When the Pink Panther diamond goes missing, clumsy detective Inspector Clouseau (Peter Sellers) tries to track it down.
Watching this in 2017 it’s very hard to see why it’s so renowned. It’s not that the physical humour is dated, it’s that it’s badly done. What makes great slapstick is the element of surprise, with elaborately constructed jokes and often impressive stunts. That’s true of all the best slapstick, from Keaton and Chaplin through to Spencer and Bean. It’s not just a character walking into something or falling over at every opportunity, like The Pink Panther.
It’s really an exaggeration to call it a comedy, as that’s the only joke in it. It’s just a seriously played, second-rate crime movie with an idiot tripping over his own briefcase. Even the occasional well-constructed scenes ultimately don’t work. In one such sequence two characters in identical gorilla costumes attempt to raid the same safe, but its carefully built-up comic tension ultimately fizzles to a disappointing anti-climax.
It has an oddly sombre town, exacerbated by the sound of a room which is void of laughter. I kept waiting for the jokes to start, and for Sellers to do something to live up to his reputation. Unfortunately I was disappointed, for these moments never came. Contrary to popular belief, the standout performance turns out to be not Sellers, with his non-specific accent, but Capucine as his duplicitous wife.
The best things to come from this are the theme music (the coolest ever written) and the animated Pink Panther, which later earned its own, vastly superior and far more original, TV series. Unfortunately the people behind this film didn’t have a Clouseau.