The Pink Panther (1963): An Appreciation


When I first saw The Pink Panther, it was the 2006 Steve Martin version, which I'll admit is still kind of a guilty pleasure even though it has practically nothing to do with the 1963 film. When I saw the original, I was... underwhelmed. The second viewing, however, proved to be more successful. My mom would comment about how Peter Sellers did comedy that hardly anyone does anymore and because of that, I forced myself to pay more attention. By my third screening, it was clear to me: I love The Pink Panther and it deserves every bit of praise it can get.

If you've never seen the movie but have grown up with an awareness of pop culture icons Inspector Clouseau and the cute, mischievous cartoon feline, you might be surprised with the One that Started it All. For one thing, Clouseau isn't the leading man -- suave and brilliant David Niven is. The Pink Panther isn't just one screwball moment after another, either. There is romance, gorgeous scenery and sets, marvelous costumes, a terrifically top-notch cast, and a dash of intrigue. The skill with which director and co-writer Blake Edwards balances everything is masterful, no question.

The world that is created by Edwards is impossibly chic. This is a world that I want to enter, a world where beautiful women wear jaw-dropping clothes, men are decked in divine smoking jackets and tuxedos, and they all vacation in the snowy Italian mountains in an unbelievably elegant lodge. The atmosphere of this film is just incredible. I can't watch a single scene without aching to step in and join the fun.

It helps that these crazy escapades are scored by Henry Mancini, a man who consistently crafted music that was captivating, witty, and unforgettable. Mancini is my favorite film composer and his work on The Pink Panther is stunning -- I think I would rate it as my favorite film score, actually. It is completely of its time yet also timeless. The famous theme is still recognized to this day, and justifiably so. Listening to any part of this score immediately takes me to a cozy Italian villa, where I'm wearing a big knitted sweater and drinking champagne cocktails with David Niven. Hear it for yourself here.

One musical interlude that could have been a distraction is Fran Jeffries's performance of "Meglio stasera (It Had Better Be Tonight)." The song is immensely catchy and impeccably cool, with Italian lyrics by Franco Migliacci and English lyrics by Johnny Mercer. Jeffries delivers the tune perfectly as she playfully flirts with her audience. Although this moment has nothing to do with the plot, it has everything to do with Edwards's stylish world. You can watch the number here.

Jeffries's unnamed entertainer is just one of many delicious characters in The Pink Panther. Niven is his reliably charming self as clever gentleman thief Sir Charles Lytton. Playing Niven's cheeky nephew is a young (and great) Robert Wagner. Of course, the man who many people believe steals the show is Peter Sellers. Sellers is indeed hilarious in his portrayal of the bumbling Clouseau. Surprisingly, his antics don't overshadow the rest of the cast, thanks to the script. Every main character has at least one comedic moment to revel in and they all step up to the challenge.

While the men in the cast are wonderful, I find myself appreciating the women more and more. Claudia Cardinale and Capucine play such fascinating characters. They're highly intelligent, exceptionally fashionable, and they can be quite funny. Cardinale is the princess whose Pink Panther jewel makes her the target of Niven. Her warmth and quiet vivacity makes him begin to regret his plans. Keeping him in check is his partner in crime -- and
Clouseau's wife! -- Capucine. I'm kind of sad that we didn't get a follow-up heist film starring Wagner, Capucine, and Niven. How fantastic would that have been? Anyway, when Wagner and Niven wind up in jail at the end, it's the two women who figure out how to save them (and how to frame a clueless Clouseau). They're just extraordinary.

In terms of The Pink Panther series, I must say that I think the first entry is the best. The characters are strong, the action is fast-paced, the gags are short and plentiful -- all of it aligns to create one of the finest comedies you'll ever see.

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This is my entry to the Colours Blogathon, hosted by Thoughts All Sorts. Check out the other colorful contributions here.

Comments

  1. This is such a wonderful post. I saw The Pink Panther years and years ago and barely remember it...but I'm going to watch it asap. Claudia Cardinale is fantastic in the roles I've seen her in.
    Thanks sooooo much for joining my Blogathon! Much appreciated.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for having me! Part of what spurred me to give this film a second chance was hearing so many good things about it and thinking "I don't remember that!"

      I really want to see more of Cardinale's films. I've heard she starred in one or two with Rock Hudson, which sounds amazing.

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    2. Have you seen her in Once Upon a Time in the West? In fact, not even just her but...have you seen Once Upon a Time in the West? Wow...it is excellent (in my opinion). But then, I'm a huge western fan. But still...it is very well done and she's great in it.
      Have an awesome weekend,
      Catherine

      Delete
    3. I've wanted to see that film, but I must admit the running time scared me off. Now that I know Claudia is in it, I'll definitely keep an eye out for it!

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  2. This film was so funny! And I actually had that shock to find out that the Phantom is supposed to be the lead, and Clouseau only a secondary character. It was a surprising film, but a very funny one, nevertheless. And, yes, I'd love to live in any set from this film. Great review!
    Kisses!
    Le

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks! It is quite the switch from what you're expecting considering Clouseau's iconic status, but luckily the film is brilliant enough that it doesn't become too much of a disappointment.

      Delete

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