Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been a fan of the Pink Panther movies. I think there is a part of every film lover that likes a bit of the old silly slapstick every now and then.
Unfortunately, slapstick comedy is not as easy to pull off as it looks on the surface and examples of how it can be horribly unfunny can be found a lot, especially with pretty much every single Adam Sandler film with the exception of Punch-Drunk Love, Spanglish, Reign Over Me and Funny People.
To me, Peter Sellers is the true king of the slapstick and The Pink Panther series are somewhat masterpieces of the genre. The key to Sellers’ genius in embodying the bumbling French inspector Clouseau lies behind the fact that the character of Clouseau does not consider himself to be a bumbling idiot or even a remotely silly person.
He takes himself and his job very seriously and that’s why it’s so funny to see him fail. Sellers and director Blake Edwards know this, and that’s why these films are classics.
Well, most of them anyway. You see, for a couple more quick cash grabs, Edwards made three more Pink Panther films after Sellers’ death by using deleted footage from older films or by casting someone much less funnier to play his son. And don’t even dare mention the ghastly remake and it’s sequel starring Steve Martin.
As far as the official Pink Panther films go, they can be kind of confusing in terms of chronology. For example, the first Pink Panther film has Clouseau as a side character while the first “real” Pink Panther film doesn’t have Pink Panther in the title. So, for anyone who wants to host their own Pink Panther marathon, here’s a helpful list of which comes first, and what to expect:
The Pink Panther (1963):
Like I mentioned above, the first official Pink Panther film doesn’t actually revolve around Clouseau, even though this is the one that first introduced the famous Pink Panther theme and the equally famous cartoon character to the world.
David Niven was the real star of the film about a mastermind thief who’s after The Pink Panther, the most valuable diamond in the world. Clouseau was a relatively minor character, but his popularity turned him into the one character associated with the series. Still, it’s a very enjoyable slapstick comedy and is worth watching first as somewhat of an origin story.
A Shot in the Dark (1964):
Even though it doesn’t have Pink Panther in the title nor does it contain the animated character, A Shot in the Dark can be considered the first real Pink Panther film.
Not only does it have Clouseau as the main character, it also introduces us to two of the most familiar characters of the franchise: Kato (Burt Kwouk), Clouseau’s Asian butler who’s instructed to attack him at random times so Clouseau can keep alert, and of course Chief Inspector Dreyfus (Herbert Lom), who hates Clouseau’s guts and wants him dead.
Even though it’s not officially a Pink Panther film, it is the best film in the series. Go figure.
Inspector Clouseau (1968):
This film wasn’t directed by Blake Edwards and had Alan Arkin as Clouseau instead of Peter Sellers. It also doesn’t have the animated Pink Panther character in it.
Arkin’s is the best non-Sellers Clouseau, but that’s not saying much considering his competition is an abysmal Steve Martin and a wholly unfunny Roberto Benigni. I would skip this one.
Return of The Pink Panther (1975):
This is the first official Pink Panther film that centers around Clouseau, albeit not a very good one. David Niven is replaced by Christopher Plummer and although he’s a good actor, is too heavy for Sir Charles Litton aka the thief Phantom.
Nevertheless, it’s worth a watch for the brilliant Kato and Dreyfus scenes.
The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976):
In my opinion, this is the best of the official Pink Panther series for one simple reason: It finally places Dreyfus as the main villain and Clouseau and Dreyfus as arch enemies. It’s almost like sitting through five Superman movies before he can finally face off Lex Luthor.
Revenge of The Pink Panther (1978):
This last Pink Panther film made while Peter Sellers was still alive is also the beginning of the downfall. It’s very bland and soulless, you can tell Sellers’ and Blake Edwards’ heart weren’t in it. Also, for some reason Dreyfus is back as the chief inspector, completely ignoring the ending of the last episode in the series.
Trail of The Pink Panther (1982):
A cash grab hack job shot and released after Sellers’ death with deleted scenes from previous films spliced in to give the illusion that Clouseau is still part of it. Avoid at all costs.
Curse of The Pink Panther (1983):
Yet another hack job, with even less bottom of the barrel deleted scenes of Clouseau. Also, trying to replace Clouseau with a very annoying American detective (Ted Wass) backfires in the worst way. To be avoided as well.
Son of The Pink Panther (1993):
As a last ditch effort, Edwards tried to reboot the series with a “Son of…” title. Clouseau’s son in the film is a bumbling Italian cop played by Roberto Benigni in his usual way over-the-top fashion. Horrible.
As I mentioned before, please, please also skip the horrid 2006 remake and it’s sequel.
All in all, I would set up the marathon as follows: The Pink Panther, A Shot in the Dark, Return of The Pink Panther, The Pink Panther Strikes Back, and if you have time, Revenge of The Pink Panther.