A Shot in the Dark (1964)

Directed by Blake Edwards

I have to be honest and say I never quite understood the popularity of The Pink Panther movies. Overall, to me it always seemed they had great comic scenes but by and large didn’t hang together very well as movies.

The best of the lot, however, has always been A Shot in the Dark. It is definitely the strongest script. But as with many of Blake Edwards movies in the sixties, all its great elements seem to be countered with bad ones.

Part of this is the result of changing sensibilities. Movies moved more slowly in the sixties; they didn’t have today’s frenetic editing. Sometimes this is a good thing but in the case of Blake Edwards it isn’t. I’ve always thought Blake Edwards’ biggest weakness was in not knowing when to leave well enough alone. He enjoys his setups so much, he can’t seem to bring himself to get out of a scene when he should.

Similarly, this has always seemed to me to be the problem with Peter Sellers in films. His scenes often tend to go just a bit too long. Either Sellers or his director can’t seem to stop when they should. The films rely too much on Sellers to carry all the weight.

Still … If you have to have too much of something it might as well be Peter Sellers. His best Inspector Clouseau is in A Shot in the Dark. It’s not too much, and not too little. The slapstick isn’t excessive; it seems to be just right.

The film begins with an extended setup scored by a very sixties sounding, Henry Mancini song. The movie is a sex farce masquerading as a traditional murder mystery. It’s up to Inspector Clouseau to solve it. Hi-jinks ensue, as they say. (The opening, however, doesn’t move fast enough – at least not for someone more conditioned by today’s movies. Even for an audience of the sixties, I think this goes on just too long.)

As with most Edwards films of this time, the rest of the movie is an arranging of various set comic pieces. For the most part, they’re brilliantly executed. There are also running jokes (such as the police van) and a wonderful supporting cast of characters such as Herbert Lom’s Chief Inspector Dreyfus, Elke Sommer’s Maria Gambrelli and the impeccable George Sanders as Benjamin Ballon. (Watching Sanders’ deadpan face as he watches Clouseau is one of the film’s highlights.)

The key to this movie is execution. There is nothing innovative or brilliant in the script. It is standard story elements, standard comic setups, and so on. But the way Edwards, Sellers and the rest of the cast and crew execute is what makes this movie work.

It may also be that this is the best of the Clouseau movies because in this one he is not quite a complete caricature. There are some identifiable human qualities to him that are primarily seen in the relationship he has with Elke Sommers. It’s not deeply developed by any means, but there is some degree of depth to the Clouseau character which helps to establish a relationship with the audience. (In later movies, Clouseau was almost entirely the caricature of the bumbling inspector.)

The DVD is pretty basic, as is usually the case with MGM releases. There are essentially no special features, though there is an 8 page booklet. The quality of the image is good (as is the audio) though certainly not great. But for the price, it’s a pretty good deal, especially if you like Peter Sellers and Blake Edwards.

Originally published in 2002.

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