Spoiler warning: These reviews reveal plot details
When the British authorities suspect a mole in Scotland Yard, Inspector Clouseau is seconded from Paris. Arriving in London, he begins to investigate a case involving a major criminal gang…
In some ways, this can be considered the On Her Majesty’s Secret Service of the Pink Panther series – a one-off aberration, a side-step quickly rethought. After establishing the lead role of Inspector Jacques Clouseau in two successful comedies, star Peter Sellers did what Sean Connery was concurrently doing with James Bond and skipped a late-60s sequel. Sellers preferred instead to do the film The Party, which was being directed by Blake Edwards and scored by Henry Mancini – a schedule clash that meant all three of these key players from The Pink Panther (1963) and A Shot in the Dark (1964) were unavailable. Unbowed, the Panther producers pushed on anyway, gambling that the brand was bigger than any individual names.
However, Sellers had created such a memorable and entertaining character that simply swapping in a new actor was never going to be a smooth process. In the event, Alan Arkin was signed up, largely because of his turn in the 1966 war comedy The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming. The American’s career has been significantly more impressive than Sean Connery’s replacement as 007, former model George Lazenby, and he’s clearly a much more capable performer. But the analogy with On Her Majesty’s Secret Service still stands up when focused on the present film. Arkin does a wonderful job of demonstrating just how superb Sellers had been. This Clouseau is still accident-prone, naive and has an unfounded sense of his own abilities. But Arkin lacks the romantic idealism that had made the character so appealing in the first two films. The Sellers version had a winsome nobility, whereas Arkin’s Clouseau is more of a dullard. He also fails to build any chemistry with his co-stars; a nominal love-interest plot with Delia Boccardo’s Interpol agent Lisa Morell never has any spark to it.
After the continental settings of the earlier films, the first half of Inspector Clouseau takes place in London. Called in by the British Prime Minister to root out a mole in Scotland Yard, Clouseau soon encounters gadget-obsessed police chief Superintendent Weaver (Frank Finlay), his overly flirtatious wife (Beryl Reid), and members of a criminal gang (including Frenzy‘s Barry Foster and Doctor Who‘s Anthony Ainley). The plot, which manages to be both convoluted and arbitrary at the same time, sees the gang planning a series of simultaneous bank raids in Switzerland. Once Clouseau makes his presence felt, they also come up with the additional idea of framing him for each and every heist… by all wearing Inspector Clouseau masks.
Our comparison with On Her Majesty’s Secret Service starts to fall apart here. That Bond film may have had a poor lead actor who lacked the power and charisma of his predecessor, but it was still an excellently made and very enjoyable movie. Inspector Clouseau, on the other hand, is just lacklustre. It’s an unfunny, uninspired mess, and often boring. Unsurprisingly, as with Lazenby and James Bond, Arkin never returned to the role. For the next Pink Panther, Peter Sellers was tempted back – just like Sean Connery was in the next Bond movie.
Incidentally, whether it’s a coincidence or not is unclear, but Sean Connery is actually name-checked in Inspector Clouseau – it’s revealed that Clouseau carries a signed photo of the actor around in his wallet. Perhaps the filmmakers did know what they were doing, after all.
Four humble English vacations out of 10
Next time: The Return of the Pink Panther