Sunday, August 12, 2007

So Obvious It Could Not Possibly Be A Trap

“These are not normal times, Cato. Someone has just tried to kill me.”
“That’s normal.”

Look, we’re just going to have to accept it. There is no decent explanation for why, in REVENGE OF THE PINK PANTHER, Chief Inspector Dreyfus is suddenly alive and well after presumably being disintegrated by the Doomsday Machine at the end of the last film. In addition, there’s no way to account for the fact that the character essentially became a terrorist in that film and yet this time around is fully ready to once again assume his duties as Chief Inspector of the Sortie. Looking for any sort of logic in all this is futile. Saying this is a prequel to STRIKES AGAIN doesn’t work. The thought that STRIKES AGAIN was simply an insanity-fueled hallucination for Dreyfus after the opening scene is amusing, but weak. Don’t worry about it. Don’t try to figure it out. Just look at it as one of those eternal mysteries that will never be solved, like Amelia Earhart, the Kennedy assassination and Chuck Cunningham.

In some ways THE PINK PANTHER STRIKES AGAIN was the ultimate statement by Blake Edwards and Peter Sellers on the character of Inspector Clouseau. But the film was so huge it’s no surprise that another sequel was made. It’s just not very clear that they had anything really left to say about the character. That the film is as funny as it is remains a testament to their talents, but there is a slight feeling of diminishing returns happening here.

The all-over-the-place feel the last film had seems to have affected the approach to REVENGE OF THE PINK PANTHER. Instead, the plot and tone are pretty straight-on, with very little in the way of side vignettes. Whether a lot of extra footage was shot, I really don’t know, but it doesn’t feel that way. The visit to Auguste Balls, an excised scene from STRIKES AGAIN that plays like an isolated sketch, is here integrated into the plot by having a bomb meant for Clouseau show up at the door. Scenes pretty readily flow from one to the other throughout. It’s more of an apparent attempt at a self-contained narrative, but it’s hardly perfect storytelling.

Wealthy businessman-mobster Douvier (Robert Webber) is encountering resistance from New York in regards to an upcoming drug transaction. In response to this he decides to have Inspector Clouseau assassinated, proving that he is “still strong”. After several botched attempts, it’s believed that Douvier has succeeded and the world thinks that Clouseau is dead. Of course, it’s all a mistake and Clouseau, very much alive, cannot convince anyone that he is who he says he is. In the wake of all this, Douvier is forced by his wife to dump his secretary/mistress Simone (Dyan Cannon) and immediately becomes worried that she will reveal everything she knows. Eventually, Clouseau reconnects with Cato and decides to let the world continue to think he is dead so he can uncover the culprits. Dreyfus, meanwhile, is magically cured at hearing of Clouseau’s demise and is ready to return to his old job, unaware that Clouseau just may be behind the next door he opens.

A good idea for a plot, but certainly on a smaller scale than the world events depicted in the previous film. Much of what happens also isn’t all that credible, even on a farcical level. One would think that when Clouseau can’t convince the cops that he is who he says he is that things could just be cleared up with a few phone calls. Of course, I’ll admit to not knowing much about French law enforcement procedures of the 70’s. Cato also seems to transform Clouseau’s apartment in a magically brief amount of time. In addition, there’s a surprising number of coincidences that occur in the course of the film, events that stretch credibility to the breaking point, but things move so fast it’s easy to not really notice this.

The portrayal of Clouseau feels somewhat different this time and I wonder if this lack of consistency has to do with what was apparently the declining relationship between Edwards and Sellers. Clouseau spends more time in costume here than ever before, but there are various points in the film where, accent aside, he seems to be playing it weirdly straight and not at all like an imbecile. Interestingly, this is the second straight film where Clouseau finds himself befuddled by a man dressed up as a woman—last time it was the butler Jarvis leading his second life as a nightclub singer, this time around it’s the transvestite thief Claude Russo (THE IPCRESS FILE's Sue Lloyd) who forces Clouseau to switch clothes and steals his car, setting off the entire plot in the first place. Edwards would of course further explore the issues of male-female confusion in other films he would make.

I like Dyan Cannon here, but it’s a rather odd female lead in terms of likeability. She’s knowingly having an affair with a crime boss, being very much aware of his plot to assassinate Clouseau and when he tries to break it off she suggests he off his wife and her attorney. The movie never passes judgment on her for this and she teams up with Clouseau without any real thought about which side of the law she’s on. Blake Edwards did display points of view about some of his characters in various films, but the plot here moves so fast that there’s never any time for that.

Cannon does, however get to play a one-on-one with Sellers in what might be my favorite sequence in the film, but an unusually quiet one. Thinking Clouseau has saved her life, she leads him home through the rain away from the killers. After turning on some Mancini (making her a girl after my own heart, even if she does condone murdering policemen) and giving him a drink they play a very interesting scene where each learns who the other is. It’s a different sort of straight person than Clouseau has had for several film—that of a perfectly reasonable person who doesn’t get comically flustered and it takes her several minutes before discovering there is something unusual about the person she’s talking to. Watching this scene several times I also realize that Cannon spends much of it holding brandy glasses in both hands, much as Dudley Moore would do in a sequence a year later in “10”. There’s no greater point to make from this except that I would imagine it to be an Edwards touch, having noticed that the unusual site of a person holding two brandy glasses for several minutes is automatically funny.

The film moves to Hong Kong for the third act and what Graham Stark wrote in his book “Remembering Peter Sellers” may shed some light about plotting choices for the film. Shortly after the production arrived, a torrential thunderstorm began and was not expected to let up. Faced with the prospect of not being able to film, Edwards mused, “Anyone know if it’s raining in Rio?” Several hours went by with frantic phone calls to investigate this, but it eventually cleared up and filming continued. What I’m saying here is that while REVENGE OF THE PINK PANTHER has some very funny things in it, it’s clearly not a case of a plot that couldn’t be tampered with. Not everything works—Clouseau disguised as a Swedish sea matey doesn’t do much for me and Clouseau’s suggestions to “think yellow” as he is in disguised while in Hong Kong don’t play so well these days. But there are moments, such as the perfect split-second timing when Clouseau falls a second time through the hole in the floor that Cato has cut out for him, where we’re easily reminded that this film was made by comedy masters who very much knew what they were doing.

Cannon, Lom and Webber all do good work. The secondary role is a bit of a comedown for Lom after the last film but he certainly makes the most of being forced to deliever Clouseau’s eulogy. Stark, who was apparently present for the Hong Kong shoot for reasons he never determined, appears as Dr. Auguste Balls, master disguise maker. André Maranne plays Francois once again and Burt Kwouk as Kato has his biggest role in the series, getting to assist Clouseau as he goes undercover and off to Hong Kong. He’s very funny as he plays several scenes with glasses that he can’t see a thing through. Robert Loggia has his first role in the series, Adrienne Corri (Mrs. Alexander in the most famous scene from A CLOCKWORK ORANGE) appears briefly as Douvier’s wife and Valerie Leon (BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB, but also opposite two James Bonds in THE SPY WHO LOVED ME and NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN) is Tanya the Lotus Eater. Herb Tanney appears again, this time as the Hong Kong Police Chief. He was supposed to be billed as, so help me, “Soo Fong Tanney”, but an error left him off the end crawl.

Some of Henry Mancini’s source tracks from this film are favorites of mine. I won’t go as far as to say that it’s one of his best scores, but these various pieces definitely make some of the album an ideal listening experience, particularly “Simone” and “After the Shower.” The main title theme is discoed up this time around and has an infectious feel to it that makes it maybe my favorite variant on the classic original.

REVENGE OF THE PINK PANTHER concludes on a quiet street in a scene with Clouseau and Cannon’s Simone that interestingly recalls the end of THE PARTY. In both cases they end with scenes that seem to resist having a “final gag” and for the first time ever in a Clouseau film with Cato, the manservant doesn’t interrupt his boss for one final attack. Whatever the personal relationship between Sellers and Edwards at this point, maybe the two men felt that this scene marked a conclusion for the Clouseau character and that he deserved a chance to walk away in a moment of normalcy. That turned out not to be the case, but it’s a nice thought.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I agree that there is no continuity with this film and others in the series and to seek it is futile, however, it does share another parallel with 'The Party', other than the one you mention, in that it employs so much slap stick comedy genius.

I watched it again this evening and nearly had lockjaw due to outbursts of uncontrollable laughter (I was going to show it next week when I'm on holiday over the projector but am worried my cramped laughing face may single me out as a nut).

It's a pleasure to watch and despite bending towards an eighties style the humour is totally infectious!

The Panther collection has just pipped my wash-bag at the post in my travel list of most essential items!