One of the world's favorite gross incompetents gets a well-deserved fifth lease on life in "Revenge of the Pink Panther." latest and probably not last of the Blake Edwards comedies starring Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau. The films open at six area theaters today and it could only be more welcome if ice cream cones were given away with every ticket.
Edwards and his collaborators have wisely chosen to give an audience just what it wants and expects from a "Pink Panther" film - riotous slapstick, spectacular stunts and Sellers in a variety of accents and disguises that give him free reign and lead to inevitable uproariousness. The picture has about a million laughs for the kids who will see it in the daytime and a few hundred thousand for adults who see it at night.
At the same time, it has to be noted that Edwards and company have been too successful at resisting the temptation to out-do themselves. There are signs of deterioration in the formula, and the film, like most of the sequels before if, lacks the richness of detail that marked the original. "The Pink Panter," released in 1964.
Edwards has said that this could be the final "Pink Panther" picture for him and that he is willing to turn the property over to other hands - presumably with Sellers as part of the package. While "Revenge" is full of outrageous satisfactions and priceless bits, it's also clear that fresh touches are in order. Besides, Edwards - who cowrote, produced and directed this film - says he now wants to tackle Milton's "Paradise Lost" for the movies: nobody with high falutin' yearnings like that could also be the proper custodian of the invaluable "Panther" dynasty.
Sellers may look a bit weary during some of the lulls in this latest "Panther" rampage, but at key junctures of comic inspiration he is still in a class unto himself. For all the lavishness of the elaborate sight gags, the single most winning, and hilarious sequence may be an extremely simple one that harkens back to the days of the best Sellers on record, his British comedies of the late '50s and early '60s.
In this sequence, Clouseau is sloppily on the trail of assassins who bumped off a transvestite burglar thinking the man was Clouseau. He has rigged up an outlandishly unlikely old salt's get-up, replete with flagrantly phony peg-leg and an inflated parrot that sits on his shoulder and whines as its air leaks out. The disguise is wonderfully and hopelessly inept as a ruse and yet Sellers as Clouseau struggles gallantly to put it over. There must be a metaphor for the human race in there somewhere, but the situation is too funny in concept and execution to worry about metaphors.
In the script for "Revenge," by Edwards, Frank Waldman (a veteran of the series) and Ron Clark, Clouseau has survived 16 assassination.
Attempts only to be targeted for extermination by a dope-running crime boss (the dull Robert Webber) as a show of strength for a rival syndicate. In due time, though not nearly due enough, Clouseau crosses paths with Dyan Cannon as the boss's suddenly disenfranchised mistress.
Cannon doesn't have the kind of part here that gave her such a fortuitous comedic workout in "Heaven Can Wait," but her presence on the screen is undeniably an asset; she is reminiscent of screwball heroines like Carole Lombard who could keep their dignity even when kicking and screaming. Herbert Lom, whose deranged Chief Inspector Dreyfus returns miraculously from the death he suffered in the last episode, and from yet another rest cure at a loony bin, makes the most of a running gag in which Dreyfus keeps bumping into the supposedly bumped-off Clouseau by the most ridiculous possible coincidence.
Then they all fly off to Hong Kong for a fireworks finale that recalls the explosive close of the first picture in the series, though it is not quite so contagiously whacky.
As usual, Edwards and his pals have their moments of embarrassing or offensive miscalculation. They do not realize that Clouseau's penchant for referring to his karate chopping houseboy Cato as being a "little yellow Swine" having "a fiendish little yellow brain" is an extremely expendable character trait and stubbornly unfunny.
At least they have had the decency to give actor Burt Kwouk, who so thanklessly plays the part, the privilege of stelling a few scenes with some eloquent slapstick of his own. When Cato joins Clouseau and Cannon as "Somone Legree" at a Hong Kong hotel, he is diguised with glasses so thick he cannot see anything at all, so that when riding in an elevator he faces not the door but instead stares unblinkingly into the perturbed kisser of Paul Stewart as Scallini, an italian mobster.
Many of the stungs, explosions and partfalls in "Revenge" are rousingly photogenic and hilarious, though, again, it is Sellers in his funny clothes that really makes the picture. He's a particular howl done up the way Clouseau envisions a Mafioso Godfather - as a pinstriped spectre of Orson Welles girth who has cotton balls stuffed in his cheeks and naturally proceeds to swallow them.
From such giddy highs one must tolerate null depths, as during dialogue scenes with Sellers and Cannon that look as though the director were off at the coffee machine and the actors are waiting for pages of the script to be handed to them fresh from the typewriters. It is also hard to understand why Edwards would chose to open the picture with a static, sullen prulde instead of a tantalizing bit of business form Sellers. Other disappointments in the film include the fact that the opening credit animation is no longer done by the crafty and witty Richard Williams but is now turned out by the listless Depatie-Freleng factory,chwhich also stamps out the Saturday morning "panther" cartoon TV shows.
These problems aside, "Revenge oif the pink Panter" is a giant glass of lemonade for a thirsting world. Few contemporary comedy inventions can top Sellers as clouseau in his Toulouse-Lautrec disguide holding a lighted "boehm," or crying out to an escaping cluprit, "Stop, in the nam Louse-Lautrec diguide holding a lighted "boehm," or crying out to an escaping culprit, "Stop, in the name of the lieou."
It's the kind of movie series there is no real reason to discontinue. A sixth "panther" picture would tie it for number of sequels with the old "Thin Man" series, which ran out of gas long before the "Panther" began to look frayed around the whiskers.
Hollywood has never been quite so big on sequels as it is now, of course.United Artists, which releases the "Panther" movies, is plodding ahead with still more James Bond movies, although there is a creature past his prime time if ever there was one, and 20th century-Fox insisted from the very first "Omen" film that there would be five of the bloody messes before it was all over. It used to be, of course, that there were sequels to movies only because an original film proved unusually popular. Now the sequels are planned out ahead of time as part of the overall marketing and promotional campaign.
At least the moviegoing public was able to discover Inspector Clouseau pretty much on its own in th first "Pink Panther" film, and the demand for more of him has been anything but illusory. Perhaps Edwards and his colleagues haven't made this latest edition much better than routine for the series, but there is something about the routine that wears very well. We deserve certain perenial pleasures from movies, and witnessing Clouseau being given enough dental floss to hang himself, and then fatalistically obligiing, is one of them.