Return of the Pink Panther

If you’re only going to watch one Pink Panther movie, this is the one I’d recommend. You get more of Peter Sellers than in the original installment, Chief Inspector Dreyfus’s tics and twitches are at just the right calibration, and Cato has really hit his stride.

There’s the usual slapstick, with perhaps a tad too many pairs of pants getting ripped, but the bit with the lightbulb popping up in the Swiss hotel room, and the scene where Clouseau and the bellboy are hiding in the sauna are nicely done. You also get Clouseau saying “minkey,” “phoehn,” and “rheume.”

But the best part’s the costumes. Peter Sellers’s Englishman’s parody of a Frenchman was never better than the telephone repairman, complete with goatee and espadrilles in his ticky tacky truck. The bumbling cleaner who vacuums up a parrot: we see it coming quite a ways off. It’s still hilarious.Lounge Lizard 2 And nothing tops the swinger putting the make on the suspect’s wife in the hotel bar.

Christopher Plummer doesn’t have much to do as the presumed jewel thief. He’s not as suave as David Niven, who played Sir Charles Lytton the first time around. There are a few nice touches in the scenes he’s in, like having  the theme from Casablanca playing on the piano when he arrives in the fancy hotel in Lugash (the scene was filmed in Morocco) and giving him characters reminiscent of Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet to play against when he is there.

Oh, and you get the pink panther animation over the titles, along with the Henry Mancini score. What’s not to like?

Dr. Strangelove

I miss Peter Sellers.  As the sinister Nazi scientist with the out-of-control mechanical arm, he dominates this picture.  So it’s a surprise to realize that the character of Dr. Strangelove is only onscreen for a few scenes.  He is called upon once in the first half of the picture to explain the feasibility of the Doomsday Machine, but the famous gags where his arm gives a Nazi salute and later tries to strangle him don’t occur till the very end.

Sellers also played the upper-crust British officer who is second-in-command to the psychotic Air Force Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper,  who launches the nuclear strike against the Soviet Union.  And he played the solid midwestern American President Merkin Muffley.  The scene where Muffley apologizes to the drunken Soviet Premier Dmitri Kisov over the telephone is one of my favorite monologues:

“Now then, Dmitri, you know how we’ve always talked about the possibility of something going wrong with the Bomb… The *Bomb*, Dmitri… The *hydrogen* bomb!… Well now, what happened is… ahm… one of our base commanders, he had a sort of… well, he went a little funny in the head… you know… just a little… funny. And, ah… he went and did a silly thing… Well, I’ll tell you what he did. He ordered his planes… to attack your country… Ah… Well, let me finish, Dmitri… Let me finish, Dmitri… Well listen, how do you think I feel about it?… Can you *imagine* how I feel about it, Dmitri?… Why do you think I’m calling you? Just to say hello?… *Of course* I like to speak to you!… *Of course* I like to say hello!… Not now, but anytime, Dmitri.”

Apparently Sellers improvised much of his dialogue.  But the script of “Dr. Strangelove” is brilliant all-around.  George C. Scott’s trigger-happy General “Buck” Turgidson, assuring the President that a first-strike wouldn’t kill more than “ten to twenty million tops, depending on the breaks.”  He chews Juicy Fruit gum in times of stress, and the debate in the war room is plenty stressful.  Then there’s General Ripper’s certainty that he and he alone stands between the Communists and their plot to contaminate the water supply of the free world through fluoridation, “… to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids.”

But the film belongs to Sellers’ Strangelove.  A mad gleam comes into his eye as he embellishes his plan to preserve the human species in deep mineshafts.  “Naturally, they would breed prodigiously, eh? There would be much time, and little to do.”  By the time he’s worked himself up to imagining the type of women who would be required to stimulate the men to perform their prodigious service for the future of the human race, it’s clear that he’s completely bonkers.

And yet, every time I heard Slim Pickens mispronounce “nuclear” in that Texas twang of his, I had to remind myself that this film was a satire — a satire for pete’s sake! — from 1964.

(31 January 2011)