PG and hoo-boy. It's a very pushing-it PG. Knowing all about the history of the MPAA might be explaining a lot of what is going on with this decision. But if we're going by 2021 standards, we can't simply write off this as your standard PG movie. One of the most notable elements of this movie, besides the unusually large body count --used for comedic effect --is the normalization of sexuality and the use of rape for a laugh. Also, one of the scenes takes place at a nudist colony, although there isn't any actual on screen nudity. Regardless, PG.
DIRECTOR: Blake Edwards
Now, I have the tendency not to watch franchise entries back-to-back. Well, I still haven't done that. I watched The Big Sick between The Pink Panther and A Shot in the Dark. But, as the link suggests, I've already written about The Big Sick, which gave me a nice mini-break when it came to writing. So I do have a little distance when writing about A Shot in the Dark.
I suppose I should do some Pink Panther research. There are so many questions that I have about this franchise that need answering. I heard that everyone really liked the first movie and that was about it. But looking at the IMdB culminated score, A Shot in the Dark actually scored higher. I might think that it is a slightly better movie. Remember, I did think that the first movie was genius the first time that I watched it, but the second time didn't do too much for me. A Shot in the Dark has some really good giggles in it. Like, there's one gag in the movie that might be permanently memorable. I'm referring to the running gag of the police car going down the same street carrying a variation of an imprisoned Clouseau. Heck, the movie might be worth it almost entirely on that joke alone. But is the film itself better? There's something in the movie that feels really polished and something that feels really rough. And this is where my next question comes into this blog.
This movie is based on a stage play?
I'm writing against the clock right now, so I don't really have time to read the Wikipedia article. Is Inspector Clouseau the product of a stage play, potentially written by the author of The Exorcist William Peter Blatty? I clearly don't know what is going on here because I really get the vibe that Blatty has nothing to do with Clouseau's origins. But sure enough, the opening credits of the movie say that this was adapted from the stage play and that William Peter Blatty holds a writing credit for the movie with Blake Edwards. But when The Pink Panther came out in 1963, I can see that maybe there might be a weaker script that wasn't exactly airtight for the silver screen. So the movie is more than functional and that could be because it might have been a movie without Clouseau as the protagonist and it was ironed out on the stage. It's kind of like how Die Hard with a Vengeance was a different script without John McClane. (I feel this chaotic energy with what I'm writing today, so if it all comes out as jumbled, I thoroughly apologize.)
A Shot in the Dark is exactly what I was talking about when I wrote about The Pink Panther. Clouseau is now the protagonist of the piece and we know that he's going to win by sheer luck. That's the new formula. It's so confusing when the film doesn't refer to the events of The Pink Panther though. The first movie ends on this note that Clouseau has been framed and is going to prison. It's this chaotic energy that I'm still dealing with. There's the implication that he would be freed in a few months once The Phantom continues to pilfer to his heart's content. But the first movie establishes a really weird precedent by having Clouseau ending up as the fall guy for the events of the film. A Shot in the Dark, in contrast, has Clouseau getting the right answer despite his sheer incompetence. It's very funny because the film decides to subvert the tropes of the murder mystery and makes everyone the killer, including the police commissioner, who becomes a murder in response to Clouseau's incompetence. It's great. It's in this moment that I realize that maybe that the formula isn't Clouseau's success / failure rate, but rather the notion that the film will deliver the unexpected as a curveball. No one expects the hero to go to prison. Similarly, no one expects the entire cast to be the killer.
But there is something that is almost missing from the chaos that Blake Edwards sets up. The movie is funny because, of course, Maria Gambrelli is the killer. It takes that old chestnut of the frame job and takes it to such an extreme result that it becomes laughable that she couldn't have killed anyone. When Clouseau stands by her adamant innocence, it isn't because there's anything that makes him actually believe her. He simply finds her striking. His obsession with her attractiveness is what drives him against all reason to try to defend her. The joke is that "Of course Maria Gambrelli is the killer." So when she's right, that almost feels way too safe. Yeah, the notion that everyone else is the killer is funny, but it almost feels like a second place answer to the hole that the writers have dug themselves into. If the first one is this punk rock movie that lets The Phantom get away with it, the second one has to be "Maria Gambrelli is the murderer." Maybe that's just me. It just feels like Blake Edwards and Peter Sellers want to test the resolve of the audience as much as possible and this one seems to be held back just a little bit. If you wanted to have the joke about everyone being the killer, include Maria Gambrelli and say that "nobody really cares".
I'm going to say something that might rile some feathers. The caveat ahead of time: Peter Sellers is a comedic genius. His use of physical comedy might be one of the greatest in history. There are so many jokes and sight gags that absolutely crush in this movie and I can't deny that. But I will say, there might be too much of that going on, especially in the final act. Clouseau is meant to be completely hapless. But there is also something about the pacing that seems so far off and inorganic that the movie struggles at times. It's a bummer because when you find yourself getting mad at jokes, that is the opposite of what its intent is. It just feels like the script went through a thousand moments of punch-up. The physical jokes should be contribute to the inherent comedy of the moment. It's combining something savory and sweet without considering the result. That can work sometimes, but sometimes you get barbecue ribs-flavored ice cream and that last act screams of that. The joke in the final scene is the complete lack of clock. Great. That is hilarious. It's really funny. But Clouseau falling through the door is a distraction. Clouseau stepping on people's feet, a distraction. Sometimes we want to experience the first joke in its entirety before going beyond that point.
So it's a fine movie. I probably enjoyed it more than The Pink Panther. But I also foresee that this is going to be a franchise of getting in its own way. When a bit is crafted and allows itself to breathe, there's some real genius in the movie. But moments of quiet aren't bad either. It doesn't have to be a gag a minute. It can just rely on good writing.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.