It’s Thanksgiving Monday in Canada, so what better things to do than to watch the final on-set performance of Peter Sellers and review it? Well … I could think of better things to do, but I’ve already had my family Thanksgiving dinner, so might as well get to it. Revenge of the Pink Panther, released in 1978, is the last film in the series by Sellers before he died at 54.
With the original cut of The Pink Panther Strikes Again being over 3 hours, United Artists spent over three months trying to edit the film down to a more traditional length. For a time, Director Blake Edwards tried to salvage any humorous material remaining. He would use a bunch of that footage, and film the next movie around that. Peter Sellers balked at the idea, and rightfully so, as those kinds of movies very rarely work. He insisted that Revenge of the Pink Panther would exclusively feature new footage. Sellers’ contract on Revenge gave him story approval, which also gave him a story credit, something he didn’t receive on any previous Pink Panther films.
Most of the film was shot in France, England and Hong Kong, with some scenes specifically filmed at The Exceisior Hotel, a now closed four-star hotel in Hong Kong. Some of the film’s editing also took place at the hotel. Once again, Henry Mancini handles the soundtrack. This time, it incorporates elements of the Shot in the Dark theme into the Pink Panther main theme, while also adding elements of disco music, which was still popular at the time. Disco’s popularity was starting to wane, at least in the United States, but it would remain popular in Europe throughout the 80’s.
It’s also worth finally talking about actor Graham Stark. He’s appeared in every Pink Panther film since A Shot in the Dark … with the exception of Inspector Clouseau, and would appear in every remaining movie that Edwards directed. He’s played a variety of characters throughout the series, be it Clouseau’s assistant in A Shot in the Dark, a minor character named Pepi in Return of the Pink Panther, the very amusing hotel clerk in Strikes Again. In Revenge, he makes his first appearance of several as Professor Auguste Balls, a character he would reprise in Son of the Pink Panther. He and Sellers were good friends in real life, and appeared in a number of projects together besides this series. He also made a small cameo in the opening “comedy” scene of Superman III as a blind man.
Other returning actors include Herbert Lom as former Chief Inspector Dreyfus … despite the fact that he was killed by his own superweapon in Strikes Again. Burt Kwouk returns as Cato Fong, whose role is greatly expanded in this movie. This time round he’s directly involved with the plot, and that is a welcome and long deserved change, proving that his comedic talents go far beyond just over-the-top silly fight scenes.
Despite having the largest budget in the series to date ($12 million, double of Strikes Again’s budget), the movie earned $49 million worldwide. That still makes it a huge success, but that’s noticeably less than the $75 million that both of the previous two films earned. The critical reception, while positive, also wasn’t as good as previous entries. Variety’s review stated that Revenge “isn’t the best of the continuing film series, but Blake Edwards and Peter Sellers on a slow day are still well ahead of most other comedic filmmakers.” The film did win the Evening Standard British Film award for Best Comedy in 1979.
Before talking about the movie itself, let’s talk about the man behind Inspector Clouseau. Throughout most of his professional career, Sellers struggled with depression and insecurities. Yet another example of a comedian who suffered from depression, like Robin Williams. He often claimed that he had no identity outside of the roles he played, probably made worse by the fact that for most of the 70’s, Clouseau was his only successful role.
He long struggled with drug and alcohol addictions. This led to long-time health problems, even causing him two heart attacks the same year that A Shot in the Dark released. He failed to take this as a warning sign, and his health continued to decline over the years. I’ll get to that later, but his declining health clearly shows in this movie. He also had three divorces, and by the end, he was completely estranged by his two daughters (from his first two marriages.) Oh, and he was also briefly engaged to actress Liza Minnelli, despite that he was still married to his third wife, and she was engaged to Desi Arnaz. That relationship lasted a month before they broke up. Around that time, his friends showed concern for him, calling him a contradiction on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Although bold and friendly on-screen, he was shy, distrustful and self-destructive in real life.
In 1979, he starred in the final film to be released during his lifetime, Being There. It’s a satire film, where he starred as a simple-minded gardener addicted to watching TV. He isolated himself during filming to stay in character, and even refused most interview requests. He described his experience filming the movie as humbling and powerful, and co-star Shirley MacLaine found Sellers “a dream to work with”. His role in the film is sometimes described as the true crowning achievement of his career. Critic Frank Rich’s review stated, “A lessor actor would have made the character’s mental dysfunction flamboyant and drastic … his intelligence was always deeper.”
On that note, in March of 1980, he asked his then 15-year-old daughter what she thought of Being There. She said that she thought the movie was great, but also said “You looked like a little fat old man.” He snapped, threw his drink at her, and told her to get on the next plane home. His other daughter then cut all ties with him, saying in her telegram, “I shall be happy if I never hear from you again.” It wasn’t long after that when his fourth marriage started to collapse.
His next film was a disaster. The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu had Sellers arguing on set, his health problems causing delays, and multiple directors were fired even before the script was completed. Eventually, Sellers took over as the director. That movie was critically panned, with The Washington Post calling it “an indefensibly inept comedy.” That movie released several weeks after Sellers died.
On July 21, 1980, Sellers checked into the Dorchester Hotel in London, where he visited Golden Green Crematorium for the first time to see his parents’ ashes. He planned to attend a reunion dinner with his Goon Show partners, Spike Milligan and Harry Secombe on the 22nd, but that afternoon, he suffered a heart attack shortly after lunch. He died just after midnight two days later.
On the one hand, Sellers’ life was a long, ongoing tragedy. On the other hand, most of his problems were his own fault. Although he had good friends, he alienated many of his co-stars, his four marriage partners, and even his own children. Outside of Clouseau, his career declined, as he was known for being difficult to work with. His final joke was playing “In the Mood” by Glenn Miller at his private funeral, a song which a number of the attendees hated, knowing they’d have to sit there listening to it. At a more public memorial service, held on what would have been Sellers’ 55th birthday, Lord Snowden read Psalm 23, while David Niven (Sir Charles in Pink Panther and Trail of the Pink Panther, and starred alongside Sellers in a number of other films), read the eulogy.
It’s also worth noting that while Sellers was in the process of excluding his fourth wife, Lynne Frederick, from his will in the weeks before his death, she ended up inheriting almost everything. She took 4.5 million pounds, while his children each took 800. As a result, she was accused of being a gold-digger and was blacklisted from Hollywood. On an interesting, yet tragic side-note, Sellers’ son died of a heart attack at 52 during surgery in 2006, 26 years to the day after his father died.
We’ll get to how Sellers’ death affected the series moving forward in the next blog post.
As for my own thoughts on Revenge of the Pink Panther, well … it’s a bit of a mess. Revenge is still an entertaining film, but Sellers isn’t as funny as he was in any of his previous appearances. He often looks old and tired, no doubt a result of his worsening health and personal problems. The story is that there’s a heroin smuggling ring between France and the United States, and their main point of exchange is in Hong Kong. Not sure why they’re taking it the long-way round when the dealers are based in New York, but whatever. They plan to kill Clouseau because apparently he’s the most likely investigator to bust their drug ring. Early in the movie, Clouseau is presumed dead, which he plans to take advantage of in order to perform an undercover investigation.
Lom’s appearance as Dreyfus also feels half-hearted at times. The movie pretty much completely ignores what happened to his character in the previous movie … even though the first scene references how Clouseau survived 16 assassination attempts, which happened in the previous movie. Reading Clouseau’s eulogy at a funeral (at a time everyone believed he was dead) is a very entertaining scene, but with a couple of other exceptions here and there, he plays his role relatively straight this time round. He’s essentially wasted on a running gag that isn’t funny. Also, he’s appointed his old position of Chief Inspector despite having tried to kill his own employee twice, while also given the task of finding his murderers. This is even though he straight up admits to the Commissioner that he wants to congratulate them. From a storytelling standpoint, his role in this movie makes absolutely no sense.
The ridiculous costumes often get in the way of the comedy this time round, instead of making it funnier. Don’t get me wrong, they’re still funny, but making them a bigger part of the plot is a bit of a mistake on Edwards’ part. This movie also repeats several jokes from earlier films, but they’re not as funny as before. There’s Clouseau’s delayed reaction to an obvious bomb repeated from Return. There’s a third time where he says “the case is solved” while pronouncing the silent “e” in solved, this time with less of a reaction. Even Cato’s expanded role, while a long-time coming, is mostly physical comedy where his disguise involves glasses that makes it impossible for him to see. The most interesting aspect of his character expansion is what he does to Clouseau’s apartment after his apparent death, in that he turns it into a brothel. It’s good that his role is expanded, but it feels like he should have had more to do beyond pratfalls.
There are a handful of memorable scenes. There’s the climactic fight inside a fireworks factory. There’s the harbor scene where Clouseau becomes the ultimate troll. But for every memorable scene, there are a number of forgettable scenes where the movie tries to be something it’s not. Early on there’s a martial arts fight that clashes with the rest of the movie’s tone. There’s the opening board room meeting scene that’s easily the most boring opening of any of these films … so far at least. There’s a chase scene just before the fireworks factory fight that pales in comparison to the chase in the original Pink Panther movie. While the Harbor disguise is funny, the rest range from kind of lame to mildly offensive, without being funny enough to justify it.
Revenge of the Pink Panther is still an enjoyable movie overall, and if you’re a fan of the rest of the series, it’s worth a watch. But if the cracks were starting to show in the previous movie, they’re blatantly obvious now. By this point, the Pink Panther series has fallen into habit, with very few original jokes left. Sellers’ declining health also affects his comedic performance on multiple levels, while Edwards’ storytelling is also declining. You can’t blame all of that on the rapidly declining relationship between Sellers and Edwards, but I’m sure that also had an effect on the movie’s quality. The only thing that remains consistently good is the soundtrack by Mancini, which changes up the main theme in ways that make it feel fresh, yet still familiar.
Next up is a movie that many argue shouldn’t have happened, Trail of the Pink Panther. Of course in that blog post, we’ll also explore the 7th movie that never came to pass, Romance of the Pink Panther, which Sellers wrote and intended to be the conclusion to the series. Then there are two more movies involving director Edwards, before the remake films. That will leave this series going half-way into November, so I might also look at The Party. I also might spend the rest of that month catching up on the MCU, now that two more movies have released since I last looked at one. As for December, I’m considering a month looking at different adaptations of A Christmas Carol.