Quick: How many actors have played the notoriously bumbling Inspector Clouseau The answer is five: Peter Sellers, Alan Arkin (yes, Arkin!), Ted Wass, Roberto Benigni (as Clouseau's illegitimate but also bumbling son), and now Steve Martin, in a desperate effort to revitalize the popular movie series.
There have been nine Pink Panther movies, if you include “A Shot in the Dark.” The hugely successful film series (1964-1978) gave Peter Sellers an indelible identity as the accident-prone detective with the impenetrable accent.
In the first, mildly amusing “Pink Panther” (1964), Peter Sellers plays Inspector Clouseau, pursuing a mysterious jewel thief known as the Phantom whose target is the Pink Panther”a fabulous gem possessed by Princess Dala (Claudia Cardinale). The trail leads to Cortina d'Ampezzo, where David Niven, Robert Wagner, and Capucine also become involved in the plot.
Interestingly, in the 1964, Niven was the nominal lead, and Clouseau was meant to be a secondary character. However, the character proved so popular that Sellers's next vehicle, “A Shot in the Dark” was quickly reworked to develop the Clouseau role even further.
Blake Edwards directed, and also wrote the screenplay in collaboration with Maurice Richlin. The Pink Panther itself ceased to be a jewel and became a cartoon character with a life of its own, accompanied by Henry Mancini's jaunty, pouncing theme.
Some consider “A Shot in the Dark” the best of the Panther series due to the fact that it marked the debuts of the series regulars, such as Herbert Lom (as Clouseau's boss and nemesis) and Burt Kwouk, as the kung fu-minded valet Kato.
Surprisingly, no Pink Panther movie was made for a decade, until 1975, when “The Return of the Pink Panther” proved to be a surprise hit of the summer. (In 1968, Inspector Clouseau starred Alan Arkin but was not directed by Edwards and was a flop).
After two more popular entries, Peter Sellers died in 1980. Nevertheless, outtakes of Sellers were edited into the shoddily constructed and exploitational “Trail of the Pink Panther” and “Curse of the Pink Panther,” the latter with Ted Wass in Sellers' role. Seller's fans stayed home and both films failed at the box-office.
Of the Pink Panther movies, two were nominated for Oscars. The 1964 film was nominated for Mancini's Original Music Score. The Scoring Oscar, however, went to Richard and Robert Sherman for “Mary Poppins.”
The other Oscar-nominated film was “Pink Panther Strikes Again” (1976). Herbert Lom plays for Chief Inspector Dreyfus of the Surete, who has been driven insane by previous dealings with the bumbling Inspector Clouseau. So he hatches a fiendish plot, hiring assassins from around the world to bump off Clouseau, and abducting a famous scientist to construct a ray gun that could destroy the world.
The other Oscar-nominated film was the fourth Sellers-Clouseau film, “The Pink Panther Strikes Again,” and the most extravagant one. For some, it is the funniest, if also the broadest of the franchise. In this plot, Lesley-Anne Down is the Russian agent hired to dispatch Clouseau; she falls in love with him after an encounter in the dark with the Egyptian agent (Omar Sharif in a cameo) whom she mistakes for Clouseau. Burt Kwouk is back as Clouseau's master-servant and martial arts partner Kato.
The 1976 film was nominated for Original Song, “Come to Me,” music by Henry Mancini, lyrics by Don Black. The nominated song is actually a throwaway parody, an overblown love song that accompanies Sellers' ludicrous wooing of Lesley Anne-Down. It lost to Barbra Streisand and Paul Williams' “Evergreen,” the love theme from the second remake of “A Star Is Born.”
The Pink Panther Film Series:
The Pink Panther (1964)
A Shot in the Dark (1964)
Inspector Clouseau (1968), starring Alan Arkin
The Return of the Pink Panther (1975)
The Pink Panther Strikes Back (1976)
The Revenge of the Pink Panther (1978)
The Trail of the Pink Panther (1982)
The Curse of the Pink Panther (1983), starring Ted Wass
Son of the Pink Panther (1993), starring Roberto Benigni