Trail of the Pink Panther was inherently a terrible idea, and it didn’t turn out all that well. The movie included a bunch of link footage filmed just for the project, to help link all of the deleted scenes together. Well, that link footage was filmed simultaneously with today’s subject, Curse of the Pink Panther.
Curse of the Pink Panther is the second attempt to replace Peter Sellers as the lead actor in the Pink Panther franchise. The first one didn’t have anyone from the previous movies involved. Different director, different actor, different soundtrack composer – different everybody. All of these different people were talented in their own right, but they all tried to copy other peoples’ comedy styles. The result was a disaster. Curse of the Pink Panther is even worse though, despite the original series director Blake Edwards at the helm, and Sellers’ replacement being an entirely new character.
Interestingly enough, Curse of the Pink Panther was the original title meant for Revenge of the Pink Panther, the last movie in the franchise that Peter Sellers was actually involved with, which released 5 years earlier.
As I said in the previous post, there was a bit of a 3-way standoff with replacing Peter Sellers as the lead actor for the series. The studio first approached Dudley Moore, but he refused to commit to a series. Both Edwards and United Artists wanted a series. Moore was willing to portray Inspector Clouseau to close off the series, but Edwards refused to recast the role. Edwards then suggested Rowen Atkinson for the lead role in Curse, but MGM rejected the idea, complaining that Atkinson wasn’t well known outside of Britain just yet. That may have been the first major mistake with this movie. John Ritter was also considered for the lead role, but it eventually went to Ted Wass.
Wass’s contract was for six Pink Panther films, starting with Curse. The plan was to retire most of the established characters, including Dreyfus, Cato, and others, and to slowly move the series to the United States. Michael Elphick, who appeared as the NYPD police chief, was to replace Dreyfus’s character as the long-suffering boss of the lead character, Clifton Sleigh. The series may have even resembled Police Academy more than the earlier Pink Panther films. MGM wanted a cheaper version of that series. Edwards would rather the series continue as comedy’s answer to James Bond. He also planned to step back after a couple of movies, but not before bringing in his son as one of the writers.
Curse of the Pink Panther earned $4.5 million on a $11 million budget, bombing hard. This rendered all of their future plans for the series null and void. It also received unanimously negative critical reviews. The general consensus was that trying to continue the series without Sellers was a mistake, and I agree. The one aspect that critics tended to enjoy is a cameo that I’ll mention later.
Furthermore, both this film and Trail of the Pink Panther were $1 million over budget. Filming for both began in February of 1982, and then they were rushed into post-production by October. After Trail bombed, MGM delayed Curse’s release from the spring of 1983 to August, with virtually no promotion. That directly violated Edwards’ contract with MGM, so he sued the studio for $180 million for “willfully sabotaging the film.”
Yeah … sure, sabotaging a terrible comedy that didn’t need any help to bomb. But yeah, they did violate his contract. MGM then sued Edwards, accusing him of fraudulent overspending. Edwards counter-sued for defamation of character. The lawsuits combined totalled over $1 billion. These legal battles were eventually settled out of court in 1988, the results never published. Again, all of this over a movie that probably shouldn’t have ever existed.
While Wass’s additional sequels never happened, Edwards began planning what would eventually become Son of the Pink Panther.
As for the movie itself, it’s a disaster. Save for Herbert Lom being entertaining in one scene where a computer is choosing Clouseau’s replacement, the laughs in this movie are few and far between. The movie starts very similarly to Trail, in which the Pink Panther diamond is stolen, and Clouseau is gone. The president of France decides to search the entire world for a replacement to “the world’s greatest detective”, to both find Clouseau and the diamond. Wass’s character, Clifton Sleigh, goes on an international search for Clouseau, while Lom does his best to sabotage the search from the background. There are also gangsters trying to kill Sleigh throughout the movie. There are cameos from a number of other long-standing series characters. Most notably David Niven as the original Phantom thief, just with his health rapidly declining to the point where he couldn’t even speak properly, thus Rich Little dubbed over him in post-production. This was Niven’s final film, and he passed away several weeks before it released.
There are three major problems with this movie. One, it’s a bit of a mess. It spends more time introducing Clifton to all these different characters than it does trying to tell the story. Two, most of the attempts at comedy are mere rehashes of jokes we’ve seen before, like Clifton surviving these assassination attempts in ridiculous ways, but it’s nowhere nearly as funny. Clifton is just as clumsy as Clouseau, but without the accent, the arrogance or the confidence, he’s not nearly as compelling. That in turn makes his attempts at humour quite lame. Three, despite all of this movies, there are hints of a compelling mystery behind all of the missteps, so you can see what this movie could have been if it was more focused, and the comedy didn’t fall into franchise habits and worked better with Wass’s style. In other words, this would have worked better if it wasn’t a Pink Panther movie, and instead was a spiritual successor of sorts. The entire idea behind the movie is wrong.
Besides Lom trying to hold back his insanity, the only amusing scene in this entire movie is an unexpected cameo near the end. Before Sellers died, he was working on what he hoped to be the final chapter in the Pink Panther series, Romance of the Pink Panther. In that film, he’d fall in love with a thief, and he’d end up leaving the force to be with her. This scene borrows from that idea, but also adds in that Clouseau underwent some very extensive plastic surgery … to make himself look exactly like Roger Moore. Yup, Roger Moore puts in an unexpectedly hilarious and spot-on impression of Inspector Clouseau.
Even Henry Mancini’s soundtrack feels off. In the past, every soundtrack he composed for this series has been fantastic. This time round, it kind of sounds like it’s drunk.
There is one other compelling aspect of the movie though, and it’s nothing to do with the poor attempts at comedy. Sleigh’s character has some genuine depth. He comes from a long-line of police officers in his family, his grandfather in particular being a well-respected former chief. But because of his competence issues, he’s stuck as a relatively low-level investigator, stumbling his way through undercover investigations. He wants a chance to prove himself. In a better movie, that would have been a great chance for character development. Unfortunately, despite Sleigh being the movie’s main character, the story still focuses mainly on Clouseau and the Pink Panther diamond, never giving Sleigh time to develop on his own.
There’s really not much else to talk about here. The story is a lame attempt to close out Clouseau’s story, while pushing a new lead character on us. Wass was a successful actor for a couple of decades and he was clearly talented, and he worked as a director for sitcoms from 1998 to 2016 after retiring from acting. He was clearly a talented comedian, but this movie really wasn’t a good fit for him. Beyond that, the movie mostly rehashes the same jokes from earlier movies, just with a misplaced cast and a director that clearly lost his touch and fell completely into habit. There really is no reason to watch the full movie, unless you’re either a masochistic completionist, or you’re reviewing it. Just watch the clips of Lom’s consistently entertaining performance as Dreyfus and Moore’s cameo, and you’re all set. To be frank, the original Pink Panther series should have died with Peter Sellers.
Next up is Son of the Pink Panther, which is the film that put the final nail in the coffin for both the original Pink Panther film series, and Edwards’ career as a director. After that, we’ll look at the two remake films, and then I’ll wrap up November with either the new James Bond movie that just released, or I’ll review The Party, a collaboration between Blake Edwards and Peter Sellers that might just be the best movie they ever made together. That would feel like a good way to wrap this series up – on a high note.