Clouseau: Does your dog bite?
Hotel Clerk: No.
Clouseau: [bows down to pet dog] Nice doggie.
[Dog barks and bites Clouseau on the hand]
Clouseau: I thought you said your dog did not bite!
Hotel Clerk: That is not my dog.
-- The Pink Panther Strikes Again
Blake Edwards died on December 15th at the age of 88. Pauline Kael has described his "love of free-for-all lunacy," and that was certainly evident in the great Pink Panther movies he directed and co-wrote, which starred Peter Sellers as Inspector Jacques Clouseau. I particularly love the first three in the series: The Pink Panther (1963), A Shot in the Dark (1964), and The Return of the Pink Panther (1975). The next two, The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976) and Revenge of the Pink Panther (1978), are fun and have some great moments, but they are a little over the top, even for me. (Trail of the Pink Panther (1982) made after Sellers death with footage from earlier film doesn't really count).
The first three are simply brilliant, with A Shot in the Dark being the best of them all. These movies are slapstick at its best, with gag after gag involving a combination of physical mayhem and verbal absurdity. Sellers is oblivious as he blunders from one scene to the next, mangling phrases in his preposterous French accent, and turning the most innocuous situations into comically disastrous ones for himself and everyone around him. It is nothing short of genius. What is so compelling, I think, is how he valiantly tries to maintain his dignity by refusing to acknowledge the damage he has wrought, and then, against all odds, he somehow foils the bad guys in the end. Edwards described wanting to create the character of Clouseau as "a real clumsy, accident-prone, well-intentioned, but idiotic character," and decided that the one thing that could make him succeed was having him never give up: "He never figured he could lose, never figured that he could fail."
So, here's to Blake Edwards for giving us such unforgettably hilarious scenes, like this one from Return of the Pink Panther :
[A beggar sits in front of a bank playing an accordion. There is a monkey sitting next to him as Inspector Clouseau walks up.]
Clouseau: Do you have a le-sanz (license)?
Clouseau: City ordinance 147-B prohibits the playing of any musical instrument in a public place for the purpose of commercial enterprise without a proper le-sanz.
Beggar: I don't understand.
Clouseau: It is against the leu (law) for you to play your musical instrument.
Beggar: You say, it's against the leu?
Clouseau: Yes. Unless you have a proper le-sanz.
Beggar: What kind of license?
Clouseau: A le-sanz that permits the playing of any musical instrument in a public place for the purpose of commercial enterprise.
Beggar: Commercial enterprise?
Clouseau: Yes. You play that thing and people give you the muhnay (money).
Beggar: People give the monkey the money.
Clouseau: It is the same.
Beggar: Oh, no. I am a musician and the monkey is a businessman. He doesn't tell me what to play, and I don't tell him what to do with his money.
[Through the window of the bank, you can see that it is being robbed].. . .
Clouseau: Then the minkey's (monkey's) breaking the leu.
Beggar: But he doesn't play any musical instrument.
Clouseau: City ordinance 132-R prohibits the begging.
Beggar: How do you know so much about city ordinances?
Clouseau: What sort of stupid question is that? Are you blind?
[Clouseau is subsequently questioned by his boss, Inspector Dreyfus]
Dreyfus: The beggar was the lookout man for the gang.
Clouseau: That is impossible. How can a blind man be a lookout?
Dreyfus: How can an idiot be a police officer?
Clouseau: Well, all he has to do is enlist...
Dreyfus: Shut up!