In the wake of Curse of the Pink Panther bombing at the box office and legal acrimony between Blake Edwards and MGM, ten years would go by before another attempt was made to relaunch the franchise with a new face. This time, instead of enlisting a new, Clouseau-esque character, Edwards went a more traditional route: Son of the Pink Panther. More importantly, Son improves on enough of Curse's mistakes that one could have believed the film could've sustained at least a couple of additional "next generation" entries. To coincide with Shout! Factory's long-awaited release of the original Peter Sellers films, Kino Lorber has brought the three odds-and-ends flicks, Curse, Son, and the Sellers-less Inspector Clouseau to Blu-ray.
Although Son has some of the same problems as a film that Curse has, it's far more successful at re-energizing Panther formula in Sellers' absence. The most obvious advantage: Edwards cast a true personality. Although Roberto Benigni is, at best, an acquired taste for American audiences, it's hard to miss that his outsized personality provides a unique and genuine burst of energy that no screenplay could contrive. Ted Wass, as Curse's Clifton Sleigh, was saddled with a misjudged backstory and the responsibility of the series' physical comedy. Here, there are no secret pathos to Benigni's Jacques Gambrelli / Clouseau (even if there is a secret parentage), and whatever was on the page is filtered through Benigni's comic instincts. Even if Edwards and writers Madeline and Steve Sunshine conceived of, say, Jacques Jr. stabbing his Chinese food with his chopsticks, there's an unmistakable uniqueness to the way Benigni actually does it. Not every comic setpiece works, (a sequence where Jacques poses as a doctor is pretty underwhelming), but there are more laughs in Benigni's first five minutes on screen than in the whole running time of Curse.
On top of his physical comedy chops, Benigni adds to the character in a dramatic sense, and potentially alters the film's tone. Clouseau is an incredibly funny character, but that humor is rooted in a combination of arrogance and cluelessness that Sellers elevated to a wacky art form. Jacques Jr. is clumsy and occasionally oblivious, but he is also boundlessly enthusiastic and relentlessly positive. Thanks to his mother, Maria (Claudia Cardinale, no longer playing Princess Dahla, but taking over Elke Sommer's Shot in the Dark character), he loves opera and poetry, and scenes between Benigni and Debrah Farentino as the enchanting Princess Yasmin suggest a comic and surprisingly romantic repartee that could've been extended in any sequels. Unlike sad-sack Sleigh, who generates laughs by getting dumped on, Jacques Jr. meets challenges with an unflappable optimism, even as he falls all over himself. (There's also an unfortunate make-up appliance worn by Jacques near the end of the film that is best left unmentioned.)
There's only one problem with Son of the Pink Panther, and that's everything else that's happening in a convoluted kidnapping plot when Benigni's not on screen. Despite clocking in at a scant 93 minutes, Son feels closer to Curse's two hours, because the political power play going on between gangster/kidnapper Hans Zarba (Fred Ward), King Haroak (Oliver Cotton), his Queen (Shabana Azmi), and a general (Ahron Ipale) isn't interesting. None of the villains make much of an impression -- maybe Jennifer Edwards as the deadly Yuusa, thanks to an extended fight between Yuusa, Jacques, and Yasmin at the end -- but the best comedy/mystery hybrids depend on a good mystery to provide a framework for the comedy, and Son's is completely D.O.A.
In addition to Benigni, Edwards ups his game a bit in comparison to Curse, staging some funny spectacle (the sight of a car falling to pieces upon impact with a wooden door is classic), and the script has a handful of great one-liners (Maria's description of Clouseau as a violin player and a lover is perfection). The movie is also blessed with one of the series' better opening credit sequences, featuring a stylish version of the theme by Bobby McFerrin, and strong Panther animation (plus a Henry Mancini cameo). Appearances by Herbert Lom as Chief Dreyfus (who is afforded an opportunity to do more than quiver with rage and a game Burt Kwouk round out the franchise obligations. With a stronger backbone, Son would be a pretty high note for the series to end on, but as it is, it's mostly a testament to Benigni's comic charisma.
The Video and Audio
A couple of vintage video features are also included on this entry. Two potentially more PG-13 deleted scenes (1:09, 2:27) are on offer, the first involving a condom and the second involving some ribald humor. Oddly, the scenes are taken from some Italian source, and are dubbed. There is also a vintage EPK (7:06), which piles on the film clips to herald the arrival of the new Clouseau.
Original theatrical trailers for all of the Pink Panther films, including two for Son of the Pink Panther, round out the supplements.