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I have always enjoyed the comic exploits of Peter Sellers in the guise of bumbling French policeman Inspector Jacques Clouseau. Not only has Inspector Clouseau become Sellersí best know characterization, Clouseau eventually blossom into a cottage industry for both Sellers and writer/director Blake Edwards. Sellers portrayed Clouseau in a string of successful films up until the time of his death, and it even seemed as though Clouseau had taken on a life of his own, especially since it appeared that Edwards was unwilling to let the character die when Sellers did. As a fan of the "Pink Panther" movies, I readily acquired the films when they were issued on DVD in the early days of the format. Of course, those discs were something of a mixed bag, and certainly did not do justice to the movie series. MGM Home Entertainment has finally revisited the series, issuing THE PINK PANTHER, A SHOT IN THE DARK, THE PINK PANTHER STRIKES AGAIN, REVENGE OF THE PINK PANTHER and TRAIL OF THE PINK PANTHER as part of THE PINK PANTHER FILM COLLECTION ($70). A rather notable omission from this set is THE RETURN OF THE PINK PANTHER, an ITC co-produced film whose video rights are currently tied up at another company.

The motion picture that launched this lucrative franchise was 1963ís THE PINK PANTHER, which certainly isnít as slapstick laden as the later entries in the series. Actually, THE PINK PANTHER takes an entirely different tact than the films that would follow it; playing as a sophisticated bedroom farce, with elements of a caper movie thrown in for good measure. The plot of THE PINK PANTHER follows infamous jewel thief known as The Phantom AKA international playboy Sir Charles Litton (David Niven), who is planning to steal The Pink Panther (one of the world's largest and most valuable diamonds) from the gorgeous Princess Dala (Claudia Cardinale). Leading the investigation to capture The Phantom is none other Inspector Clouseau, who is traveling with his lovely wife Simone (Capucine), who, unbeknownst to Clouseau, is having an affair with Sir Charles. Also thrown into the mix Sir Charles' American nephew George Litton (Robert Wagner), who takes a shine to both the family business and Madame Clouseau. As much as THE PINK PANTHER plays up the sexual hijinks, the accident-prone Clouseau remains the filmís breakout character, easily stealing away the focus of film.

Unlike THE PINK PANTHER, A SHOT IN THE DARK was a starring vehicle for Peter Sellers that was based upon a stage play, which was retailored by Blake Edwards and William Peter Blatty to utilize Inspector Clouseau as the leading character. As it comes from another source, it is why its somewhat surprising A SHOT IN THE DARK is from the film from which the rest of the "Pink Panther" film series would find its true direction. A SHOT IN THE DARK ups the level of slapstick for Sellers, plus it introduces Clouseauís eventual nemesis, Chief Inspector Charles Dreyfus (Herbert Lom), as well as Clouseau's manservant and (unfortunate) sparring partner Kato (Burt Kwouk). It should be noted that there are times that Lomís performance rivals that of Peter Sellers for its moments of unbridled hilarity.

The plot of A SHOT IN THE DARK finds Clouseau (accidentally) assigned to a high profile murder investigation. The case seems so simple, that even an idiot could solve it. Well, almost any idiot would be able to solve the case, especially since all of the evidence points to a single suspect, one that was discovered standing over the body with the smoking pistol still in her hands. But then again, Inspector Clouseau isnít your average idiot. Maria Gambrelli (Elke Sommer) appears to be as guilty as sin, yet Clouseau is convinced of her innocence- something that only serves to convince the inspectorís superiors that Clouseau is an even bigger idiot than they initially suspected. The cast of A SHOT IN THE DARK also features George Sanders, Tracy Reed and Graham Stark.

Continuity-wise there isnít much of a break in comic situations between the end of A SHOT IN THE DARK and the beginning of THE PINK PANTHER STRIKES AGAIN, even if THE RETURN OF THE PINK PANTHER is missing from this box set. As THE PINK PANTHER STRIKES AGAIN opens, we find that Clouseau is now a Chief Inspector, while his predecessor Dreyfus (whom Clouseau initially drove mad) has been restored to sanity and is on the verge of being released from the asylum. Unfortunately for Dreyfus, on the day of his scheduled release, he receives a disastrous visit from Clouseau, which only serves to drive the former Chief Inspector completely insane once again. Now, instead of turning into a babbling idiot, Dreyfus is transformed into a criminal mastermind with only one purpose- to bring about the demise of Chief Inspector Clouseau by any means necessary- which includes holding the entire world hostage with his recently acquired doomsday machine. As expected, the governments of the world send out their best assassins on a mission to kill Clouseau, yet the Inspectorís disastrous dumb luck manages to save him time and again. The cast of THE PINK PANTHER STRIKES AGAIN also features Lesley-Anne Down, Colin Blakely, Leonard Rossiter, Andrť Maranne and an uncredited cameo by Omar Sharif.

REVENGE OF THE PINK PANTHER is a movie that certainly gave the best indications that the series might be running out of gas, but it is actually made rather enjoyable by Peter Sellers consistently funny performance. The plot of REVENGE OF THE PINK PANTHER finds that Inspector Clouseau believed dead at the hands of an infamous drug lord named Philippe Douvier (Robert Webber). Of course, the news of Clouseau's death has one beneficial result; it miraculously restores Dreyfus (Herbert Lom) to sanity (yet again). Unfortunately for poor put upon Dreyfus, the reports of Clouseau's death turn out to be greatly exaggerated, with the very much alive Chief Inspector on his way to Hong Kong to apprehend Douvier. Accompanying Clouseau on his mission to Hong Kong is Douvier's discarded mistress Simone Legree (Dyan Cannon), who wants to be a witness when her former lover is finally hauled off to jail. The cast of REVENGE OF THE PINK PANTHER also features Robert Loggia, Graham Stark and Andrť Maranne.

Made after Peter Sellers died, I can understand why many consider TRAIL OF THE PINK PANTHER to be an unfunny cinematic exercise in grave robbery. Patched together from unused footage of Peter Sellers from previous outings, TRAIL OF THE PINK PANTHER attempts to weave a story around the disappearance of Inspector Clouseau, whose plane has gone missing, while he was in transit to investigate the latest theft of the Pink Panther diamond. The plots then resorts to having a reporter named Marie Jouvet (Joanna Lumley) interview Clouseauís various friends, relatives and professional acquaintances, who share their reminiscences of the bumbling French inspector. The cast of TRAIL OF THE PINK PANTHER also includes David Niven, Herbert Lom, Capucine, Richard Mulligan, Andrť Maranne, Robert Loggia, Harvey Korman, Burt Kwouk and Graham Stark.

MGM Home Entertainment have made all of the films that comprise THE PINK PANTHER FILM COLLECTION in newly mastered 2.35:1 wide screen presentations, which have been enhanced for playback on 16:9 displays. All of the transfers look terrific, easily besting the previous DVD incarnations of the films by a healthy margin. THE PINK PANTHER was a beautiful Technirama production whose presentation gives a good indication what a Technicolor print might have looked like. The Panavision/DeLuxe A SHOT IN THE DARK also looks remarkably robust. The other films in the series overcome some of the limitations in the 70ís/80ís film stocks producing their best appearances to date. All of the movies have their own special look, but produce rather sharp and well-defined images. Colors are strong and free from noise and smearing. Blacks are generally accurate, whites stable and contrast is a bit variable between movies because of the differences in the film stocks used to shoot them, but all hold up quite well. The film elements for each movie are surprisingly clean, although each has its minor issues with grain. Digital compression artifacts are well concealed in each presentation.

Each film in THE PINK PANTHER FILM COLLECTION comes with a newly mixed Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack. The soundtracks come as a pleasant surprise, not because they are showy or particularly direction, but they breathe life into the presentations, instead of rendering them with a flat, lifeless monaural quality. Sound is spread throughout the soundstage, with each filmís Henry Mancini score reaping the lionís share of the benefits. Of course, the music has some age related limitations, as far as fidelity is concerned, but it does sound better here than it ever did in past video incarnations. Surround usage is mild, as are directional effects in the forward soundstage, but each is effective, when deployed. Dialogue is always completely understandable, although looped dialogue is a bit obvious in places. As for background hiss and other audible anomalies, they have been cleaned up in the mastering process. Monaural English, French and Spanish soundtracks are also provided, as are English, French, and Spanish subtitles.

Full motion video, music and animation serve to enhance the interactive menus, which provide access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the supplemental materials that are featured throughout the set and on a sixth disc. Blake Edwards provides an enjoyable commentary for THE PINK PANTHER, although it can be sparse in places. THE PINK PANTHER also sports a terrific pop-up trivia track filled with tons of interesting bits. As for the other films in the set, each sports a theatrical trailer and photo gallery on its respective disc (as does THE PINK PANTHER).

On disc six, one will find the remainder of the supplemental programming. The Pink Panther Story is a nearly half-hour retrospective/documentary on the entire movie series. Behind The Feline is a ten-minute look at the origins of the animated character that graced the movie credits, as well as animated shorts and TV series. Cartoon Theater offers up the following six animated Pink Panther shorts The Pink Phink (Academy Award winner), Pink, Plunk, Plink, Psychedlic Pink, Pinkfinger, The Great DeGaulle Stone Operation and The Ant And The Aardvark. One last note about the packaging- it really looks terrific, but the fold out configuration contains two discs on each of three panels, necessitating the removal of the top disc to get to the one on the bottom (packaging that requires its own set of instruction probably isnít the best).

Peter Sellers/Inspector Clouseau fans should be delighted by the arrival of THE PINK PANTHER FILM COLLECTION, although the presence of THE RETURN OF THE PINK PANTHER is sorely missed. The movies look and sound better than ever, plus the supplements put a cherry on the sundae to tickle fans. If youíve been looking to add the exploits of Inspector Clouseau to your DVD collection, you canít go wrong with THE PINK PANTHER FILM COLLECTION. Recommended.



The Pink Panther Film Collection (The Pink Panther / A Shot in the Dark / Strikes Again / Revenge of / Trail)


DVD reviews are Copyright © 2004 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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