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Thanks to the comedic talents of Peter Sellers, the bumbling, trench coat-wearing Inspector Jacques Clouseau has become a part of our culture. But the Clouseau that we know today almost didn't exist. Peter Sellers was a last minute replacement for Peter Ustinov in The Pink Panther (1963). When Sellers took the role, he and director Blake Edwards (Breakfast at Tiffany's, 1961) rewrote the character adding in the slapstick comedy.
Revenge of the Pink Panther (1978) is the fifth film in the series and is highlighted by some colorful on-location filming in Hong Kong and France. In this installment, the head of an international drug ring, Philippe Douvier (Robert Webber), decides to kill Inspector Clouseau in order to assert his power. When another man is mistakenly killed in Clouseau's place, all of France mourns the loss of their national hero. And since everyone believes he is dead, the real Clouseau can't convince anyone of his identity and is locked up in a mental institution. Once he escapes, Clouseau encounters Simone Legree (Dyan Cannon), Douvier's jilted mistress. With both their lives in danger, Clouseau and Legree head to Hong Kong to trap Douvier.
The plot of Revenge of the Pink Panther gives Sellers ample opportunity to show off his comedic genius. As the New York Times described it, "Horrendous puns, slapstick gags and disguises are the material of the comedy that, for no particular purpose that I can think of, has Clouseau, at one point and another, masquerade as a woman, a peg-legged sailor who carries an inflatable rubber parrot on his shoulder, and as Toulouse-Lautrec."
In Michael Sellers' biography of his father, he remembers the excitement surrounding the first public screening of Revenge of the Pink Panther. United Artists threw a huge party in Hawaii for columnists and critics from around the world and everyone received royal treatment. According to Michael Sellers, "Every hotel room in Hawaii was taken and flowers, fruit and gifts awaited each guest. Dad came into Hawaii as though it was his own kingdom." One of the ways Peter Sellers' children entertained themselves in Hawaii was by giving steak to a stray cat and her five kittens and putting it on the bill for United Artists.
According to Roger Lewis in The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, Sellers came to depend heavily upon his instincts and imagination for his characters. If the inspiration for a scene he was to improvise didn't come to him immediately, he had trouble. "One of the saddest, maddest exemplifications of this happened during Revenge of the Pink Panther. The idea was for Clouseau and Cato to enter a nightclub, disguised in zoot suits and Afro dreadlocks. 'Peter,' says Blake Edwards, 'was then supposed to come out with a lot of what Clouseau thought was very hip black street lingo and, of course, screw it up. Peter absolutely couldn't get it. That made him very angry and resulted in a very unpleasant day on the set.'" The following day Sellers tried it again, but still couldn't get it. Edwards had to eventually cut the scene.
When Revenge of the Pink Panther was released, it was predictably held up for comparison against earlier entries in the series. A Variety reviewer commented that the film "isn't the best of the continuing film series, but Blake Edwards and Peter Sellers on a slow day are still well ahead of most other comedic filmmakers." Unfortunately, just two years after the release of Revenge of the Pink Panther, Peter Sellers died from a heart attack at the age of 54. The star's death, however, did not put an end to the popular film series. Director Blake Edwards put together footage of Sellers for the 1982 film Trail of the Pink Panther. The most recent film in the series, Son of the Pink Panther, was released in 1993 and stars Roberto Benigni as Jacques Clouseau, Jr.
Director/Producer: Blake Edwards
Screenplay: Ron Clark, Blake Edwards, Frank Waldman
Cinematography: Ernest Day
Art Direction: Benjamin Fernandez, John Siddall
Music: Henry Mancini
Cast: Peter Sellers (Chief Inspector Clouseau), Herbert Lom (Chief Inspector Dreyfus), Burt Kwouk (Cato), Dyan Cannon (Simone Legree), Robert Webber (Philippe Douvier), Robert Loggia (Marchione), Paul Stewart (Julio Scallini), Tony Beckley (Algo), Ferdy Mayne (Dr. Laprone), Adrienne Corri (Therese Douvier), Alfie Bass (Fernet).
by Deborah Looney