During her lifetime, my mother thoroughly enjoyed the film performances of Peter Sellers.
I remember seeing Sellers' final movie — 1979's "Being There" — and another one of his last movies, the 1976 spoof of murder mysteries, "Murder By Death," with both of my parents at a movie theater. I don't know if Mom ever saw "Dr. Strangelove," which I saw for the first time on TV after I got out of college, and I'm not sure if Mom ever saw "I Love You, Alice B. Toklas," which I saw on TV with a couple of my buddies in college.
But I guess the Peter Sellers flicks that most make me think of Mom have always been the Pink Panther movies.
And Turner Classic Movies is showing one of my favorites tonight as TCM enters the homestretch of its annual "31 Days of Oscar" presentation.
By the time Sellers made "The Pink Panther Strikes Again," he had already made three films as Inspector Clouseau. The running gags had been established — the surprise attacks by his manservant Cato; his general incompetence and the chief inspector's manic attempts to do away with him; his maddening mispronunciations of simple English words, like "room." So this one was noteworthy for a story line that exaggerated all the gags.
I don't want to spoil it for you, but I will briefly mention some of the things about the movie that I always enjoy seeing:
- Some of America's leading political figures in the mid–1970s were portrayed, quite well by actors who looked and sounded a great deal like the men they were supposed to be. If you're old enough to remember guys like Gerald Ford and Henry Kissinger, you're sure to get a few laughs from their Oval Office scenes.
- The interrogation scene, a clip of which is attached at the top of this post, is, indeed, a classic, but I can picture my mother mimicking the line Sellers utters just before that scene after showing off on the parallel bars and tumbling down a flight of stairs into a room full of people — "That felt good!"
- Clouseau's tortured English was always comedic fodder. And his bumbling ways, which infuriated the chief inspector and drove him to a murderous campaign in this movie, set the stage for some of Clouseau's most memorable moments, like the moment when he asks the German innkeeper, "Does your dog bite?" The innkeeper shakes his head and Clouseau reaches down to pet the dog on the floor. The dog immediately growls and snaps his teeth around Clouseau's fingers. He shakes the dog from his hand, glares at the innkeeper and says, "I thought you said your dog did not bite." The innkeeper calmly replies, "That is not my dog."
It's kind of an old joke, but in Sellers' hands, it seems fresh and funny.
My brother has seen "The Pink Panther" remake starring Steve Martin, and he says it was good.
I have a great deal of respect for Martin's skills. I was pleasantly surprised by his performances in "Roxanne" and "Leap of Faith" so it was not a shock that he was able to portray a cartoonish character like Clouseau.
Perhaps one of these days, I'll bring myself to watch Martin's version of Inspector Clouseau, but, right now, I can't.
However, if you haven't seen the original, you should.
TCM isn't showing that one tonight, although it seems to be shown somewhat frequently.
You can see "The Pink Panther Strikes Again" tonight at 1:45 a.m. (Central). If you haven't seen it before, record it and watch it later.
But even if you've seen it before, you ought to see it again. It's that good.