I concluded my previous Pink Panther movie review that the original series should have died with Peter Sellers. That’s even more clear with today’s subject, Son of the Pink Panther.
Curse of the Pink Panther was supposed to start a new direction for the series. Star Ted Wass signed onto a 6 movie deal to carry the series forward, but after Curse bombed, all those plans stopped. Son of the Pink Panther is the second time the series returned after a full decade. It worked the first time with Return of the Pink Panther. This time, what we get is a complete disaster of a movie.
The first sign of trouble came with the troubled casting process for this attempted relaunch. At first, United Artists wanted Roberto Benigni, a popular Italian comedian, to star in the role. Benigni hadn’t yet been discovered in North America. However, director Blake Edwards wanted someone else. For a while, Kevin Kline was to play the lead role. He was a fan of the series, but after reading the script, he decided it wouldn’t work. Kline and Edwards also planned a project called Luck, but after Son flopped, that project also fizzled. Kline would play Dreyfus in the 2006 remake.
Rowen Atkinson was offered the role, after MGM rejected him for Curse of the Pink Panther, but he declined. He felt that nobody could replace Sellers. French actor Gerard Depardieu actually signed onto the role, but when Giancarlo Paretti took over MGM, he backed out of the project. Edwards sued MGM, and that lawsuit settled out of court. By the time they settled however, Depardieu was set to star in Ridley Scott’s 1492: Conquest of Paradise and wasn’t available. Several other actors were considered, including Tim Curry and Bronson Pinchot (who was turned down after his comedy, Blame it on the Bellboy, tanked). Eventually, Edwards agreed on casting Benigni.
Filming took place between June and September of 1992, most of which either took place in Pinewood studios or the country of Jordan. The total budget of the film grew to $28 million, making it by far the most expensive movie in the franchise to date. The increased budget is largely because of inflation, but the fact that MGM and Aurelio De Laurentiis, nephew of Italian film producer Dino De Laurentiis, split the financing also played a factor. Aurelio isn’t known for his films outside of Italy, but it’s also worth noting that he bought the Napoli Football club when they went bankrupt in 2004. Now they’re one of the few clubs in the country that routinely turns a profit. So he made a poor choice in funding this movie, but it’s nice to know that he’s a competent businessman these days.
Anyway, Son of the Pink Panther only earned $20 million worldwide, well short of its $28 million budget. It was also lambasted by critics and audiences alike, earning a %6 rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Benigni earned him a Razzie nomination for Worst New Star. It ended the original Pink Panther series completely. Yet it actually broke records in Italy, earning $18 million in that country alone. Maybe because Benigni is Italian and appeared in a major American release?
It would be the last film that Edwards ever involved himself with, as he retired after the movie bombed. He passed away in 2010 from pneumonia complications. Henry Mancini, who also returned to compose the soundtrack, also never worked on another movie again. He passed away from cancer less than 2 years after the movie released. Herbert Lom, who returns as Chief Inspector Dreyfus, only performed in two TV shows after this movie. He appeared in a single episode of The Detectives in 1994, and two episodes in Agatha Christie’s Marple, one in an uncredited vocal performance. He died in his sleep in 2012, at 95 years of age. Graham Stark, who appeared as several different characters since A Shot in the Dark, also only showed up a handful of times after this movie, mostly in scattered TV episodes, a TV movie, and a small role in a B-movie. Just looking at that list is depressing, knowing how great this series used to be and how every single person I just mentioned is a legend in their own right.
Of the series regulars who returned, it seems like only two actors still had careers after this movie. Claudia Cardinale, who portrayed the princess in the first movie, is still active in TV and film today, even at 83 years of age. Burt Kwouk, who reprises his role as Cato, enjoyed regular appearances in film and TV until he retired in 2012. Some of his more amusing credits include the announcer in EyeToy: Play, an Asian Voiceover Announcer in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and a major role in the Doctor Who: Loups-Garoux 2001 audio theatre. As for the film’s star, Benigni, he’s still enjoying a successful career, his most well-known performance likely being the lead in Life is Beautiful. He also starred as Gepetto in the well received 2019’s Italian adaptation of Pinocchio.
As for the movie itself, Son of the Pink Panther is a straight up disaster. For all of Inspector Clouseau’s faults, there were at least some entertaining gags. At least with Trail of the Pink Panther, we got to see some entertaining deleted footage of Peter Sellers. It was a disrespectful way to release it, but at least we can see it. At least with Curse of the Pink Panther, Lom is entertaining as ever as Dreyfus, and thanks to some decent writing, the lead character’s drama makes him somewhat sympathetic. In this movie, with the exception of Benigni, it feels like nobody’s even trying. And Benigni isn’t built for Sellers style comedy.
The movie starts off with the Princess of Lugash being kidnapped by terrorists, in hopes to force her father to abdicate. They want his stepmother’s lover, with terrorist sympathies to an unfriendly neighbor, to claim the throne. Yeah … sounds like the perfect plot for a Pink Panther series known for jewel thieves. Sure, that’s an overgeneralization, and some of the movies feature either Dreyfus’s doomsday device, gangsters smuggling drugs, or a bank robbery gang. But with the exception of Dreyfus’s doomsday device, all of those stories are based on crimes that cops generally handle. With this particular kidnapping being an international incident that could bring about multiple wars, it makes no sense that they’d appoint Dreyfus (now the Police Commissioner) to solve the case.
Benigni’s character, Jacques Gambrelli, witnessed the kidnapping. He’s dumb enough to believe their just taking a beautiful woman to the hospital. There’s a bumbling car chase, except that Jacques is on a bicycle, and Dreyfus ends up saving Jacques’s life. Shortly after that, he meets Jacques’s mother, who turns out to be the murder suspect Maria from A Shot in the Dark. She’s played by the previously mentioned Cardinale. Yeah, bring in the actress who played the Princess in several movies, and have her portray a completely different character, even though the original actress for Maria, Elke Sommer, is also still active in the industry even today.
The movie somehow both minimizes and exaggerates the importance of the attraction between Clouseau and Maria in A Shot in the Dark. This movie refers to their time together as a one-night stand, when they were clearly attracted to each other. A Shot in the Dark’s ending made it clear that Clouseau and Maria spent at least some time together after the movie. Yet at the same time, that one-night stand conceived Jacques, who’s never been mentioned until now.
Lom shows some of the same ticks that he displayed when Clouseau got on his nerves, but it’s never followed up on with his insanity. For the most part he’s fairly calm in this movie. He even ends up marrying Maria by the end, which makes him the father-in-law to Clouseau’s son. Not only does this make his performance boring compared to all of his previous appearances, but it makes no sense for the character to intentionally get this close to the son of the man who drove him completely insane. Especially considering Jacques has the same type of terrible accent, same klutzy nature, and same sort of bumbling luck that Clouseau regularly displayed.
It feels like this movie is simultaneously holding onto the past, while systematically tearing apart everything that made the earlier Pink Panther movies special. Benigni tries, he really does, but nobody could save this movie from its terrible script, contrived sequence of events, or the ways it clashes with the rest of the franchise. Cato’s role regresses to attacking Jacques at random, even though it’s been more than a decade since he worked for Clouseau. The climax is an uneven mix between lame attempts at slapstick humour and a battle scene at a castle in the desert. The wedding scene reveals that Jacques has a twin sister who is equally clumsy as her brother, which Maria somehow never tells Dreyfus ahead of time. There are so many problems with this movie that I could write a blog post twice as long as anything I’ve ever put on this blog, and still not cover all of it. But that’s not the kind of blog post I want to write for what is a mostly forgotten comedy.
In short, there is no good reason for anyone to watch this movie, unless you’re either a masochistic completionist, or you intend to review it one way or another. On the masochistic note, I’ve seen much worse. With that said, this is not the worst movie I’ve ever seen. This isn’t even remotely close to the worse comedy I’ve ever seen. There are still a handful of laughs. It’s nowhere nearly as painfully unfunny as the likes of Disaster Movie, Norbit, or That’s My Boy.
This movie ended a number of legendary careers. It ended the original Pink Panther series, which started off as a brilliant comedy franchise. Between this film and the 2004 remake, there were several further attempts to bring it back. One such attempt saw MGM approaching both Robin Williams and Jim Carrey in 1997. Neither of those came to light. Son of the Pink Panther is a sad, depressing way for a series to end, so of course I’m not going to end this blog series that way.
Next week, I’ll look at the first of the reboot movies. Then I’ll look at its sequel. I’ve seen the first of the two, and I remember it being alright, but no-where nearly as refined as the originals. Then we’ll end this blog series on a high note with The Party, which I’ve read is actually the best collaboration between Edwards and Sellers.