Release Date(s)1963-1982 (June 27, 2017)
Studio(s)United Artists (Shout! Factory)
- Video Grade: See Below
- Audio Grade: See Below
- Extras Grade: B+
- Overall Grade: B+
“I think a lot of my comedy can be compared to blind-siding, which is a football term,” Blake Edwards observed in 1982. “A quarterback will be looking to throw a pass downfield when all of a sudden, he’ll get nailed by a tackler he hasn’t seen. Suddenly, he’s wiped out, and that’s my job – to sort of blind-side people in order to shake them up and make them think. I prefer to do it in the comedic arena, because it makes it more palatable and easier to digest. When you deliver a message very heavily, it becomes preachy and too many people just lock up. I much prefer to deliver a sermon through laughter.” In that respect, Edwards was a high priest. The writer-director-farceur had a knack for making low comedy into high art. Though his storied career also encompassed suspenseful thrillers (Experiment in Terror), searing domestic dramas (Days of Wine and Roses), biting satires (S.O.B.) and romantic flights of fancy (Breakfast at Tiffany’s), Edwards may best be remembered for the series of laugh-at-any-cost films which teamed him with a chameleonic actor, a versatile composer, a much-coveted diamond, and a charismatic cartoon cat.
Edwards’ 1963 motion picture The Pink Panther launched a series that would eventually comprise eight films from the director through 1987, plus three related films. Shout! Factory’s Shout Select imprint has recently brought Edwards’ six original Pink Panther movies, all starring the inimitable Peter Sellers as Inspector Jacques Clouseau and featuring original scores by Henry Mancini, to Blu-ray in a mostly splendid six-disc package, Blake Edwards’ The Pink Panther Film Collection Starring Peter Sellers. Four of the films make their Blu-ray debut, two appear in new 4K scans, and a host of new bonus material has been added to all six discs (including five commentaries and multiple featurettes).
The Pink Panther took its name from the valuable diamond at the center of the story; it’s recounted that when one looks at the diamond, he will see an image of a pink panther. Much of its success was a happy accident. Peter Sellers had replaced another distinguished British thespian, Peter Ustinov, when Ustinov clashed with Edwards over his role. The part of a police inspector was a small one, intended to play off the top-billed David Niven as Sir Charles Lytton, the notorious jewel thief known as The Phantom. But Sellers created one of the screen’s most indelible personages when he brought The Phantom’s pursuer, Inspector Clouseau, to life with complete confidence in – and in spite of – his buffoonish nature. Co-written by Edwards and Maurice Richlin and boasting beautiful location shooting in Italy and France, as well as the alluring presences of Capucine and Claudia Cardinale, the globetrotting comedy introduced another enduring character – the titular cool cat himself. The animated title sequence conceived by legendary Warner Bros. animation director Friz Freleng and animator Hawley Pratt for DePatie-Freleng Enterprises made a star of the slinky feline, aided in no small part by the sinuous, jazz-inflected theme of Henry Mancini as played on tenor saxophone by Plas Johnson. The cartoon Pink Panther’s opening sequences would become as vivid a part of the series as the portrayal of Sellers and the music of Mancini.
The Pink Panther’s enormous success led the producers of A Shot in the Dark, an in-development film mystery based on the American adaptation of a French stage play, to enlist Edwards and Sellers to make over their movie. The script was reshaped to place Clouseau at its center, and the director and actor used the opportunity to further define the Pink Panther mythos (though the cartoon panther and the diamond were both absent). In Shot (1964), also starring Elke Sommer and George Sanders, Sellers solidified Clouseau’s hopelessly, and hilariously, over-the-top French accent, not to mention the good inspector’s penchant for equally absurd disguises. Herbert Lom joined the cast as Chief Inspector Dreyfus, whom Clouseau literally drives crazy. Burt Kwouk made his first appearance, too, as Clouseau’s dedicated valet Cato, always ready to unexpectedly attack his boss at his own request. In place of The Pink Panther, an animated Clouseau accompanied Henry Mancini’s theme music over the opening credits. Edwards, co-writer of the script with future Exorcist scribe William Peter Blatty, escalated the slapstick gags and outrageous set pieces (such as a romp in a nudist camp) to a new level. It’s no wonder that A Shot in the Dark is often considered the finest entry in the series.
Yet, the series didn’t immediately continue, even as the animated versions of The Pink Panther and The Inspector thrived. Edwards and Sellers turned their attention to an exercise in improvised chaos, The Party, and the Mirisch Company producers enlisted director Bud Yorkin, screenwriters Frank and Tom Waldman, and star Alan Arkin for 1968’s Inspector Clouseau. Despite their best efforts, the comedy was ill-fated. (Though not included in this set, Inspector Clouseau has been newly released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber.) It wasn’t until 1975 that Edwards and Sellers returned their greatest creation to the screen.
With each successive release, The Return of The Pink Panther (1975), The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976) and Revenge of the Pink Panther (1978) upped the comic ante. One of the strongest entries in the series, Return picked up where its predecessors left off. The Pink Panther jewel was back, along with The Phantom, portrayed in this outing by the esteemed Christopher Plummer in the place of David Niven. The physical comedy stakes were higher than ever, and Return set the stage for the larger-scale hijinks of Strikes Again, with Clouseau facing off against his greatest nemesis yet: Chief Inspector Dreyfus, driven to insanity and hell-bent on destroying the world… unless he can capture the hapless Clouseau. (Among the film’s treats: a special vocal cameo from Mrs. Blake Edwards, a.k.a. Julie Andrews.) Revenge of the Pink Panther, in which the world at large foolishly believes now-Chief Inspector Clouseau is dead, became the biggest earner in the series, but it sadly marked Peter Sellers’ final appearance as his famous character. Already in declining health during its filming, Sellers died in 1980, aged just 54.
Prior to Sellers’ death, with his always-fractious relationship with Edwards seeming to be permanently strained, the actor began work on a screenplay of his own to be entitled Romance of the Pink Panther. A 1978 article in The Hollywood Reporter indicated that Sidney Poitier had been attached to direct. With Sellers gone, however, United Artists turned to (who else?) Blake Edwards to keep the franchise alive. The result was the final movie in the new Shout! collection, Trail of the Pink Panther (1982). The director paid warm homage to his old friend by shaping the film around flashbacks and outtakes of Sellers from past Panther films, but the results were unsurprisingly uneven. Two more films followed – immediately, Curse of the Pink Panther (1983) starring Ted Wass as Clouseau’s spiritual successor, inept detective Clifton Sleigh, and later, Son of the Pink Panther (1993), with Roberto Benigni playing Clouseau’s illegitimate son opposite a cast of Panther all-stars including Herbert Lom, Burt Kwouk, Claudia Cardinale, and Graham Stark. Son of the Pink Panther turned out to be the final film for both Blake Edwards, who died in 2010, and his longtime musical partner-in-crime Henry Mancini, who died in 1994. Both Curse and Son are, like Inspector Clouseau, now available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber; all three releases have a complement of special features similar to those in this set.
Film Collection is modestly but attractively packaged in a slipcased, standard-sized Blu-ray case – a far cry from the lavish proportions of 2008’s Ultimate Collection DVD box set (which lacked Return of the Pink Panther but added Inspector Clouseau, Curse, Son, and the 2006 Pink Panther remake as well as eight discs of related cartoons). Happily, the small size is in no way reflective of the bounty of special features contained on each disc, many of which are newly-created for this set. In addition to plentiful trailers, teasers, TV spots, and still photo galleries, all six films boast commentaries (from the late Blake Edwards’ original Pink Panther commentary to new ones by Jason Simos of The Peter Sellers Appreciation Society and historian William Patrick Maynard) and all but the final two films in the box have new featurettes. A 28-page full color booklet is a terrific read thanks to animation historian Jerry Beck’s lengthy, new essay.
The Pink Panther carries over the features from the 2009 edition including the Edwards commentary track; it adds a new, 11-minute interview with leading lady Claudia Cardinale (spoken in French but subtitled in English) in which she illuminates the contrast between Peter Sellers’ onscreen and offscreen personas. A Shot in the Dark adds a lengthy, 23-minute interview with 95-year old producer Walter Mirisch, who recalls the origin of the Pink Panther movies as inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief. He also fascinatingly recounts the “troubled relationship” of Edwards and Sellers (“two strong-willed people”) from the start, and of how Sellers’ “secondary character took over the whole picture.” Seven minutes are excerpted from an episode of The Dick Cavett Show in which Edwards and wife Julie Andrews introduce outtakes from A Shot in the Dark. (If only the entire episode had been included!) Sellers’ mastery at physical comedy and mangled linguistics make these outtakes completely delightful. Among the almost ten minutes of trailers is a quirky animated spot with Mel Blanc as the voice of a talking bullet.
Interviews with star Catherine Schell and production designer Peter Mullins are the chief attractions on Return of the Pink Panther. Schell, for over 20 minutes, shares memories of warm laughs on the set with Sellers and their friend David Lodge, as well as of the kindness of Blake Edwards to cast and crew. Mullins, who designed six Panther films, likewise offers a unique perspective in his 28-minute interview. The Pink Panther Strikes Again similarly has featurettes with one star (Lesley-Anne Down, 21 minutes) and one behind-the-scenes talent (editor Alan Jones, 25 minutes). Down candidly offers her take on the film and insights into her relationship with Sellers, while Jones reflects with clear fondness on his frequent collaborator Edwards. Both Return and Strikes Again include period “Making Of” featurettes, which are worthwhile inclusions but are marred by truly poor audio presentations.
Video quality is variable from disc to disc. The Pink Panther appears to utilize the same, or virtually the same, transfer as the 2009 MGM release – which, other than some slight image “squeezing” issues, was generally fine then, and remains so now. Best of all are the new 4K transfers of A Shot in the Dark and The Pink Panther Strikes Again, with very little print damage in evidence, and sharp, detailed colors throughout. Return of the Pink Panther isn’t a new restoration, but looks better than its past iterations on DVD and the U.K. BD, if still largely unspectacular. Revenge of the Pink Panther and Trail of the Pink Panther are more than solid in their Blu-ray debuts.
Each film other than Return of the Pink Panther has three audio options: DTS-HD 5.1 Surround, 2.0 Stereo, and 2.0 Mono. Return only has a DTS-HD 2.0 mono track. All six films have optional English subtitles. Audio is strong, crisp and clean throughout for both dialogue and Henry Mancini’s distinctive, melodic scores. Note that the stereo and mono mixes of The Pink Panther Strikes Again appear to have a slightly lower pitch than the surround mix, making for an odd comparison if one were to switch between the audio presentations.
The Pink Panther films remain comedy crown jewels, largely thanks to the imperfectly perfect (or perfectly imperfect?) marriage of director and actor. Blake Edwards’ The Pink Panther Film Collection Starring Peter Sellers is a riotously entertaining romp through six of the zaniest capers ever lensed. There’s never been a better time to think pink.
The Pink Panther (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO/EXTRAS): A-/B+/B+/A
A Shot in the Dark (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO/EXTRAS): A/B+/B+/B
The Return of the Pink Panther (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO/EXTRAS): A-/B/B-/B+
The Pink Panther Strikes Again (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO/EXTRAS): B/B/B+/B+
Revenge of the Pink Panther (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO/EXTRAS): B-/B+/B+/B-
Trail of the Pink Panther (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO/EXTRAS): C+/B-/B/B-
- Joe Marchese