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The Pink Panther

(1964) *** 1/2 Unrated
116 min. United Artists Films. Director: Blake Edwards. Cast: Peter Sellers, David Niven, Robert Wagner, Capucine, Claudia Cardinale.

/content/films/3340/1.jpgInspector Jacques Clouseau first stumbled across screens in 1964's The Pink Panther, a delightful travelogue farce with all the ingredients for a great evening at the movies: lively music, eye-catching scenery, larger-than-life comic set pieces, suave men and beautiful women, and odd-man-out Clouseau, played to perfection by the one and only Peter Sellers. Unlilke many of the sequels that followed, The Pink Panther also has the titular jewel as part of its plot. The priceless Pink Panther diamond is the target of a jewel thief known only as "The Phantom," but the plot point also inspires a DePatie-Freleng animated title sequence accompanied by an immortal Henry Mancini theme; both would become staples of Edwards' long-running franchise.

Never better, the inimitable David Niven plays the prime suspect in the Phantom case. Known as "a contemporary Don Juan," Sir Charles Lytton is a likeable, jet-setting rake currently enjoying a holiday at Cortina D'Ampezzo in the Italian Alps. It's here we land after brief stops in Rome, Hollywood, and Paris that introduce us to Lytton's chip-off-the-old-block nephew George (a very young Robert Wagner) and Clouseau, whose wife Simone (slinky Capucine) turns out to be cheating on him with Sir Charles. As for the Pink Panther, Princess Dala (Claudia Cardinale, entirely dubbed) has nine-tenths of the law on her side, for the moment. (Proof of the production's upscale swank: Claudia Cardinale and Capucine's wardrobe is provided principally by Yves St. Laurent.)

As written by Maurice Richlin and Blake Edwards, The Pink Panther misses no opportunity for wit or whimsy. Niven's scenes with Cardinale--particularly one with Dala drunk on a tiger rug--are models of urbane flirtation, and klutzy cuckold Clouseau provides scene after scene of sublime piffery and expertly calibrated physical comedy (case in point: the globe-spinning gag that introduces the character). The part of the original bumbling detective was first assigned to the great Peter Ustinov, but one suspects The Pink Panther would be a largely forgotten movie without Sellers at its heart. Clouseau doesn't yet have his Chief Inspector Dreyfus, but Sellers gets nice straight support from Capucine, as well as Clouseau's right-hand-man Tucker (Colin Gordon).

It wouldn't be an Edwards film without a party, a metaphor for the filmmaker's rules of engagement. This one includes the number "It Had Better Be Tonight" ("Meglio Stasera"), with music by Mancini and English lyrics by Johnny Mercer (Italian lyrics by Franco Migliacci). A very funny bedroom farce sequence and a most unusual car chase secure the film's place in the ranks of top comedies.

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Aspect ratios: 2.20:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Dolby Digital 1.0

Street date: 1/27/2009

Distributor: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Fox delivers another gift to movie fans by dipping into the catalog for old favorite The Pink Panther. The image gets a significant boost in detail from the already solid DVD issued in 2004. The picture offers extraordinary detail without sacrificing natural film grain, and colors are lively and accurate. Sound comes in a can't-miss double whammy of the original mono track and a souped-up DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix; together, they make for a definitive sound presentation.

The bonus features also get an upgrade, including the previously issued extras and some attractive new ones. Here we have the original Blake Edwards audio commentary, with some great stories but also a lot of dead air (Edwards even confesses what a hard time he's having doing the commentary). The historically important track is definitely worth a listen, Edwards being good company.

The 2003 doc "The Pink Panther Story" (28:42, SD) does a fine job recounting the history of the film, with participants Edwards, editor Ralph E. Winters, author Ed Sikov, Walter Mirisch, Return of the Pink Panther stunt coordinator Joe Dunne, script supervisor Betty Abbott Griffin, and music historian Jon Burlingame.

"Behind the Feline: The Cartoon Phenomenon" (10:51, SD) does the same for the opening titles sequence, with comments from Edwards, Griffin, David H. DePatie of DePatie-Freleng, and Mirisch.

"A Conversation with the Coolest Cat in Cortina: Robert Wagner" (10:53, HD) is a terrific new chat with Wagner, just as the new "The Tip Toe Life of a Cat Burglar: A Conversation with Former Jewel Thief Bill Mason" (9:43, HD) interviews the fascinating Mason and his biographer Lee Gruenfeld.

"Diamonds: Beyond the Sparkle" (6:53, HD) finds gem instructor Brenda Harwick and museum director Elise Misiorowski of the Gemological Institute of America, gemologist Cos Altobelli, and jeweller Harvey Carl spilling trivia about "a girl's best friend." Last up is "The Pink Panther Trailer" (3:50, HD). Though it includes relatively little about Sellers, this Blu-ray disc comes highly recommended; here's hoping the sequels are also on their way to hi-def.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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