All six Pink Panther features directed by Blake Edwards and starring Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau are featured in this six-disc Blu-ray collection, four of them making their respective Blu-ray debuts.
Clouseau was but a supporting character in The Pink Panther (1963), a comic heist film with David Niven as the legendary jewel thief “the Phantom” out to steal a priceless diamond (called “The Pink Panther”) belonging to Indian Princess Claudia Cardinale, but Sellers’ mock-French accent and oblivious intensity made him the most memorable character. The bumbling French detective Clouseau also has a wife in this one, played by Capucine. Set in a posh Swiss resort and accompanied by an easy-going light jazz score by Henri Mancini, Blake Edwards’ mix of elegance and slapstick was a hit and Sellers was back as Clouseau in A Shot in the Dark(1964), this time without a wife, which gives him time to romance lovely murder suspect Elke Sommers. While the original film gave the series its name and its hero, it was A Shot in the Darkthat defined the series by putting Clouseau in the lead and introducing two essential series characters: martial arts wielding manservant Kato (Burt Kwouk), who keeps his boss in shape by ambushing him every time her returns home, and tormented Chief Inspector Dreyfus (Herbert Lom), who barely survives the walking disaster that is Clouseau.
John Huston originally wanted to make this film in the late 1950s with Humphrey Bogart and Clark Gable. It would’ve made a hell of a picture. And, as a matter of fact, it did, only with Sean Connery and Michael Caine as Danny and Peachy, the ambitious British soldiers/con-artists/Freemasons turned adventurers in India. Huston’s adaptation of Kipling’s story manages to be both intimate and gloriously sweeping, a larger than life tale on a magnificent canvass (Morocco’s mountains – standing in for Afghanistan – create the breathtaking backdrop) grounded in the strength of friendship and camaraderie, and elevated by a magnificent score from Maurice Jarre, who works a classic hymn into a rousing theme.
It’s pure Huston: an impossible quest, an out-of-reach grail and an ironic twist leading to a supremely glorious failure. More than any other of his seventies films, Huston is able to turn their story into a strange sort of triumph by remaining true to his characters, right down to the riveting conclusion and the haunting coda narrated by Caine. He offers wonderfully old-fashioned storytelling—muscular, dramatic, grounded in character and driven by magnificent twists of luck and fate that arise like poetic justice dished out by a wry god—for the modern age. The colonialist perspective on the Indian and tribal populations as childish, foolish and backwards peoples is sometimes offensive to modern eyes but it certainly captures the attitude of a 19th century British soldier of fortune in India, relating his tall tale of a true story to his Mason brother (Christopher Plummer as Rudyard Kipling). It is, in short, one of the most rousing adventures of the 1970s.
This shamelessly and fabulously derivative Italian space opera is both the most ridiculous and the most irresistible of all the Star Wars knock-offs of the late seventies and eighties. Caroline Munro spends much of the film in a black latex bikini as the great outlaw starship pilot Stella Star, who is arrested by space speed cops, sentenced to life in a slave planet, masterminds an escape and is pardoned by the Emperor (Christopher Plummer) in exchange for traveling to the Haunted Star to find the Phantom Planet of the rebellious Count Zarth Arn (a chubby Joe Spinell). And that’s just the first few minutes.
The introductory shots echo the opening of Star Wars, with the camera caressing cut-rate space ship miniatures against a galactic backdrop lit up like Christmas tree lights. There’s an android sidekick with a Texas accent (not a Black Hole reference—that came out a year later—merely a lucky coincidence), alien civilizations (“Look! Amazons on horseback!”) and barbarian planets, holographic messages, hyperspace travel and a light saber, not to mention stop-motion robot guards animated with more love than talent and a Death Star substitute with five flaps that look like fingers on a steel glove and fold down into a fist to fire. But the set designs, costumes and psychedelic color are right out of sixties Italian genre cinema. Marjoe Gortner is prissy and unnaturally cheerful as her alien navigator, a mix of Luke Skywalker, Obi-wan Kenobi and Mr. Spock, and David Hasselhoff makes his entrance in a gold mask that looks borrowed from Zardoz, but Plummer brings dignity and gravitas to his part (even when booming the line “Imperial Battleship, stop the flow of time!”) and John Barry contributes a romantic-tinged score, less epic and adventurous than the John Williams but quite lovely.
I review the pseudo-biopic The Last Station, starring Christopher Plummer as Leo Tolstoy and Helen Mirren as Countess Sofya Tolstoy (both nominated for their performances) and directed by Michael Hoffman, for The Stranger this week.
This is Tolstoy as a merry bohemian in aristocratic trappings, preaching the evils of private property while living in a mansion. Sofya, meanwhile, is quite wedded to the concept of private property and happy to debate her philosopher husband. They have found a way to remain in philosophical disagreement and conjugal bliss…. The couple’s détente deteriorates as the power struggle escalates and our wide-eyed young Tolstoyan disciple (James McAvoy, all amiable naïf) watches a great love dashed by petty concerns. The film deteriorates along with it, into theatrical confrontations and tragic gestures.