The Pink Panther Film Collection: Special Edition
Year: 1964 - 1982
Rated: Various – See Below
Film Length: Various – See Below
Aspect Ratio: Anamorphic Widescreen (2.35:1) – All Films
Subtitles: English, French, and Spanish
Audio: English – Dolby Digital 5.1; French & Spanish - Monaural (All Films)
April 6th, 2004
Whether you like Blake Edwards’ films or not, you have to give him his due – the man has not only made an indelible impact on the art of filmmaking, but he also knew which horses to bet on (so to speak). For example, Edwards had the foresight to take a bumbling, buffoon of a French policeman named Jacques Clouseau, who was only a supporting character in The Pink Panther (1960), and turn him into a virtual goldmine. He did the same thing with the animated pink panther that cavorts over the opening/closing credits to the film, creating a merchandising empire and successful cartoon series out of a character that was only supposed to play a minor role in a single film.
However, since chance also played a bit of a role in the casting of Clouseau, I suppose it would be unfair to give Mr. Edwards all the credit for it, as talented as he is. You see, right as production was set to begin on The Pink Panther, Peter Ustinov, who was originally to play Clouseau, decided to pull out of the picture. Nearly desperate at losing a key character at such a critical time, Blake Edwards acted on the advice of an agent and cast Peter Sellers in the role. Though he did not know it at the time, this would be one of the best decisions of his career, as the comic genius Sellers took the role of Inspector Clouseau to a whole other level, and left audiences clamoring for more of his characters misadventures.
It seems as though Peter Sellers’ legacy lives on, as MGM’s Pink Panther Film Collection contains four of the five Panther films that he starred in, and another one pieced together after his death in 1980. Incidentally, the missing film featuring Sellers is Return of the Pink Panther, which was released in 1975. Sadly, Blake Edwards made several forgettable attempts to keep the gravy train rolling after Sellers passed away, but like a bird without wings, the series was never again able to reach the heights it once did. Simply put, Peter Sellers was the one component the Pink Panther series could not survive without. Although this is only my opinion, for that reason, I am not terribly upset that Curse of the Pink Panther and Son of the Pink Panther were left out of this compilation.
Well, 6 discs is a lot of ground to cover, so without further adieu, let’s take a closer look at this set, which arrives just in time for the 40th Anniversary of the film that started it all!
If you have been following my reviews for a while, you probably know that I usually do not mention packaging unless there is something really unusual (good or bad) about it. I think this release’s packaging contains a little bit of both - good and bad elements, that is. Starting on a positive note, the exterior of the set has a sleek, classy appearance, much like a book that is bound in black “patent leather”, with cool drawings of the Pink Panther on the cover and spine. This is partially covered by a slide-off cardboard sleeve that describes the set’s contents.
The interior of the packaging, on the other hand, will probably stir up some controversy, namely because discs are stacked “on top” of each other. Basically, the case folds open into four sections, three of which house two discs apiece. Though each disc is supported from its center, and they do not actually touch, the top disc in each section must be removed in order to access the disc underneath it. Unfortunately, this leads to a great deal more disc handling than I would ordinarily prefer.
Honestly, although the way the discs are stored does present some inconvenience, I cannot say that I am terribly put off by the packaging. Nevertheless, but I will be very interested in seeing your reactions to how the discs are housed once the set streets...
DISC ONE – THE PINK PANTHER
Running Time: 115 Minutes
Rating: Not Rated
The Pink Panther derives its name from the large pink diamond that is central to its storyline. This stone, a gift from the King of Lugash to his daughter, Princess Dala (Claudia Cardinale), contains a very unique flaw that looks like the image of a leaping panther. As the film opens, we find the Princess (and the diamond) vacationing at a posh ski resort, and the authorities become aware that a master jewel thief, known as “The Phantom”, is planning to make a play for the precious bauble. Little do they know that the robber, also know as the gentlemanly, debonair Sir Charles Litton (David Niven) is already lounging at the resort, and has become quite friendly with Princess Dala.
To ensure the safety of the diamond, the immensely moronic and accident-prone Inspector Jacques Clouseau (Peter Sellers) of the French Suretè is assigned to the case! Hoping to unmask “The Phantom” before the Pink Panther diamond is taken, Clouseau travels to the ski resort, with his wife (Capucine) in tow. Unfortunately for Clouseau, his beloved is working (in more ways than one ) in secret for Sir Litton, and providing him with the information he needs to grab the diamond and get away clean! To make matters even more complicated, Litton’s nephew George (Robert Wagner) is also trying to obtain the diamond, not knowing that his uncle is the infamous Phantom. Will Clouseau’s attempt to nab the Phantom be foiled, or will dumb luck smile upon him (as usual)?
The Pink Panther is a playful, enjoyable film, which cleverly blends intrigue, comedy, and complimentary characters together. The performances are all wonderful, and Edwards displays a keen ability to create memorable screwball set pieces (including a hilarious bedroom scene and an amusing car chase). He also adeptly mixes in some subtler comedic touches to offset the chaotic humor generated by Clouseau, and wrapped the story on a high note by employing an unexpected plot twist. For all of these reasons, this entertaining film provided a solid foundation on which to build the rest of the franchise!
DISC TWO – A SHOT IN THE DARK
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Rating: Not Rated
If you are a fan of the series, you already know that the Clouseau character played a supporting role in The Pink Panther, and that David Niven (as Sir Charles Litton) was given top billing. To his credit, Blake Edwards recognized the impact that Peter Sellers’ rendition of Jacques Clouseau had on that film, and he quickly made the oafish sleuth the centerpiece of what would become a lucrative franchise. Indeed, audiences were so enamored with Clouseau that his next adventure, A Shot in the Dark was rushed into theaters a few short months after The Pink Panther premiered.
In this follow-up to the Pink Panther caper, Clouseau finds himself at the stately home of Benjamin Ballon (George Sanders), mistakenly assigned to a high-profile case involving a millionaire’s murdered chauffer. The prime suspect is a lovely young maid named Maria Gambrelli (Elke Sommer), and all of the evidence initially collected points right in her direction. In fact, she was discovered standing over the deceased’s body with a smoking gun in her hand! Of course, any reasonable person would assume that Maria did the chauffer in, but as we know Clouseau is not exactly a reasonable chap!
Indeed, Clouseau, using his powers of brilliant deduction as only he can, is unable to conceive that anyone so beautiful could be a cold-blooded killer. As such, he opts to release her, with the hope that the true killer will turn up. Unfortunately, the body count begins to rise, much to Chief Inspector Dreyfus’ (Herbert Lom) dismay, but Clouseau still refuses to concede that his theory is flawed. He presses on with his investigation, and justice is ultimately served on the perpetrator of the crime thanks to the Inspector’s good fortune. The conclusion of Clouseau’s investigation is one of the most sidesplitting confrontations between a sleuth and his suspects in cinematic history, and worth the price of admission by itself!
In terms of its place in the series, A Shot in the Dark bears little resemblance to The Pink Panther, save for the slapstick antics of Peter Sellers as Clouseau. For instance, Clouseau’s previous archenemy Charles Litton is nowhere to be found, the “Pink Panther” diamond is not part of the storyline, and the animated panther that is featured so prominently during the credits of every other entry into the franchise is absent. Perhaps some of the dissimilarities can be explained by the fact that this film, co-written by William Peter Blatty (The Exorcist), was based on plays unrelated to the series, which were penned by Harry Kurnitz and Marcel Archard.
Regardless of whether it should be looked upon as a true sequel, A Shot in the Dark is a fine film in its own right. It is also arguable that the film generates more laughter than its predecessor, if only because the Clouseau character is on-screen so much more, which allows Peter Sellers to display his gift for physical comedy. Further, some of the Clouseau character’s rough edges are smoothed out, and he begins to mispronounce the English language in trademarked Clouseauian fashion.
Finally, the film also lays the groundwork for it successors, as the audience is introduced to supporting characters that will reappear throughout the rest of the series. Specifically, Chief Inspector Dreyfus, Clouseau’s partner Hercule LaJoy (Graham Stark), and Clouseau's aide/martial arts sparring partner Kato (Burt Kwouk) all appear for the first time in A Shot in the Dark. In fact, the hilarious Dreyfus character would go on to become Inspector Clouseau’s nemesis for the rest of the series.
A Shot in the Dark is a classic, and easily one of the funniest films in the entire Panther series!
DISC THREE – THE PINK PANTHER STRIKES AGAIN
Running Time: 106 Minutes
Due to his poor health, and the tempestuous nature of the relationship between he and Blake Edwards, it would be nearly a dozen years before Peter Sellers agreed to reprise the role he is forever associated with, in The Return of the Pink Panther (not included in this set), which graced movie screens in 1975. After audiences proved receptive to the return of Sellers as Jacques Clouseau, The Pink Panther Strikes Again, which is arguably the best film in the series, appeared a year later. The nature of the comedy is more over-the-top than in the previous entries, but Clouseau’s antics are good for plenty of laughs, and Peter Sellers carries the film squarely on his shoulders.
As the story begins, we find that former Chief Inspector Dreyfus is up for release from a mental health facility – that is until Clouseau (now promoted to Chief Inspector) pays him a visit and causes Dreyfus to have another mental breakdown. Vowing to dispatch the accident-prone detective, the now criminally insane Dreyfus escapes and commandeers a laser capable of reducing cities to rubble. He announces to the powerful nations of the world that if Clouseau is not captured or liquidated, he will use his weapon to wreak havoc across the globe. Subsequently, Dreyfus demonstrates the fearsome capabilities of his doomsday weapon by making the United Nations building vanish!
To avoid catastrophe, the world’s top assassins (including an uncredited Omar Sharif) are sent after Clouseau. As you might expect, however, Clouseau’s ineptitude continually saves his hide, while he remains oblivious to the attempts on his life. Can he survive long enough to put the kibosh on Dreyfus’ plans, or will his clumsiness do for Dreyfus what a multitude of the world’s foremost assassins could not?
No reason to make you read a whole discourse on this film – Edwards, Sellers, and company are all in top form here! Once again, there are some very funny set pieces, and Peter Sellers continues tweaking the Clouseau character to perfection. Yet another solid entry into the Panther series!
DISC FOUR – REVENGE OF THE PINK PANTHER
Running Time: 99 Minutes
The Revenge of the Pink Panther, the final completed film in which Sellers played Inspector Clouseau, is far from the series’ best film. That being said, Peter Sellers breathing life into sub-par material is good for a lot more laughs than most comedies manage to muster up.
In Revenge, Clouseau becomes involved in an investigation into both the a large organized crime operation. This happens when a drug kingpin named Douvier (Robert Webber) makes several attempts on his life in an effort to show his associates that he is still a force to be reckoned with. Fortunately for Clouseau, a case of mistaken identity convinces those who are after him that he is dead, so he is able to go under undercover in an attempt to capture those responsible for trying to take him out. This time out, Clouseau also brings reinforcements along, in the form of Kato (Burt Kwouk) and Douvier’s former mistress, Simone Legree (Dyan Cannon), both of whom prove to be instrumental in helping him solve the case. Rounding out the cast are Paul Stewart and the awesome Robert Loggia, both of whom turn in legitimate performances as notorious mafiosos.
As a film, Revenge of the Pink Panther is solid, but not quite on par with the films in the series that preceded it (not counting the one with Alan Arkin, of course!). Part of it may be that the Revenge had the unenviable task of following up The Pink Panther Strikes Again, which is probably the funniest film in the series. The other part is the film is structured in an uneven manner, as sequences showing the criminals plotting slow the film down considerably, until Peter Sellers reappears to fire things up again.
Another problem is that the plot is quite thin – basically Blake Edwards serves up just enough of a story to put Clouseau in situations that will allow Peter Sellers to exhibit his prowess as a comedian. In and of itself, there is nothing wrong with that, and watching one of the masters of farcical cinema work makes this film worth watching despite its mundane plot. It certainly doesn’t hurt that there are some classic set pieces in this film, including Sellers disguising himself as a pirate, complete with an inflatable parrot on his shoulder, and Clouseau trying on disguises provided by Dr. Auguste Balls (Graham Stark). Once again, Herbert Lom also deserves a nod, for Dreyfus’ eulogy for the supposedly deceased Chief Inspector Clouseau is one of the series’ most memorable moments!
To sum it up, though it is somewhat uneven, Blake Edwards’ Revenge Of The Pink Panther generates enough laughs to be considered an above average comedy, and the movie’s slapstick finale does the other capstone sequences in the series proud!
DISC FIVE – TRAIL OF THE PINK PANTHER
Running Time: 97 Minutes
The Trail of the Pink Panther was a wretched, and undoubtedly financially motivated, effort to keep the Panther franchise alive after it had lost its star. Chiefly pasted together of outtakes from the previous films, this train wreck is only remotely funny whenever Peter Sellers is on-screen, and the only reason to see it is to watch one of the best physical comedians ever caught on camera work his magic in unseen set pieces. Sometimes, however, there is a reason why material is cut from films…but make of that what you will!
Obviously, outtakes by themselves cannot tell a story, so Blake Edwards crafted a wafer-thin storyline to try and justify marketing Trail of the Pink Panther as a film. It seems that the famous “Pink Panther” diamond has vanished again, and Clouseau had once again been tasked with its recovery. Unfortunately, the Inspector’s plane disappears while he is making for Lugash, where the jewel was being stored.
After his plane disappears, television reporter Marie Jouvet (Joanna Lumley) follows Clouseau’s trail, to determine if there is any chance he will turn up alive, or if after the many attempts on his life it was an accident that claimed him. In the process of her investigation, Clouseau’s acquaintances (friends, family, and even enemies) are interviewed, and the film really becomes more of a tribute to Peter Sellers than an actual movie.
Unfortunately, this cinematic “beumb” (as Clouseau would say) was not the final nail in the series’ coffin. It should have been…but at least we get one last glimpse of the great Peter Sellers in his most famous role so it is not a total loss.
DISC SIX – BONUS MATERIALS
The bonus materials available on Disc Six will be described in detail below.
SO, HOW DOES IT LOOK?
The Pink Panther films have been given a complete visual overhaul (i.e. new anamorphic transfers) by MGM, and the results are nothing short of remarkable! The consistency in appearance among the five Panther installments that comprise the set was particularly amazing.
In all honesty, there are surprisingly few instances where specks or print damage are evident, and the images are spectacularly clean and sharp overall. Though they show their age a bit, colors are also rendered precisely for the most part, with no bleeding or dot crawl, which really showcases the vibrant color palettes and lovely cinematography of these films, especially The Pink Panther and A Shot in the Dark.
Film grain and edge enhancement are also negligible, and never served to distract from any of the five pictures in the set. Further, black levels are deep and defined throughout, without any apparent low-level noise, and shadow delineation is very good, allowing visual details to be readily apparent even in darkened interiors. Fine detail was also much better than I expected it to be on these films, often extending well into the background of scenes.
To sum it up, the Pink Panther films look smashing, especially considering the age of some of the source material! After watching these films, I cannot imagine fans will be anything but tickled pink (sorry, I couldn’t help it) with this set’s image quality. The original Pink Panther[/i] was particularly stunning, and some scenes almost look as if they could have been shot yesterday! Really and truly, these films have never looked better on home video. Thank you MGM!
WHAT IS THAT NOISE?
Like the visuals, the audio tracks for the five Panther films included have been re-tooled for this Special Edition Film Collection, and are now offered in 5.1 channel Dolby Digital. Obviously, if one were to compare these mixes to the multi-channel mixes of today, the Panther remixes would sound decidedly inferior, due to the age of the source material and the technological limitations of the recording equipment used at the time. However, when listening with a more open frame of mind, the new surround mixes make the five films included sound much better than they ever have on any home video format.
For instance, dialogue is well balanced and easily discernable at all times throughout all five films, and there is no noticeable hissing, sibilance, or distortion unless characters are speaking/yelling at really loud volumes. Henry Mancini's marvelous and memorable score is also delivered very nicely, although the brass section does sound a little bright during louder passages.
I can’t imagine that anyone would be looking for aggressive surround channel use from these films, so I was not surprised that the rears were used sparingly. To be more specific, like most up-mixed soundtracks, the rears present the occasional sound effect or reinforce Mancini’s score; otherwise there is a minimal amount of ambience provided by these channels. By and large, despite being Dolby 5.1, they are very front-loaded mixes, although the soundstage does sound quite a bit more open than their previous DVD incarnations. In addition, the subwoofer awakens to provide some welcome punch to the explosions, gunshots, and the damage Clouseau frequently inflicts on both himself and others throughout the five films.
Overall, these remixes are not standouts by current standards, but they do help the source material breathe a little more, and reproduce these films’ audio information in the most pleasant way I have heard yet on home video! Again, considering the age of the source material, it would probably be unreasonable to expect too much better!
I realize that Blake Edwards is in his 80s, and I admire his effort to provide a new commentary for The Pink Panther, so I am not going to be too hard on the man. However, with all due respect to Mr. Edwards, his audio commentary was much too subdued for my liking, and a lot less informative than I was expecting it to be. There are also a great many dead spots, especially towards the end of the film, where Blake is hardly speaking at all.
Further, much of the information Edwards offers (about the origins of the film, and the cast) is adequately covered in the “Pink Panther Story”. The rest of the commentary is largely confined to covering the variety of projects that his cast and crew had worked on during their careers. To be sure, it is admirable that Edwards wants to pay these talented people homage, but I would imagine that most of us would be much more interested in hearing his thoughts about the story, the characters, and what was happening during the production of The Pink Panther.
On the whole, I suppose this is a decent enough commentary, but I cannot imagine that it will hold the interest of more casual fans of the series.
The trivia track, which consists of text boxes laid on top of the main feature, is brimming with insightful details on the cast, the film, and even the evolution of the animated character (who has sadly been resigned to doing insulation ads in recent years). Quite simply, there is a lot of interesting information available on this track, so much that it may be worthwhile to watch it several times in order to soak it all up.
Shots in the Dark – Photo Gallery
This extra features a wealth of black-and-white stills, divided up into sections of the cast and crew.
The original theatrical trailer for The Pink Panther is included.
DISCS TWO – FIVE:
Shots in the Dark – Photo Galleries
Each disc features an extensive offering of black-and-white production photos.
The original theatrical trailers for: A Shot in the Dark, Revenge of the Pink Panther, The Pink Panther Strikes Again, and Trail of the Pink Panther are included on their respective discs.
DISC SIX – BONUS FEATURES:
The Pink Panther Story
The “Pink Panther Story”, which runs for nearly 29-minutes, takes a retrospective look at the series, and how it came to be, via a collection of excerpts from interviews with Blake Edwards, other members of the crew, and studio big shots. These individuals thoughtfully reflect back on the days when the large movie studios were on the verge of collapse, and how the participation of smaller film financiers helped the film business to stay afloat. Mr. Edwards also gives viewers a brief overview of how his career took off.
The rocky relationship between Blake Edwards and Peter Sellers is also discussed, including Sellers’ reluctance to reprise his most famous role for Panther follow-ups. Casual fans will also be delighted to learn about the origins of the series, and the chance happenings that affected the casting process for The Pink Panther. There is also a bit of information on the bedrock of the series – Mr. Peter Sellers, including some of the changes he made to the Clouseau character as the films progressed.
This featurette is probably not long enough to treat with all of these topics in the amount of detail most fans (like me) of the series would like. Further, some things, like the controversial nature of Trail of the Pink Panther, are hardly treated with at all. Still, however, this featurette offers an interesting overview at the genesis of the famous franchise.
Behind the Feline
The “Behind The Feline” featurette, which runs about 10-minutes long, is an entertaining look at the origins of arguably the most famous animated cat ever created (Sylvester and Felx deserve serious consideration, of course). Animator David De-Patie discusses how he and partner Friz Freleng (Looney Tunes) were approached by Blake Edwards to create the Pink Panther character, and how the character was only to appear over the credits of The Pink Panther. He also reveals that over one hundred variations on the cool cat were drawn up for Mr. Edwards to examine before the final selection was made!
Much like the Clouseau character, however, the animated Panther became enormously popular. As such, Edwards and the team of De-Patie/Freling thought that the character could become a big star if he was given the chance to appear in animated shorts. After 156 episodes, I think time has proven them right, in addition to making them a whole lot of money! Indeed, the cool cat strolled away with an Academy Award® for the “Pink Phink”, which was his very first short!
Six original animated shorts, which provide almost 39 exquisite minutes of Pink Panther cartoon goodness , are included. The specific cartoons included are:
--- “The Pink Phink” (Oscar® Winner!) - 6 Minutes, 46 Seconds
--- “Pink, Plunk, Plink” - 6 Minutes, 20 Seconds
--- “Psychedlic Pink” - 6 Minutes, 14 Seconds
--- “Pinkfinger” - 6 Minutes, 7 Seconds
--- “The Great DeGaulle Stone Operation” - 6 Minutes, 12 Seconds
--- “The Ant and the Aardvark” - 7 Minutes
(on a five-point scale)
THE LAST WORD
For the Pink Panther Film Collection, MGM has compiled five of the six Panther adventures featuring Peter Sellers as Inspector Jacques Clouseau. Unfortunately, Return of the Pink Panther is tied up in a battle over distribution rights, so it was left out, but this set still features some of the best the franchise has to offer.
Unfortunately, though this set carries the moniker of “Special Edition” it is rather light on supplemental materials (but personally, the inclusion of cartoon shorts really does it for me! ), especially when one considers what those in Region 2 are getting! After I began working this set over, I misplaced my press release, so I did a quick check online to verify the release date, and discovered that the Region 2 set contains at least three more featurettes, including one on Peter Sellers! While I prefer the “patent leather” packaging for Region 1, I would gladly have traded it for the inclusion of the extra documentaries.
Still, from a technical standpoint, the new transfers and 5.1 tracks are vast improvements over the previous DVD incarnations of these films, so if you were considering picking this set up, I think you will be very pleased with the treatment of the films themselves. Indeed, I have seen very few films from the 1960s or 1970s that look as breathtaking as the films in this set do! On this basis, even though the extras are on the light side (except for those six magnificent cartoons!!! ), I am recommending the Pink Panther Film Collection! However, if you have a region-free DVD player, you may want to look into the Region 2 set a little more. Recommended!!!