Not too long ago I heard about a Pink Panther movie titled Inspector Clouseau (1968), released between A Shot in the Dark (1964) and Return of the Pink Panther (1975), and featuring Alan Arkin (instead of Peter Sellers) in the title role, and my instincts told me it couldn't possibly be any good. When it was finally released on DVD, I was a bit apprehensive to pick it up, given my affinity for the late, great Mr. Sellers, particularly in his Pink Panther roles, but I decided to give it a shot, and you know what? I didn't hate it...actually, I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would...written by Frank and Tom Waldman, both of whom were responsible for the screenplay for the 1968 film The Party (a most excellent film featuring Sellers), and directed by Bud Yorkin ("All in the Family", "Sanford and Son"), the film features, as I mentioned, Alan Arkin (Catch-22, Little Murders) as Inspector Jacques Clouseau. Also appearing is Delia Boccardo (The Adventurers), Patrick Cargill (Carry On Jack), Frank Finlay (A Study in Terror), Barry Foster (Frenzy), Clive Francis (Romeo and Juliet), and Michael Ripper (X the Unknown, The Brides of Dracula), a great character actor who appeared in a large of horror films released by Hammer Studios from the 1950s into the 1970s.
The story begins in England, as the authorities are busy investigating a large scale robbery that netted the gang involved some two and a half million pounds, which is believed will be used to finance an even larger heist. Due to security leaks on the force, the decision is made to bring in an outsider in that of the famous French detective Inspector Jacques Clouseau. During an interview with a prisoner (who subsequently escapes), Clouseau gets a tip on the leader of gang, a mysterious individual named Johnny Rainbow. From here it's a series of misadventures as the bumbling detective bounces from one wacky situation to another, narrowly surviving numerous assassination attempts purely through dumb luck. Along the way he meets up with an attractive Interpol agent, and ends up rubbing his English counterparts the wrong way given his comical arrogance. Eventually the criminal plot is revealed, and it's a nefarious plan involving stealing Inspector Clouseau's identity and robbing a large number of banks across Europe, with the generally hapless Clouseau intended as the patsy. The grand theft goes off as planned, but Clouseau, like a persistent rash, always manages to find himself smack dab in the middle of things (whether he realizes it or not), despite his blundering and incompetent nature, taking us on a comical romp across Europe.
I had heard the reason Peter Sellers and Blake Edwards, who wrote and directed the two, previous Pink Panther films chose not to participate in this third entry pretty much because they were burned out on the character, and needed a break. Given the successes of the previous films, it's not surprising the studio forged ahead without them, for better or worse (Edwards and Sellers would reunite for the release of 1975's The Return of the Pink Panther). Okay, Alan Arkin is no Peter Sellers, but he does have some comical chops (check out the 1979 film The In-Laws). The one, main aspect I struggled with in terms of this film was my constant comparing of Seller's Clouseau, which is obviously the standard, to Arkin's. The two never really came close, but only because Sellers was a genius in understanding and presenting the nature of the character, while Arkin is just pretty much playing the part. In Arkin's defense, there are few who could follow Sellers, but he gave it a good try, the result being half the time it worked, and half the time it didn't (the biggest fault I saw was Arkin's character was prone to goofy, strained histrionics). The effort was here, but it can't help but seem hollow at times compared to what came before...there was one, really odd scene near the end, when Arkin's character uncharacteristically admits defeat (momentarily), as the situation which he's in seems hopeless and beyond his capabilities. I don't ever recall a moment like this in any of the films Sellers appeared in as Clouseau, only because his character was so steeped in his own confident arrogance that he could never admit defeat, which would lead to even more comical situations. Another weird element presents itself early on Clouseau is taken to a Scottish festival by his English counterpart, which results in the first, botched assassination attempt, along with Clouseau winning a plum pudding, one that he seems to develop a completely unnatural obsession over, to the point of it being really creepy. There are some pretty funny moments throughout the film, including an impromptu game of musical chairs with an English police commissioner near the beginning, some antics as Clouseau is outfitted with spy type gadgets, an overly amorous Superintendent's wife, an incident during a funeral of one of the suspected gang members (the bit in the open grave was pretty funny, if not somewhat homoerotic), and so on, along with the expected slapstick, but the gags never really had the punch or zing as was present in the other films. I thought Yorkin did pretty well directing this film, as he manages to keep things moving along, even if the story felt uneven at times (the whole scheme of stealing Clouseau's identity and using it against him seemed a bit of a stretch, but did result in some funny bits), strung together by some pretty thin threads. All in all this is a decent enough film, worthy of a solid 3 ½ stars.
The picture, presented in anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1), looks quite good and the Dolby Digital audio comes through clean. There aren't really any extras, other than some previews for other Pink Panther related releases including the Steve Martin feature The Pink Panther (2006), The Pink Panther Film Collection 6 DVD set, and The Pink Panther Classic Cartoon Collection DVD set. I would have appreciated a little back story on this film to have been included, but oh well...