end, and any age-related imperfections have been erased..  This is basically supped up mono sound, but it's been fashioned with care, and the effort shows.

This Blu-ray contains some fresh content, as well as a couple of extras from the previous DVD release.  There's a slow, stilted, gap-filled audio commentary from writer-director Edwards; a slick, interesting documentary that touches upon the entire 'Pink Panther' series;  a featurette about the appeal of the cartoon character the movie spawned; a contemporary interview with Robert Wagner, who shares his memories of production and his co-stars; a profile of a real-life cat burglar who robbed, among other notables, Phyllis Diller; and a diamond tutorial, featuring historical facts and technical info.  All in all, a solid supplemental package that fans should love.

Hollywood has churned out countless classic comedies throughout its history, but 'The Pink Panther' isn't one of them.  Blake Edwards' farce may have been a smash in its day, and was surely popular enough to inspire several sequels, but it hasn't weathered the years well.  It looks and sounds terrific on Blu-ray, and a healthy spate of extras sweeten the deal, but only diehard fans should consider adding this mildly amusing '60s snapshot to their collection.  For everyone else, a rental more than suffices.

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