Robert Osborne was on Gilbert Gottfried’s podcast. Yes, Mr. USA Up All Night has a podcast, and it’s quite good. Towards the end of the podcast, Gottfried asked the king of TCM what three movies would be his desert island films. One of the films Osborne chose is a longtime favorite of mine, a film that I tend to watch when the snow appears en mass as it has lately. The movie is 1963’s “The Pink Panther.” The whole series of “Pink Panther” films were staples of my childhood, thanks to when I was handed a VHS tape that my mother bought from Avon—back when you could get movies from Avon—of “Return of The Pink Panther.”
In those pre-internet, pre-netflix days, movies sometimes just appeared out of no where. Maybe chalk it up to being a child with an overactive imagination (I know, shocking, right?) but there was something kind of strange and mysterious about these films that would just sometimes appear. “Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory” was another one of those films, and it induced a life-long love of Gene Wilder. The same happened with “Return of The Pink Panther,” it created a life-long love for Peter Sellers.
I began to watch as many Peter Sellers films as I could get my hands on, and most of the Pink Panther series was at my local video store to rent. I watched them all, I still like “Returns” and “The Pink Panther Strikes Again” very much. However, the two best films are the first one, and the second “A Shot In The Dark.” Yet my favorite out of all the Panther films is that first one, and it remains one of my most favorite films. It’s funny how films can create strange switcharoos during production, and that’s what happened with “The Pink Panther.”
Originally set to be a vehicle for David Niven, as a sophisticated gentleman cat burglar, in what Niven had hopped might be a new series of films for him similar to those of “The Thin Man” series, all of that changed when original actor casted to play Inspector Jacques Clouseau dropped out. Peter Ustinov had been cast, but with mere weeks for the film to begin production, he was quickly replaced with Peter Sellers. Sellers turned Clouseau from a background part, into the breakout lead of the film. Most of what one associates with the Clouseau character is missing from this film, the exaggerated accent is gone, and the bumbling is there, but not quite as much as you’d see in the later films.
But why is it I like to break this one out on the wintry days? All the snow. The whole film is largely set in an Italian ski resort village—and it was shot on location in and outside of Rome. The script is smart and witty, the film is loaded with beautiful scenery and a perfect Henry Mancini soundtrack. Frankly, it’s on my desert island list too. I could watch “The Pink Panther” and never tire of it.
If you need to know some plot to make you wish to watch this film, it’s all centered around a famed Pink Panther Diamond, so called because it has a flaw that, when held to light, causes the appearance of a cat inside. There’s a princess who owns the diamond, kidnapping attempts, snow, drinking, bubble baths, and Peter Sellers. Rent the damn movie and thank me later. See you next week.