We’ve had tremendous success with the classic double-features which our theater puts on once or twice a quarter, and when they announced the Inspector Clouseau double-feature, I couldn’t resist, though I had reservations. The trailer they cut for it was not especially hilarious and comedy is possibly worse than horror for survival over time. The Flower, in fact, would declare that she did not like these movies—which may in part have to do with their general licentiousness and her relative fatigue, along with humor not enduring well.
A Shot In The Dark is the second film in the Pink Panther series and very likely the funniest of them all. Based on a French play, when filming wasn’t going to Peter Sellers’ liking, he called in Panther‘s director Blake Edwards, who enlisted no less than William Peter Blatty to do a massive Inspector Clouseau-based rewrite. Vagaries of release dates and pre-production being what they were, this film was released 3-4 months after The Pink Panther, fueling speculation that it had been filmed beforehand. (Which, since Clouseau ends up going to jail in the first movie, sorta makes sense.)
In this Frenchest of plots, the carousing of a group of well-to-do-Frenchies (among themselves and their staff) results in a murder that implicates beautiful maid Maria (Elke Sommer, whom I thought I had been married to Sellers, but whom I had confused with Britt Ekland). Clouseau, instantly smitten and dumber than ever, decides that she cannot be guilty and spends the movie chasing her around as people drop dead around her. Of course, this is a comedy—for all the murders (9!)—and she is of course not actually guilty.
Inspector Dreyfus (the great Herbert Lom) is increasingly agitated with Clouseau’s blessed incompetence, said agitation powering the second half of the movie as well as the rest of the series, and alternately puts him on and pulls him off the case, according to political and personal whims. This movie would also introduce Kato (the late Burt Kwouk) as Clouseau’s zealous sidekick, prepared to assault him at any moment, to ensure that his reflexes are all tip-top.
It’s pure silliness. At the time, the scene in the nude camp was probably pretty edgy, though that wouldn’t stop it from constantly making the rounds on TV less than a decade later.
If I didn’t find it drop-dead hilarious now, I was pleased at how much of it I did enjoy. Sellers was a master at this kind of comedy, a kind of human Homer Simpson, which is a tough thing to pull off: He has to both be an arrogant buffoon but also kind of likable, and he is. This film would set the tone for the series far more than the original, as we would see shortly.
Notable for not garnering composer Henry Mancini an Oscar. Not even a nomination! (He would win for Panther—which may have been the same year—of course.)