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The Pink Panther

The Pink Panther(1964)

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teaser The Pink Panther (1964)

SYNOPSIS

Set in a fashionable resort in the Italian Alps, the story of The Pink Panther centers on the attempt by Sir Charles Lytton to steal a magnificent gem from the visiting Princess Dahla. Unknown to others, Lytton is actually the legendary Phantom, a notorious thief adored by women and envied by men. For years, French Inspector Clouseau has been hot on the trail of the Phantom, who always manages to elude capture at the last minute. That's because his mistress and accomplice is Clouseau's wife, and the bungling inspector is too dim to conceive of such a ploy. Complicating matters is Lytton's American-born nephew George, a collegiate playboy who secretly aspires to follow in his uncle's footsteps, and Dahla's own efforts to conceal the jewel for legal reasons. When the gem is stolen by two thieves disguised as gorillas, Clouseau closes in on his prey. Thinking he's caught the crook at last, the detective finds the tables turned on him when the case goes to trial.

Director: Blake Edwards

Producers: Martin Jurow, Walter Mirisch (uncredited)

Screenplay: Maurice Richlin, Blake Edwards

Cinematography: Philip Lathrop

Editing: Ralph E. Winters

Art Direction: Fernando Carrere

Original Music: Henry Mancini
Cast: David Niven (Sir Charles Lytton), Peter Sellers (Inspector Jacques Clouseau), Robert Wagner (George Lytton), Capucine (Simone Clouseau), Claudia Cardinale (Princess Dahla)

Why THE PINK PANTHER is Essential

In a career cut short by his early death in 1980 at the age of 54, Peter Sellers created a handful of unforgettable characters: Clare Quilty in Lolita (1962); the triple play of Captain Mandrake, President Muffley, and the title character in Dr. Strangelove (1964); and his acting triumph as Chance the Gardener in Being There (1979). But the character he played most and the one he is probably most closely associated with in the minds of many audiences was the bumbling French detective Inspector Clouseau. The part has also been played by Alan Arkin and Steve Martin, neither of them slouches when it comes to comedy, and later installments in the long-running series attempted to fill the deceased Sellers's shoes with actors Ted Wass and Roberto Benigni as characters taking off from the Clouseau schtick, but no one has ever matched Peter Sellers in the role. What makes his performance so iconic is not simply the verbal and physical gaffes but his absolute commitment to retain his dignity even at his most buffoonish.

Sellers relished collaborating with director Blake Edwards to develop Clouseau's distinctive look, sound, and style in the character's first appearance in The Pink Panther. Always gifted at portraying characters of widely ranging ages, personalities, and ethnicities, Sellers here was able to stretch his skills in physical comedy. The slapstick aspects of the role would be expanded even more in future entries in the Panther series, a dangerous proposition for a man with a serious heart condition but always a delight for audiences.

Despite his positive energy while working on this film, Sellers publicly repudiated it soon after its completion. After a series of mostly box office duds in the late 60s and early 70s, he came back to the role in The Return of the Pink Panther (1975), a decision that would turn out to be both a blessing and a curse for him. A delight to work with when he was challenged by a role, he became increasingly difficult to handle as Clouseau. With the worldwide success of the series, it became the one job that sustained him financially, but he resented having to portray the comic caricature over and over when he would have preferred to be a handsome, suave leading man. It was only with Being There that he would at last achieve the respect he sought as an actor rather than merely a comic player with a genius gift for mimicry.

Because we think of this now as Sellers's movie, it's easy to forget that this is essentially an ensemble comedy with an all-star cast, something for which director and co-writer (with Maurice Richlin) Blake Edwards had a knack (The Great Race, 1965; What Did You Do in the War, Daddy?, 1966; S.O.B., 1981). David Niven, who expected to capitalize on his character in The Pink Panther, is top-billed as a sophisticated society swain who leads a double life as an ace jewel thief. He's joined by international beauties Claudia Cardinale and Capucine and American leading man Robert Wagner, all doing their best to get noticed behind Sellers's comic turn, which grew in scope with each new idea and bit of business he and Edwards cooked up. Despite the bitterness that would mark their later relationship, this stands as one of cinema's most inspired collaborations between a director and actor.

What may be most interesting about the movie, however, is how it illustrates not only the often difficult and complicated relationships between certain stars and their frequent directors (think of Errol Flynn and Michael Curtiz back in the 1930s) but also the traps that box office success can lead to. Edwards started his career dabbling in a range of genres and styles, and Sellers's great ambition was to become a romantic, attractive leading man, but throughout the late 70s, the Panther series was their best and often only path to success. It put a serious strain on their relationship and on the movies themselves.

The Pink Panther is a pleasant enough romp, a sex farce in which none of the characters ever get to have sex, a detective story in which the detective introduces not the expected rational solution but more and more chaos. Still, it's no great comedy milestone. Yet commercial success led its collaborators to return to it again and again. By most critical standards, the subsequent films in the series (after A Shot in the Dark, 1964) were largely a case of diminishing returns, but their popularity with audiences kept Edwards and Sellers on the Panther treadmill for years, to the point where Edwards (before experiencing a rebirth with 10, 1979, and Victor Victoria, 1982) ran the series against all odds, even using old footage of his star after Sellers's death. The film's true milestone, then, may be as the introduction to a cautionary tale characteristic of Hollywood.

By Rob Nixon

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teaser The Pink Panther (1964)

Producers of the film A Shot in the Dark (1964), which was stalled in preproduction due to several problems, decided to fire director Anatole Litvak and asked Blake Edwards (some say on Sellers's recommendation) to take over. Edwards said he would do it if he could change the story to include something he was familiar with, and that something was the character of Inspector Clouseau. The script was refashioned to become a sequel of sorts to The Pink Panther, although Clouseau's wife is absent and there is no mention of the prison term he was sentenced to at the end of the original movie.

A Shot in the Dark recycles the spinning globe site gag from this movie, but with a twist that makes it fresh again.

A Shot in the Dark introduced the character of Chief Inspector Dreyfus, Clouseau's superior, who became a mainstay of the numerous sequels to follow, including The Return of the Pink Panther (1975), The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976), Revenge of the Pink Panther (1978), Trail of the Pink Panther (1982), Curse of the Pink Panther (1983), and Son of the Pink Panther (1993), all directed by Edwards. Because Sellers died in 1980, only archival footage of him in the role appears in Trail of..., and in Curse of..., the character is missing and being searched for by another detective, played by Ted Wass.

The final sequel, Son of the Pink Panther, features Italian actor Roberto Benigni as Jacques Gambrelli, the son of Clouseau and Maria Gambrelli, the main female character in A Shot in the Dark, played here by Claudia Cardinale, Princess Dahla in the original movie.

The permutations and reappearances of characters get more confusing as the series goes on. Sir Charles Litton (spelled with an "i" instead of the original "y"), returns in The Return of the Pink Panther, played by Christopher Plummer (David Niven apparently still not over being upstaged by Sellers in the first movie). Although at the end of the original, Lytton/Niven has ended up with Clouseau's wife Simone (Capucine), here he has a Lady Claudine Litton, played by Catherine Schell. However, when the character appears again in Trail of the Pink Panther, played by Niven again, his wife is Lady Simone Litton, played by Capucine, Sellers's ex from the first movie. Niven and Capucine came back for Curse of the Pink Panther, as did Robert Wagner in his original role as George Lytton.

The only sequel not directed by Edwards was the British-made flop Inspector Clouseau (1968), starring Alan Arkin as the title character and directed by Bud Yorkin.

The story was "rebooted" as The Pink Panther (2006) and The Pink Panther 2 (2009), starring Steve Martin as Clouseau. In the first, Kevin Kline plays Dreyfus, and in the second, he's played by John Cleese. The 2006 film features the Pink Panther diamond that gave the series its name.

The most famous by-product of the whole affair, however, is the Pink Panther cartoon character, the only popular character born strictly from a movie title sequence. The year after the movie, he was given his own cartoon independent of the film, The Pink Phink (1964), and appeared in hundreds of animated shorts since then. He is unique among cartoon characters in that he has a high level of elegance and, except for two exceptions that proved to be highly unpopular, never speaks. He also starred in more than 80 issues of his own comic book from 1971 to 1984. The panther twice had his own TV series, in 1969 and 1993, which also featured an animated Clouseau, and he was featured in a short-lived series that starred his offspring, Pink and Panky, Pink Panther and Sons (1984). The character is so well known he was even chosen to be a commercial spokesperson, most notably for Owens Corning Fiberglass Insulation (which is pink in color). General Foods briefly issued a cereal called Pink Panther Flakes, and Natural Choice issued a Pink Panther Pink Lemonade.<

Years before this picture, David Niven nailed the kind of character he plays here in the sophisticated caper comedy Raffles (1939).

According to the DVD commentary by Blake Edwards, the chase scene was an homage to a similar sequence in Alfred Hitchcock's Foreign Correspondent (1940).

Some have claimed, rather weakly, that Clouseau's name was an homage to French director Henri Georges Clouzot while his demeanor was inspired by the bumbling M. Hulot in the comedies of Jacques Tati.

A remake of The Pink Panther was rumored to be in the works for comic actor Mike Myers around 2002 (perhaps the same version to star Steve Martin in 2006). Myers claimed he got his earliest lessons in comedy when his father would wake him up in the middle of the night to watch Peter Sellers whenever he came on television.
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teaser The Pink Panther (1964)

The story of The Pink Panther originated with screenwriter Maurice Richlin, who had won an Academy Award (with three other writers) for the Doris Day-Rock Hudson romantic comedy Pillow Talk (1959). Richlin had been one of the writers on two previous movies involving Blake Edwards, Operation Petticoat (1959), directed by Edwards, and Soldier in the Rain (1963), which was co-written and produced by Edwards, with Ralph Nelson directing. Richlin approached Edwards with an idea for a story "about a detective who is trying to catch a jewel thief who is having an affair with his wife." The two knocked out a script that Edwards felt would be perfect for David Niven, modeled after his gentleman thief character in Raffles (1939).

Financing was secured from the independent Mirisch Company, which had seen great critical and commercial success with such productions as Some Like It Hot (1959), The Apartment (1960), and West Side Story (1961).

Blake Edwards initially cast Peter Ustinov as Inspector Clouseau. The recent Best Supporting Actor Oscar® winner for Spartacus (1960) accepted but later withdrew from the production when he found out that the Mirisch Company would not meet the demands of Ava Gardner to play Simone, Clouseau's wife. Ustinov made his decision only days before principal photography was to begin, leaving Edwards, in his words, "ready to kill." The company brought a $175,000 breach-of-contract suit against Ustinov for the necessitating reorganization of the production schedule to accommodate recasting.

Peter Sellers was scheduled to being shooting Topkapi (1964) in Turkey, Greece, and France when a friend warned him that co-star Maximilian Schell had a bad reputation for unprofessional working behavior. Sellers questioned director Jules Dassin about it and soon found himself out of a job. Edwards offered him 90,000 for five weeks work in Rome and Cortina, Italy. Sellers liked the idea that he would still be able to do an international ensemble production in appealing locations, as he would have with the Dassin movie, but he was even more excited about the chance to try his hand at performing physical slapstick comedy on screen.

The company was already in Rome at the Cinecitt studios when Sellers was hired on the recommendation of agent Freddie Fields. According to Edwards, "He got off the plane in Rome, we got in the car, drove back from the airport, and by the time we got to the hotel, Clouseau was born."

Several stories exist regarding Clouseau's genesis. Sellers claimed to have modeled Clouseau's look on a drawing of Captain Matthew Webb that appeared on boxes of matches by the Bryant and May company. (In 1875, Webb was the first person to swim the English channel without the use of artificial aids.) Sellers was supposedly inspired by Webb's mustache (although the actor had used mustaches in his characters for years) and exaggerated proud stance as it appeared in the image. "I thought Clouseau must have a thick moustache to prove to somebody or other that he's virile--and in command, you see," Sellers later explained. "And the hair fairly short, you know. And he'd use this French/English accent."

Although Sellers had frequently done exaggerated French accents, Edwards claimed the way Clouseau spoke was his idea, inspired by a French concierge he had spoken to.

Actor Max Geldray, who had been a regular performer with Sellers on the BBC comedy program The Goon Show, was always convinced Sellers based the character on one of Princess Margaret's hairdressers.

Sellers: "There are people like Clouseau all over the world. He's a man with great built-in dignity, you see. ... He's an idiot, and he knows that, but he won't let anyone else know that."

By Rob Nixon

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teaser The Pink Panther (1964)

Shooting began in Rome on November 12, 1962.

The movie was filmed primarily in Italy at the Cinecitt studios and the fashionable Cortina d'Ampezzo ski resort in the Alps. A few scenes were shot in France and Hollywood.

Going into production, David Niven was the star of the film, and he had hopes his performance of the high society jewel thief would spin off into other such opportunities and revive his career. During production, however, Sellers began to shine in the role of Clouseau, and he and Edwards worked out many details and bits of business for the character. Edwards employed multiple cameras to catch the improvisations he encouraged Sellers to do. It quickly became apparent that this "supporting" player was stealing every scene and walking off with the picture.

Somewhat overweight for much of his life up to this point and possessing a hang-dog face, Sellers was obsessed with becoming a handsome leading man. Although he easily outperformed co-star Robert Wagner in this picture, he envied the American actor's good looks. To get himself in better shape, he subjected himself to a grueling weight-loss regimen that included the excessive use of diet pills, possibly a contributing factor to the heart attack he suffered before the film's release. Some biographers also claim he had his teeth straightened and capped.

An industrial strength foaming agent was used in the scene in which Capucine and Robert Wagner are in the bath. The material burned their skins. According to some reports, Wagner, who was completely immersed at one point in the scene, was temporarily blinded by the foam.

Edwards and Sellers enjoyed working together to develop Clouseau down to every move and nuance of voice and expression. "For years I'd been getting bits of what I wanted into films, as writer or director...but I had never had an area in which to exploit my ideas to the full," Edwards said. "Then along came Peter, a walking storehouse of madness, a ham with an almost surrealist approach to the insanity of things, and we found an immediate affinity."

Sellers and Edwards agreed completely on the notion that comedy should be painful. Edwards had worked with director Leo McCarey early in his career, and he said McCarey had taught him an essential truth about comedy through his ability to extend tension in his comic scenes past the point at which audiences became uncomfortable. "He called it 'breaking the pain barrier,'" Edwards recalled.

Claudia Cardinale did not speak English very well when she made this film, so her dialogue was dubbed by Gale Garnett, the Canadian singer-actress whose hit "We'll Sing in the Sunshine" won a Grammy in 1965.

Edwards decided the title sequence would benefit from animation. The Pink Panther, meant to be a personification of the title jewel (a pink-hued diamond with a tiny flaw resembling a large cat), was created by David DePatie and Friz Freleng and chosen by Edwards from more than a hundred other panther sketches.

In one of Niven's autobiographies, he told of a mishap during shooting. The producer suggested he take an afternoon to practice skiing for one of his scenes. The eager actor thoughtlessly went to the slopes wearing his ski costume from the movie, which was far lighter than the clothing needed to withstand the freezing temperatures on the mountain. Halfway down the hill, he began to experience frostbite symptoms in his private parts. Cupping his hands over his groin, he raced down and was ushered to the hotel where he was instructed to plunge his "pale blue acorn" into a glass of whiskey until it thawed.

By Rob Nixon

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teaser The Pink Panther (1964)

As with a surprising number of film roles so closely associated with a particular actor, the Inspector Clouseau character that made his debut in The Pink Panther (1963) was not originally intended for Peter Sellers and was not, in fact, meant to be the central role. The Pink Panther was conceived as a sophisticated comedy about a charming, urbane jewel thief, Sir Charles Litton, a part perfectly suited to the talents and image of David Niven. Years before this picture, Niven nailed the character in Raffles (1940) as the upper crust man-about-town who leads a double life as an ace jewel thief. But any hopes of capitalizing on his previous success were quickly dashed when Sellers arrived on the set.

Peter Ustinov was originally cast as Clouseau, with Ava Gardner as his faithless wife in league with Litton. When Gardner backed out, Ustinov left the project, too, and director Blake Edwards turned to Sellers, a chameleon-like British comic actor known for his ability to transform himself into the most outrageous characters - sometimes playing more than one in a single picture, as he had already proven in The Mouse That Roared (1959) and would do so again in Dr. Strangelove (1964). The Pink Panther sparked a number of sequels, but Clouseau was the main character, not Sir Charles. Instead, Niven had to content himself with playing a variation on the character in the TV series, The Rogues (1964-65).

Set in a fashionable resort in the Italian Alps, the story of The Pink Panther centers on Litton's attempt to steal a magnificent gem from the visiting Princess Dala. Unknown to the others, Litton is actually the legendary Phantom, a notorious thief whose myth is adored by women and envied by men. For years, French Inspector Clouseau has been hot on the trail of the Phantom, who always manages to elude capture at the last minute. That's because his mistress and accomplice is Clouseau's wife, and the bungling inspector is too dim to ever conceive of such a ploy. Complicating matters is Litton's American-born nephew George, a collegiate playboy who secretly aspires to follow in his uncle's footsteps, and Dala's own efforts to conceal the jewel for legal reasons. When the gem is stolen by two thieves disguised as gorillas, Clouseau closes in on his prey. Thinking he's caught the crook at last, the detective finds the tables turned when the case goes to trial. The gem has been planted on him and he is convicted, but contrary to feeling humiliated and defeated, Clouseau goes off to prison delighted to be mistaken for the Phantom, the legend all women desire and all men admire.

In a way, that ending relates to Peter Sellers - own life story. A pudgy man with a somewhat hang-dog face, Sellers rose to prominence as a member of the ensemble of the anarchic British radio program The Goon Show (1951-60), where he first developed his ability to vocally create a wide range of bizarre characters. He also appeared in a number of British film comedies, among them The Ladykillers (1955), where he absorbed the influence of Alec Guinness, and I'm All Right, Jack (1959), another picture offering multiple roles. But Sellers longed to be a handsome and desirable leading man. He could perform rings around someone like his Pink Panther co-star Robert Wagner, yet he desperately envied the young actor's looks. Prior to filming The Pink Panther, Sellers had his teeth straightened and capped and subjected himself to a grueling weight-loss regimen that included the excessive use of diet pills, possibly a contributing factor to the heart attack he suffered before the film's release. (Plagued by a bad heart most of his life, he eventually succumbed to it at the age of 54 in 1980.) So it must have been gratifying for him to be the center of Edwards' complete attention on the set of The Pink Panther as the two worked together - much to Niven's dismay and disappointment - to create and expand a character that would achieve worldwide popularity in four more Clouseau movies over the next 15 years, and one, Trail of the Pink Panther (1982), that Edwards hobbled together from old footage after Sellers' death.

In the end, the international success he achieved with The Pink Panther and its even more hilarious follow-up, A Shot in the Dark (1964), turned out to be something of a curse for Peter Sellers. Plagued by a series of flops in the early 1970s, he reluctantly came back to the character in The Return of the Pink Panther (1974) and two others after that, mostly for the money. A delight to work with when he was challenged by a role, he became increasingly difficult to handle as Clouseau. Fortunately, he finally achieved the respect he longed for as an actor shortly before his death. He was nominated for an Oscar for his performance in Being There (1979), a role he pursued for years by sending marathon telegrams to author Jerzy Kosinski signed "Chance the Gardener," his character's name.

As for Niven, he so resented having the picture stolen from him that in later years as a presenter of an Academy Award, he asked the orchestra conductor not to use Mancini's music to introduce him but to play the theme from his earlier hit Around the World in 80 Days (1956). The one lasting anecdote Niven carried from the filming of The Pink Panther was related in his autobiography The Moon's a Balloon (Dell, 1973). While other scenes were being shot, Niven went skiing in 35-degrees-below-zero weather. On his way down the slopes, he got frostbite on a very private part of his anatomy. He was forced to thaw the frozen appendage by dipping it painfully in a glass of brandy. It's a story worthy of Clouseau himself.

Oh, and just to clear up any confusion about the title once and for all, the jewel is called the Pink Panther. Because of Sellers' dominance of the picture, the catchy animated title sequence, and Henry Mancini's unforgettable theme music, the name became so strongly connected to Clouseau that it was used in all but one of the titles in the rest of the series, whether the jewel was part of the plot or not.

Director: Blake Edwards
Producer: Martin Jurow
Screenplay: Maurice Richlin, Blake Edwards
Cinematography: Philip Lathrop
Editing: Ralph E. Winters
Art Direction: Fernando Carrere
Original Music: Henry Mancini
Cast: Peter Sellers (Inspector Clouseau), David Niven (Sir Charles Litton), Robert Wagner (George Litton), Capucine (Simone Clouseau), Claudia Cardinale (Princess Dala), Brenda De Banzie (Angela Dunning), Colin Gordon (Tucker), John Le Mesurier (Defense Attorney).
C-116m. Letterboxed.

by Rob Nixon

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teaser The Pink Panther (1964)

Although completed in 1963, the movie was not in wide release until 1964. It received mixed critical reception, although it did very well at the box office, grossing a then impressive $6 million in the U.S.

The film was selected in 2010 to be preserved in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress.

The Pink Panther was nominated but did not place in the American Film Institute's list of the 100 greatest movies of all time. Henry Mancini's music, however, came in at number 20 on AFI's list of top film scores.

Peter Sellers was nominated for a Golden Globe Award as Best Actor-Musical/Comedy.

Sellers was also nominated for a British Academy Award as Best British Actor.

Maurice Richlin and Blake Edwards were nominated for a Writers Guild of America Award for Best Written American Comedy.

Henry Mancini's score was nominated for an Academy Award. It was also nominated for a Grammy.

In 1988, Mancini's Pink Panther theme was recognized by ASCAP as a Most Performed Feature Film Standard.

In 2001, Mancini's score was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

Time magazine's review of the film was titled "Has Skis, Needs Life" and cited what it saw as a "pervasive air of desperation." The magazine said, "Some of Sellers's sight gags are funny but not funny enough."

Variety, on the other hand, found the movie "intensely funny" and said Sellers's "razor-sharp timing" was "superlative." The publication's January 15, 1964 review went on to say, "This is film making as a branch of the candy trade, and the pack is so enticing that few will worry about the jerky machinations of the plot. The production crams in so many appealing plusses that the whole luscious affair defies mental probing. And it is delivered with such an impudent, tongue-in-cheek elegance by Blake Edwards that there is no inclination to brood over the occasional lapses. ... When memory of the [other cast members] subsides, Panther will be a vintage record of the farcical Sellers at his peak."

"A so-so comedy." - Cue magazine, March 1964

"Even if Peter Sellers weren't lying in a hospital bed recovering from a heart attack said to have been brought on by prolonged overwork, it would give us the willies to see the amount of labor he does in Blake Edwards's farce. ... Seldom has any comedian seemed to work so persistently and hard at trying to be violently funny with weak material. ... Mr. Edwards's and Maurice Richlin's script is a basically unoriginal and largely witless piece of farce carpentry that has to be pushed and heaved at stoutly in order to keep on the move. Mr. Sellers does his part resolutely and so does Mr. Niven in the role of the charming, seductive phantom who is posing as a British peer. But the women involved are too lazy--or perhaps Mr. Edwards has failed to give them any better direction than he has given them a script. ... But there is one thing about this picture that is clever and joyous, at least. That is a cartooned pink panther that runs through the main titles at the start making mischief with the lettering, insistently getting in the way. He is so blithe and bumptious, so sweet and entirely lovable, that he's awfully hard to follow." - Bosley Crowther, New York Times, April 24, 1964

"Director Blake Edwards is about as funny as the instruction on form 1040, and no matter how hard Sellers falls on his prat, there is little he can do to redeem this wearisome film." - Newsweek

"The Pink Panther is a happy concatenation of fresh dialogue and suave variations on old sight gags. ... And Sellers never fails. ... His superb aplomb despite every conceivable disaster become(s) masterful understatements of materials that most comics have been overplaying since the birth of movies." - Arthur Knight, Saturday Review

"Sir Charles has the basis of being a marvelous send-up of all the classy cads in fiction, but neither the star [Niven] nor the director seems to have quite the energy to do it. ... It's the sight gags that work best, and they all belong to Sellers as the hopelessly inefficient detective." - Penelope Gilliatt, Observer

"Clouseau is a classic comic figure, a silhouette as appropriate to mass affluence and its embarrassments as Tati's Hulot." - Raymond Durgnat, International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers (St. James Press, 1986)

By Rob Nixon

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