Pros: Sellers taking Clouseau with so much dignity
Cons: Cato scenes are pointless; Aishwarya Rai is not in it
The Bottom Line: A Shot in the Dark doesn't have the Pink Panther theme song. Just warning you.
There is one big, primary difference between the way Steve Martin plays Inspector Jacques Clouseau and the way Peter Sellers plays him: Dignity. Martin plays Clouseau as a bumbling fool whom you honestly wonder how he makes it through his day-to-day existence. Martin is an idiot, playing Clouseau strictly for the visual punchlines and allowing himself to be humiliated in almost every scene he's in. But Sellers plays Clouseau with that air of stereotypical French snootiness. He remains calm and dignified through the entirety of A Shot in the Dark. The resulting character plays less like a real moron - as Clouseau's Chief, Dreyfuss, insists he is - and more like a smart man who just happens to be a magnet for Murphy.
Director Blake Edwards adds to the serious atmosphere. There are no cheap camera tricks or angles played in poor attempts for laughs in A Shot in the Dark. What Edwards does is lay off his directorial accelerator so his script and his star can tell the story themselves. What this does is give A Shot in the Dark a prevailing calmness which gives you the feeling you're watching a true murder mystery. In A Shot in the Dark, there's no madcap zaniness to be played. There's no paper-thin mask to pull over the camera lens to make viewers think the movie is funnier than it actually is. Peter Sellers may be a walking disaster, but he steals the show because he is the only one who is asked to deliver a consistent laugh. Other characters get their glory too, but A Shot in the Dark is incontestably the love child of Peter Sellers and Inspector Jacques Clouseau.
I was under the impression originally that A Shot in the Dark was a Pink Panther movie. But it isn't. It's an Inspector Jacques Clouseau movie. The story goes like this: There's a murder. The main suspect is Maria, a woman who was found at the murder scene, standing over the body with a smoking gun in her hand. Surely this is an open-and-shut case, right? I mean, you have the person with the smoking gun standing right over the body with no prints on the gun other than hers. Surely most people would come to the very rational conclusion that Maria is the murderer, no ifs, ands, or buts. No offense, but Jacques Clouseau would say you are an idiot.
He's just fallen for the gorgeous Maria. If the woman's rack is nice enough, she could kill the President and no one would raise a big hoot. There's always that idea people fail to take into account. Clouseau lets Maria out of jail. And soon, bodies start to pile up. Every time, Maria just happens to be standing at the scene of the crime. And every time, Maria just happens to be holding the murder weapon in her hand. And every time, there's no one else around. And every single time, Clouseau bails out Maria because he's convinced that she's just covering for a lover. Is Clouseau just an idiot or could he really be onto something?
It's certainly well past the plausibility line. But A Shot in the Dark is trying to do something the recent reincarnation of Inspector Clouseau isn't really bothering with: It's giving you a true mystery to go along with the constant misfortunes of Clouseau. I saw The Pink Panther 2 today; it was my first-ever Clouseau movie. Afterward I raced home - well, okay, maybe raced is the wrong word; I guess I sauntered; alright, I stayed downtown to write a review of it for Epinions then stuck around for five more hours before going grocery shopping ya happy? - and watched A Shot in the Dark. The current movie left me under the impression that its plot only existed for the purpose of existing while trying to squeeze out laughs from every slapstick gag available. I managed to guess who Steve Martin was after a little beyond the halfway point.
A Shot in the Dark was trying hard to give us a plot which, while not exactly plausible, would let us suspend our disbelief. It gives us a very tricky case with a very tricky solution. It tells us early and clearly what the obvious solution would be in the real world, and we realize that literally everyone on the planet would have jailed Maria after a trial which would only have been a formality. The movie also makes the bold move of not telling us why Clouseau thinks Maria is so clearly innocent. Aside from Clouseau's obvious attraction to Maria, there's no reason to think she didn't do it. This works to show us just why Clouseau isn't well-liked by Dreyfuss. Of course, we know Clouseau is right, but that's only because he's the good guy.
Clouseau does manage to walk around collecting clues to solve the case. He also has to keep retrieving Maria from jail. Along the way, he manages to get himself arrested more than once for his lack of licenses for various street peddling. He also visits a nudist colony and takes Maria out on a date. When he is finally proven right, it is in one of the most ridiculous ways imaginable. While Clouseau is doing all of this, Dreyfuss, in some of the best-written comedy scenes ever filmed, stabs himself with a letter opener and lops off his thumb. You probably shouldn't ask. But at the end of A Shot in the Dark, we know the movie wasn't about the solution, but the journey there. This is punctuated by the ending, which is a cop-out. It's very appropriate and funny and not one I'm going to complain about, but it's still a cop-out.
The only scenes I didn't like in A Shot in the Dark involved Clouseau's underling, Cato. Maybe it's because I'm really not familiar with the world of Inspector Jacques Clouseau, but I really didn't understand what Cato's role was. He regularly leaps out and attacks Clouseau at inopportune times. Some of these times are funnier than others. Clouseau makes a mention of some kind of program to Cato, and so I'm thinking Cato must be some kind of apprentice. But honestly, the scenes just get in the way. The first two or three of them have absolutely no bearing on the movie. The importance of the rest is debatable. Maybe another Clouseau movie will help solve this Cato mystery.
As stated before, I've only seen two Clouseau movies (and I watched them both today. No, I really didn't have anything better to do). One is a remake created to bring Inspector Jacques Clouseau to a new audience, which I actually like more than I hated. But A Shot in the Dark is a classic, and with good reason. It shows you that a screwball comedy doesn't have to be all mania, all the time, yet it still provides a clever plot which keeps you guessing and makes you laugh harder than many other movies. But I will give The Pink Panther 2 this: Watching Aishwarya Rai - one of the stars of The Pink Panther 2 - makes the contest closer than it probably should. At least for men and gay women. The actress who plays Maria isn't even close to her.
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Nicholas Croston (BaronSamedi3)
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Peter Sellers returns as the world's most accident-prone detective in the second film of Blake Edwards' Pink Panther series. When Maria Gambrelli (Elke Sommer), a parlormaid in the employ of Parisian plutocrat Benjamin Ballon (George Sanders), is accused of murdering her lover, Clouseau is assigned to the case. The bumbling detective insists on the young beauty's innocence--much to the dismay of Chief Inspector Dreyfus (Herbert Lom)--despite significant evidence to the contrary. Even after Maria is caught red-handed (holding bloody shears, to be precise) near the body of a murdered gardener, Clouseau remains intent on her innocence, and continues to free her from prison time and time again. When the corpse of the Ballons' former maid, Dudu (Ann Lynn), turns up, all evidence leads to Maria's involvement, but not, of course, in the eyes of the wily Clouseau. Clouseau takes care to thoroughly investigate every angle of the case (even if it does require a stakeout at a nudist colony) to nab the real killer....