I came into the Pink Panther with a bit of prior knowledge about the franchise and Henry Mancini’s legendary theme music. In all honesty, the first film I ever saw in the series was A Shot in the Dark (1964). Peter Sellers‘ Inspector Clouseau is the undisputed star of that film which came out only a year later.
That’s why this initial installment from Blake Edwards was rather surprising, to begin with. This is a David Niven vehicle with him playing a modern Don Juan of sorts who also is a world renown thief known as “The Phantom.” He and his female accomplice have their eye on the equally well-known diamond christened the Pink Panther. It now is in the possession of a beautiful young princess (Claudia Cardinale), but the people of the country believes the diamond belongs to them. Into this seemingly serious story of theft and international relations waltzes in the ever-bumbling but good-natured Inspector Clouseau.
Sir Charles Lytton (David Niven) has his eyes on Princess Dala, surveying her every movement. What he doesn’t know is that his young nephew (Robert Wagner) is up to some tricks of his own, and he flees the United States in search of his uncle. Clouseau leaves France with his lovely wife Simone (Capucine) and follows the princess to a ski resort to see if he can sniff out the culprit. They turn out to be a lot closer than he realized.
It’s during a chaotic masquerade ball when the diamond is in jeopardy, with several costumed apes having their eyes on it. The bumbling Clouseau clumsily tries to set a trap, and yet he unwittingly stumbles upon the culprits leading to a chaotic car chase. In fact, The Pink Panther has a rather odd ending with the culprits getting away and Inspector Clouseau getting the blame. Don’t be too worried, however, because Sellers brought the character back numerous other times.
Despite being initially relegated to a supporting role, there is no doubt that Sellers steals his scenes with his ad-libbing and numerous brilliant pieces of slapstick. He might be stepping on his Stradivarius in the dark or getting his hand jammed in a beer stein. It’s all the funnier when everyone else is playing the scenes relatively straight. There were some other humorous sequences of deception as the culprits try and pull the wool over the Inspector’s eyes. It’s not all that difficult because he’s an utter buffoon. But lovable. Did I mention that?