Who doesn't know about the Pink Panther, or to be more specific, about the hapless Inspector Clouseau, the most memorable character ever portrayed by the gifted comic actor Peter Sellers? The character has been a perennial film favorite, launching a franchise of films that continued even after Sellers' death, as well as spinning off a series of cartoon shorts with the actual Pink Panther as its protagonist. But despite the Pink Panther's place in popular culture, there hasn't been a definitive collection of these films on DVD. MGM's The Pink Panther Collection is not, in fact, truly complete, but it certainly goes a long way toward satisfying viewers who have been waiting a long time for the Pink Panther films to get a really respectable treatment on DVD.
The Pink Panther Collection includes five films: The Pink Panther (1963), A Shot in the Dark (1964), The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976), Revenge of the Pink Panther (1978), and Trail of the Pink Panther (1982). Notable in its absence, unfortunately, is the film that's widely regarded as the best Pink Panther film of them all: the third installment, 1975's The Return of the Pink Panther. It's missing because MGM did not hold the rights to the film, not because someone chose to deliberately leave it out, but it's still a shame that The Pink Panther Collection is missing the crown jewel of the series.
In the interest of completeness, I'll note that the later films (1983's Curse of the Pink Panther and 1993's Son of the Pink Panther) are also omitted, and for good reason, as they are post-Sellers and clearly just attempts to keep the franchise going.
One thing to keep in mind when watching this set is that the films work best when they're not watched immediately one after the other. As I comment about several specific titles, there's a considerable amount of recycled material cropping up in the Pink Panther films; if you spread the viewing out there's a better chance of the humor feeling fresher in the later films.
The Pink Panther
It's interesting to look at The Pink Panther from the perspective of its place in the series of Pink Panther films, because while it has the key element to the success of the films – Peter Sellers as the hapless Inspector Clouseau – it also clearly doesn't realize that this is the key element. Sellers has almost a secondary role of supplying comic relief to the primary story, which is the criminal/romantic caper starring David Niven and Capucine.
The Pink Panther is a bit of an uneven film, one that can easily be broken down into discrete scenes or blocks of scenes, some of which work wonderfully and others of which drag along. After an opening series of scenes that sets the film going at a snappy pace, the middle portion of the film tends to sag a bit, as the focus shifts away from Clouseau to the relationships among the criminals. Fortunately, there are several stand-out comedic scenes in the middle and toward the end of the film, including a brilliant scene involving Inspector Clouseau, Madame Clouseau, and a delightful whirlwind of people hiding from each other in the Clouseaus' hotel room. It's beautifully timed and extremely funny, and it particularly stands out after the bland material that preceded it.
I've occasionally commented that I don't care for physical or "slapstick" comedy. Watching Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau here makes me realize that in fact, it's just bad slapstick that I dislike... Sellers' performance is a crystal-clear reminder that good physical comedy can be laugh-out-loud funny. What makes it work, I think, is that Sellers has brilliant comic timing and a firm grasp of the deadpan style that balances the silliness of his character. The fact that he always stays in character, and never plays to the audience, makes Clouseau's fumbling all the funnier. After watching the later Pink Panther movies in the set, I think it's this deadpan style, and the generally "realistic" approach taken in the other actors' performances, that makes the humor work so well here; in the later films, the slide toward broader humor and pure slapstick comedy takes Clouseau away from the peak of his comic appeal.
And, of course, one of the most charming parts of the film – and who would have guessed that this would take on a life of its own? – is the opening credit sequence, featuring the animated Pink Panther.
A Shot in the Dark
The second Pink Panther film (and the only one without the Pink Panther in the title) shows that Blake Edwards figured out what the best parts of The Pink Panther were. Here the focus is entirely on the bumbling Inspector Clouseau, who is accidentally assigned to a case that turns out to be high-profile: a murder in the house of a wealthy citizen. There seems to be only one suspect: Maria, who is found standing over the body with a smoking gun in her hand (and a clear motive), but the smitten Clouseau is convinced she's innocent. Of course, his boss would like nothing better than to toss him and his theory out the window, but there's always the nagging doubt... what if he's right? So we get to see Clouseau run his investigation by, shall we say, rather unorthodox methods, with, shall we say, slightly different than anticipated results.
Not surprisingly, the first film's Mrs. Clouseau is conveniently forgotten, but we are introduced to a few more secondary characters: Kato, Clouseau's karate-chop-throwing valet; Clouseau's assistant, the amusingly named Hercule; and Dreyfus, Clouseau's superior, pushed to his limits and beyond by the strain of dealing with Clouseau's idiocy. All the characters are presented in the same just-barely-over-the-top style, which ends up working quite well. (The disappearance of Madame Clouseau is actually more incidental than deliberate: A Shot in the Dark is an adaptation of a stage play, and wasn't originally related in any way to The Pink Panther until Blake Edwards decided that the character of Inspector Clouseau would work well as the protagonist. And the rest is film history.)
The opening scene is surprisingly poorly done, but fortunately it's not typical of the film as a whole. The film opens with a long scene with various people sneaking around from room to room in large house, which in itself is a fine opening, except that it drags on long enough that you might start thinking that you're supposed to actually know who these people are, or to keep track of what they're doing. It probably does make the film more entertaining if you manage to retain some of this, but at least it's not at all necessary to enjoy the story. Just about when I was losing my patience with the scene, the film cuts to the amusing animated (but panther-free) opening credits, and from then on the story moves smoothly onward.
All in all, A Shot in the Dark is a better film than The Pink Panther. It's more evenly paced, and the comedic focus stays clear throughout the film, giving Sellers ample room to expand the character of Clouseau. Though it doesn't have the moments of pure comic brilliance that shine through The Pink Panther, the humor in A Shot in the Dark is more consistent, and certainly has quite a few very amusing moments.
The Pink Panther Strikes Again
The fourth installment in the Pink Panther series (after skipping over The Return of the Pink Panther, which isn't included in this set), The Pink Panther Strikes Again puts Inspector Clouseau in an odd parody of a spy thriller, along the same lines as the later Austin Powers. Clouseau's old boss Chief Inspector Dreyfus, driven mad by Clouseau's incompetence, has escaped from the asylum with the mission to kill Clouseau. This mission of vengeance ends up involving a ring of master criminals and a doomsday device that could easily have been swiped from the James Bond movie set.
It's interesting to note that this is the first (but not the last) of the Pink Panther films to use the "Pink Panther" in the title, but without any connection whatsoever to the jewel by that name; in the humor as well as the title, it looks like this film is desperately reaching for the comic success of some of the earlier installments.
Two things make themselves apparent immediately. One, the humor in The Pink Panther Strikes Again has moved fully into the slapstick realm; we don't get any of the visual set-pieces, the occasional flash of verbal wit that livened up the earlier films, or the cleverly built-up absurd situations; the comedy is broader and cruder, and generally takes the form of one-shot slapstick moments. Two, a lot of the jokes are recycled from earlier Pink Panther movies. For instance, the "various attempts on Clouseau's life" is a rehash of the same sequence from A Shot in the Dark, but here it's more drawn out but also not nearly as well done. (On top of that, we get a lot of recycled jokes even within the film: just count how many times "character falls in the water" is used as a big gag.)
There are still some funny moments in The Pink Panther Strikes Again (Clouseau and the parallel bars; the first scene with Cato; Clouseau resuscitating Dreyfus; the Steinway piano incident). By and large, though, they are just that – moments – rather than funny scenes or situations. In fact, the credit sequence featuring an animated Clouseau and Pink Panther, is by far the cleverest full scene in the film. The plot itself is rather labored, and has a number of spots that don't stand up to scrutiny; for instance, the character of the Russian agent Olga feels shoe-horned in just to have the "gorgeous actress of the moment" in the film, and her ending scene with Clouseau feels blatantly like a desperate attempt to find fifteen minutes' more footage to tack onto the film. All in all, The Pink Panther Strikes again isn't exactly bad, but it's undeniably bland.
Revenge of the Pink Panther
The fifth and final film to star Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau, Revenge of the Pink Panther shows that at this point, the franchise was stumbling, lacking the clever spark that animated the earlier films. Here, a ring of drug dealers decides to get rid of Clouseau so they can proceed with their evil plans unopposed, but while an assassination attempt leaves the rest of the world convinced that Clouseau is dead, in reality he survived and must try to set things right in disguise.
One key problem with Revenge of the Pink Panther is that the story is, in a nutshell, dull. Far too much screen time is wasted on dull scenes involving a whole host of secondary characters, none of whom are interesting in their own right at all. In a bold display of disregard for continuity, Chief Inspector Dreyfus re-appears here and has a fairly significant role, but like the villains, he's given more attention than is merited. While Dreyfus offered an amusing counterpoint to Clouseau in A Shot in the Dark, here his one-note comic element, his hatred of Clouseau, soon wears thin.
What about Sellers? He makes a valiant effort to make Clouseau's scenes funny, but I think he's hampered by a script that just doesn't hit the right notes. The main joke of Revenge of the Pink Panther appears to be "Clouseau in disguise," perhaps using the theory that if one disguise (the hunchback) was funny in The Pink Panther Strikes Again, then lots of disguises will be even funnier. As we might expect, this doesn't really work out, and Revenge of the Pink Panther ends up falling flat, with no particularly effective humor.
Trail of the Pink Panther
The release date of Trail of the Pink Panther should be a tip-off that something's fishy here: 1982, two years after Peter Sellers' death. One might hope that this was a final film with Sellers that sat on a studio shelf for two years, or that it was a work-in-progress that was finished posthumously. Unfortunately, neither of those hopeful hypotheses is true. Trail of the Pink Panther is nothing more than an attempt to squeeze a little more life out of the old Panther franchise, with outtakes and deleted scenes from earlier Pink Panther movies cobbled together with new footage from the secondary actors to make what's supposed to be a complete story.
The story, such as it is, involves the theft of the Pink Panther diamond once again, and Inspector Clouseau gets onto the case... but disappears (how convenient), leaving others to try to track him down and solve the mystery. The film is decidedly unsuccessful, with a clumsy and pointless plot and very little humor. The "new" scenes with Sellers are easily recognizable as being either deleted scenes or alternate takes from earlier films. For instance, a scene in which he orders a hunchback disguise from the costume shop, and then walks home with the package and his groceries, is quite clearly a deleted scene from The Pink Panther Strikes Again. Some parts of this scene, in particular when he's struggling with the elevator, will prompt a few smiles at least, but it's not a good sign for the film when that's about as funny as it gets. Clouseau's slow-motion fight with Cato, from the same film, is also repeated here: it's a good scene, but hard to stomach knowing that it's simply recycled material.
At one hour and 37 minutes, Trail of the Pink Panther is the shortest of the films in this set, but even so it required some additional puffing. Midway through the film, the character of the investigative reporter interviews the characters of Sir Charles Lytton and Madame Clouseau (here re-characterized as Lady Lytton) prompting them to reminisce about Clouseau... at which point we get clips from The Pink Panther spliced in.
The only reason to watch Trail of the Pink Panther is if you're interested in seeing some deleted scenes and alternate takes from earlier films; approached that way, and not as an actual film, Trail may have some merit for die-hard fans. But as a movie on its own merits, it's a flop.
The Pink Panther Collection has fairly unusual packaging, for a number of reasons, but after being surprised by it, I ended up finding it quite good. The first noticeable unusual element is that the front and back of the case (which opens up like a book) are padded plastic. OK, it's distinctive in a retro kind of way, which I'm sure is the intent, but it also makes the case a little fatter on the shelf. This padded plastic case slides into a glossy cardboard slipcover.
The really distinctive thing is the packaging of the discs themselves. It's a six-DVD collection, but it only takes up three pages in the cardboard fold-out interior, because the discs are overlapped, two to a page. This is actually much more user-friendly than it sounds. The pages with the two spindles are set up so that the DVDs are on different levels, the upper one slightly higher than the lower one, so while they overlap, they don't press on each other with any force. It's necessary to remove the top DVD to get to the bottom DVD, but it's actually quite easy to do so. The spindles are appropriately grippy but not death-grip-style grippy; it's only a sample of one, but my set arrived with all six DVDs snug in their correct places. The benefit of the overlapping DVDs is that the set, overall, is much more manageable than if they'd included a larger fold-out section (I always hate how those flop around and take up so much space when they're unfolded).
If I had any say in the matter, I'd have opted for a simpler packaging style, preferably with individual keepcases or with the spindle pages bound in a book format, but as far as innovative designs go, The Pink Panther Collection is reasonably well done.
Pink Panther fans will be delighted with the transfers of these films. All are presented in their original widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratios, and all are anamorphically enhanced: just by itself, that's a distinct improvement over the individual earlier releases.
The transfers also show signs of having been carefully cleaned up and restored, because the films all look great. The image is clear and clean, with excellent detail apparent. In a few of the films, the image has a slightly soft appearance, but this appears to be a deliberate choice in the film's composition, and it looks fine. Pleasingly, edge enhancement appears to be entirely absent, as far as I could tell.
Films from the 1970s in particular tend to have issues with color (often tending to be muted or brownish), so I was particularly pleased to see that the Pink Panther films offer a natural color palette that's appropriately bright and colorful.
I was particularly pleased with the clean, bright look of The Pink Panther, The Pink Panther Strikes Again, and Revenge of the Pink Panther, which if you take into account their age, look just about perfect. A Shot in the Dark has just a touch of noise at times, and the contrast here is a little heavier than the ideal, but it still looks excellent overall. The one film that doesn't look quite as good as the others is Trail of the Pink Panther, which looks slightly faded at times (particularly in the scenes involving Sellers, probably because of the condition of the source material) and has some print flaws and a touch of grain. However, even with this in mind, it still has evidently been restored, as a glance at the condition of the trailer will show; it's just not as perfect as the others.
The credit sequences, which are always worth watching because of the animated antics that are showcased there, look just as crisp and attractive as the rest of the film.
If you start to take the image quality on any of these films for granted, just take a look at the trailers that are included for each of them: scratched, grainy, faded, noisy, and just all-around worn and ugly. MGM gets a big thumbs-up for their restoration work on these films.
Everybody can be happy with the soundtrack choices here. Audio purists can opt for the original Dolby 2.0 mono soundtracks... but most viewers will be pleased to find a remastered 5.1 soundtrack option as well. You might ask if a 5.1 soundtrack is overkill for films like these, but in any case I found the 5.1 option to sound significantly better than the original. There's not much surround usage, but it does offer a richer and more natural-sounding track overall.
I found all five films to have the same solid audio quality. Spanish and French Dolby 2.0 mono tracks are also provided, along with English, French, and Spanish subtitles, for each film.
Considering the lavish general appearance of the set and the fact that one full DVD is devoted to special features, the bonus content is not as extensive as you might expect.
The Pink Panther receives the most attention here, with an audio commentary track and a "trivia track." The audio commentary is from director Blake Edwards, and it's most likely of interest only to the most devoted Sellers/Pink Panther fans. Edwards doesn't seem very comfortable with giving the commentary, and has frequent long pauses. For the most part, he sticks to general reminiscences about the film in general and the actors who were involved. There's really not much insight into the making of the film or the decisions that he made, and no particularly interesting stories, either.
The trivia track actually offers more nuggets of behind-the-scenes information than Edwards' audio commentary. The trivia track consists of little pop-up boxes that appear on the screen to provide a snippet of text information about something related to what's happening at that moment. There are some reasonably interesting facts here, like the original casting plans for the film. The trivia boxes are handled well, appearing on different parts of the screen at different times so as not to block the focus of that particular shot. Conveniently, the trivia track can be played at the same time that the audio commentary plays. Given Edwards' many pauses, you'll have no trouble keeping up with both of them.
Each DVD also has the original theatrical trailer for the film and a photo gallery.
The remainder of the special features are on the sixth disc of the set. The first piece of bonus material is a 28-minute documentary called "The Pink Panther Story." It will be of reasonable interest for fans of the film franchise; the bulk of the interview content is with Blake Edwards, with clips also coming from writers, authors, and producers involved with the Pink Panther films. The documentary provides a general background for the creation of the films and for Blake Edwards' and Peter Sellers' involvement in them, but I didn't find it to be particularly full of insights or interesting facts.
The next section of the special features is the "Cartoon Theater," which as the title suggests focuses on the cartoon Pink Panther. An 11-minute featurette called "Behind the Feline: The Cartoon Phenomenon" traces the origin of the animated panther through interviews with the people involved in its creation. This short piece focuses mainly on the creation of the title sequences for the films, with the spin-off cartoon shorts mentioned at the end. As with the other documentary, I somehow didn't find this to be all that informative.
The remainder of the "Cartoon Theater" section is devoted to a set of the original Pink Panther cartoon shorts, running a total of about 38 minutes: "The Pink Phink," "Pink, Plunk, Pink," "Psychedelic Pink," "Pinkfinger," "The Ant and the Aardvark," and "The Great DeGaulle Stone Operation." These can be played separately, or with a "play all" feature; the image quality is quite good, offering a pleasing viewing experience. The cartoons will be fun to watch mainly for viewers who enjoyed them in the past (for nostalgia) and perhaps for children (for the silly humor), but they're not as imaginative and charming as the title sequences that inspired them.
It's tough to make a recommendation for The Pink Panther Collection. First of all, let me start by saying that if you love these films, this is absolutely a must-buy: the transfers are fantastic. But for more casual viewers, is it worth it? It really depends on how much you like the films. Taken as a whole like this, it's clear that the quality of the Pink Panther series was wildly variable, both within a film and over the course of several films. It's also clear that the franchise was running out of steam toward the end, and that the overall quality of The Pink Panther Collection is weakened by the absence of The Return of the Pink Panther, the most popular and highly regarded of the series.
After watching the last two films in this set, I wondered if perhaps I'd become jaded by watching too many Pink Panthers in a row. Was that why the later films seemed so unfunny? But when I went back and watched the key comic scenes in The Pink Panther, I knew that I wasn't jaded: here was pure comic brilliance, the kind that makes you laugh out loud even when you know what's coming. It's just that the rest of the films go from capturing most of this charm, to capturing some of it, to missing the point entirely. In any case, I would suggest that viewers not watch these films one right after another, as this will just highlight the weaker aspects of them.
Overall, I'll go ahead and give this set a "recommended" for viewers who already know that they like at least some of the films here, based primarily on the outstanding quality of the transfers; the special features are of moderate interest to fans of the films as well.