The Pink Panther (1963, Peter Sellers, David Niven) (1963)
The Pink Panther, the film that launched the bumbling, incompetent Inspector Jacques Clouseau (Peter Sellers) on the world actually has him playing second fiddle to David Niven and Robert Wagner. But such was the comedy appeal that Sellers and Blake Edwards were to literally franchise the character, with Edwards even squeezing a further Panther film out after Sellers’ death.
The Pink Panther is actually a priceless jewel owned by Princess Dala (Claudia Cardinale). Seen in fast-cut criminal scenes, the chief suspects are lined up: suave British aristocrat Sir Charles Litton (David Niven), his American nephew George (Robert Wagner) and Simone Clouseau (Capucine), wife of the very man hunting one of Europe’s most audacious crooks. All gather at a fancy dress ball and, after a series of mishaps, Clouseau collars the suspect. But at the subsequent trial, the tables are cunningly turned and it is the Inspector seen riding in the prison van while the real crooks go free.
Sellers was second choice to Peter Ustinov. At the time, he was relatively unknown outside Britain, but this was his passport to international fame. His character overshadowed much of his subsequent work but made him a household name. Niven and Wagner, cast for trans-Atlantic appeal, and Capucine and Cardinale, added for the European circuit, all played their parts well enough, but it was Sellers who struck the chord with the audience with both his physical and linguistic comedy.