The Pink Panther Strikes Again is a rather interesting entry into the Pink Panther series. This is the point where the continuity of the series starts to go all over the place. Sure, Return of the Pink Panther completely ignored Inspector Clouseau (1968). But then again, it involved none of the main people from the previous movies. Bur if Return of the Pink Panther bringing in a different actor for The Phantom wasn’t weird enough, this movie completely removes all elements of the mystery plot that all previous entries used, in favour of a more James Bond-ish plot with a villain threatening the entire world with a superweapon. On that note, it’s also the only Pink Panther film to follow a previous film’s story closely.
To make this blog post less tedious, I’ll just be referring to this movie and the previous movie as Returns and Strikes Again.
As with A Shot in the Dark, Strikes Again was rushed into production after the success of the previous film. Director Blake Edwards picked from one of two scripts that he planned for a proposed Pink Panther TV series, the first was actually used for Returns. Production began in December of 1975, just over 6 months after Return released, and filming commenced the following February. Although Edwards and star Peter Sellers had restored their relationship on a professional level, their strained relationship worsened by the time filming began.
Mainly due to drug and alcohol use, along with his slowing career, Sellers was mentally and physically in bad shape. Edwards described Sellers’ health with, “If you went to an asylum and you described the first inmate you saw, that’s what Peter had become. He was certifiable.” On that note, because of his worsening heart problems, whenever possible, he’d get his stunt double to perform the physical comedy, of which this movie has a lot. On the flipside, Sellers was unhappy with Edwards’ final cut, complaining that Edwards misused his talents. That resulted in the credits for the next movie listing it as a “Sellers-Edwards” production.
The rough cut of the movie was a full 3 hours long, but was drastically cut down to 103 minutes. Edwards originally conceived the film as an epic, zany chase film, similar to his earlier film, The Great Race. Considering that overly long movie bombed and received mixed reception, cutting Strikes Again down is probably a good thing. Then again, The Great Race was nominated for 5 Academy Awards, won the Best Sound Editing award, and at the time, had what was known as the “greatest pie fight ever.” Some of the cut footage would later be used in Trail of the Pink Panther.
Strikes Again’s opening title sequence also notes the change in the film’s direction. Instead of the animated Clouseau chasing after the Panther, who’s just trolling him, the animated Clouseau finds himself in a number of strange situations. The sequence references Alfred Hitchcock Presents, the 1966 Batman movie, King Kong, The Sound of Music, Singin’ in the Rain, and a bunch of other movies both classic and relatively recent hits. The closing credits sequence also references Jaws, which released the year before this one. Once again, Richard Williams (later of Roger Rabbit fame), supervised the opening title sequence.
Just as Edwards returned to direct and Sellers once again portrayed the bumbling Inspector Clouseau, several other mainstays returned. Herbert Lom portrays the former Chief Inspector Charles Dreyfus in an incredibly entertaining performance. Henry Mancini once again composes the soundtrack. Burt Kwouk returns as Clouseau’s housekeeper/fighting partner Cato, this time with a slightly expanded role where he gets to talk. His role is further expanded in the next film. I won’t get too deep into the new cast members, as there are quite a few. Michael Robbins plays Ainsley Jarvis, who works for a professor that ends up getting kidnapped. In a crossdressing scene, he’s singing a song, but it’s actually Julie Andrews providing the singing voice. She and Edwards were married at the time, and they remained married for 41 years until his death. Then there’s Colin Blakely playing British Inspector Alec Drummond. He plays his role relatively straight, although he needs to work with the clumsy, bumbling Clouseau. Omar Sharif, who was nominated for an Oscar for his role in Lawrence of Arabia, cameos as an assassin. Last but not least, Dick Crockett plays the President of the United States, making fun of then president Gerald Ford’s reputation for being clumsy.
Reviews for Strikes Again were mixed. Roger Ebert gave the film 2 out of 4 stars, mainly complaining that the movie mostly treaded on the same ground as before. He said that at time would come “When inspiration gives way to habit, and I think the Pink Panther series is just about at that point … it has moments as good as anything Sellers and Edwards have ever done – but it’s time for them to move on … Now it’s time to try something new again.” The New York Times review was more positive, saying that Clouseau and Dreyfus “were made for each other … I’m not sure why Mr. Sellers and Mr. Lom are such a hilarious team, though it may be because each is a fine comic actor with a special talent for portraying the sort of all-consuming, epic self-absorption that makes slapstick farce initially acceptable.”
Strikes Again earned $75 million worldwide on a $6 million budget, which is very close to how Returns performed.
As for my own thoughts, I’ve got a bit of a split opinion on this film. On the one hand, this is the most entertaining movie in the Pink Panther franchise. It ups the ante with the comedy in multiple ways. Clouseau’s disguises are more ridiculous than last time, but not completely beyond believability. Well, except for his Hunchback costume with the inflatable hump. His ridiculous accent is on point more than ever. The strange situations he finds himself in showcase both his clumsiness and his incredible luck all at once, and it never gets old.
But the real highlight of this film is Lom as Dreyfus. In the last movie, he was driven to the point of murderous insanity by Clouseau’s antics. He starts this movie off in a mental institute, and seems to have improved quite a bit. Unfortunately, one brief encounter with Clouseau has him slipping right back into his lunacy. He then becomes the movie’s main villain, kidnapping the developer of a superweapon in order to threaten the entire world … just to have Clouseau killed. He’s endlessly entertaining with his death stares, manic fits of laughter, and how quickly he can shift from cheering with joy to tearing up while still being rather convincing.
This movie’s soundtrack is the most memorable in the series as far as I’m concerned. Not only do you have the main Pink Panther theme, but you’ve got the new Inspector Clouseau Theme that works perfectly with this scene.
As entertaining as this movie is, this is also the point in the series where the cracks are starting to show. The result of the movie being cut down so much is that the first half feels quite rushed. You don’t see Dreyfus escaping from the institute. One scene, he’s being taken away by the men in the white coats. The next, he’s in the apartment beneath Clouseau’s, already busy with his first attempt on Clouseau’s life. Then without explanation, he’s breaking criminals out of prison and enacting his master plan.
The second half of the movie has much better pacing. Once Clouseau heads to the very public Oktoberfest event … where dozens of assassins are trying to kill him – the movie as a whole flows better. It’s here where you also get simpler scenes, some comedic, and some for character moments.
This this movie’s plot by its very nature is a major turn for this franchise. No longer is it even trying to be a mystery story. No longer is it trying to convince us that Clouseau is in any way a competent detective. It’s comedy purely for the sake of comedy. While this is a very funny movie, with a couple of the best comedy sequences in history, this movie has noticeable quality issues, mostly to do with storytelling and pacing. I haven’t yet seen Revenge of the Pink Panther, but from what I’ve read, these issues get worse in the next movie. That’s also the point where the series completely gives up on any kind of continuity.
Would I recommend The Pink Panther Strikes Again? Definitely. This is the most entertaining movie in the series after all. I would recommend seeing Return of the Pink Panther first however, and if you’re not a fan of that movie’s comedic direction, you most likely wouldn’t enjoy this either. This is my personal favourite movie in the series, despite its faults. Even with that said, I’m somewhat nervous about Revenge of the Pink Panther, and I’m not looking forward to any of the remaining Edwards movies after that. And yes, I will be looking at the reboot movies starring Steve Martin.