A Shot in the Dark (1964)

One final tribute on which to end the year: a goodbye to another of the many luminaries who made our films of yesteryears what they were. This time, I’m remembering Blake Edwards, the writer, director and producer who made such varied films as Operation Petticoat, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Great Race, Victor Victoria and the Peter Sellers Pink Panther series—and who was also famous for being the husband of Julie Andrews. Edwards died on December 14, 2010, aged 88, and leaves behind a formidable array of work—plus much admiration. Polls during his time behind the camera showed that Edwards was that rare personage in Hollywood, a director who was a marketable commodity!

So, without further ado, into a synopsis and review of one of his Edwards’s best comedies: the second of the Pink Panther series, even though the signature pink panther never appears in the cartoon strip that runs with the credits. But the ham-handed, unutterably dumb Inspector Clouseau (Peter Sellers) of the Sûreté is here too, making life miserable for his boss, Commissioner Dreyfus (Herbert Lom).

The crime Clouseau has been sent off to investigate has occurred at the chateau of a millionaire named Benjamin Ballon (George Sanders). We’ve had a (very confusing) glimpse of the goings-on at the Ballon chateau in the previous scene: on a moonlit night, the chateau seems to have been a hotbed of naughty assignations. There have been men creeping surreptitiously up to women’s balconies with bouquets in their arms; women coming out on balconies in diaphanous negligees; men gliding down corridors with bottles of wine cradled in their arms; women greeting them by leaping into their arms…

… and now this. Amidst all that hectic activity, somebody has shot the chauffeur, Miguel, dead. And the police, when summoned, arrive in the form of Inspector Clouseau. Clouseau is taken to the room where Miguel’s corpse is lying. Also in the room are an under butler, Maurice (Martin Benson):

—and the person he’s been set to watch, the gorgeous Maria Gambrelli (Elke Sommer), a maid. Clouseau is soon acquainted with the facts: it turns out that Maria Gambrelli was found with the pistol in her hands. She cannot account for how that happened, but in examining her, Clouseau discovers a bump on her head. Surely this lovely lady has been framed?!

In the course of his investigations, Clouseau manages to set himself on fire and then gets accidentally thrown out of the window by the sudden arrival of Commissioner Dreyfus, who’s come to take over the case himself.
Not that Dreyfus will stay on the case long. Shortly after, someone ‘high up’ telephones, and Dreyfus finds himself being forced to put Clouseau back on the case.

—Which Clouseau takes up with great aplomb, unaware that he had ever been off the case anyway. Maria Gambrelli, who’s been imprisoned in the meantime, is brought for questioning to Clouseau’s office by his assistant, the long-suffering Hercule (Graham Stark). Clouseau wades through the evidence (and the ruins of his suit, which accidentally gets ripped in the course of the interrogation) and can come to only one conclusion. Maria Gambrelli is too beautiful to have killed anyone. It turns out that Miguel had once been Maria’s lover, but Clouseau is quite certain she couldn’t be his killer.

The only explanation for her behaviour can be that she’s shielding someone by taking on the blame. The way to discover the secret, as Clouseau tells Hercule, is to let her go free, and to then follow her.

Which, the follower being Clouseau (who, as it turns out, has no license to sell balloons outside the jail), means that he is soon arrested and ends up in jail himself.

By the time Clouseau emerges from jail, Maria Gambrelli is back at the Ballon chateau, where Clouseau quickly follows her… just in time to find her standing over the corpse of the gardener Georges (David Lodges), gripping a pair of bloodied pruning shears.

And so Maria Gambrelli lands in jail again. And Clouseau, completely besotted and convinced that she cannot be the murderer, gets her released again and sets about following her:

And ends up involved in adventures far more ridiculous than anyone could have possibly imagined.

A Shot in the Dark is regarded by many to be the funniest of the Peter Sellers Pink Panther films. I can’t comment on that, since the only other film of the series that I’ve seen is the first of the lot, The Pink Panther. And yes, A Shot in the Dark is by far and away the loonier and more hilarious of the two. It’s madcap, laugh-out-loud funny, the sort of film that could easily (and effectively!) be put on a doctor’s prescription as a cure for depression.

What I liked about this film:

Oh, everything. But most especially, Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau. That cocksure certainty that he is correct (what my mum calls the ‘supreme self-confidence of the fool’), the vacant look in the eyes, the combination ladykiller/smart cop/know-it-all facade: he has it down to a fine art. His funniness is a brilliant blend of Gallic-accented dialogue (“Do not tangle with me, m’sieu; I am a trained expert in karate! My hands are lethal weapons”), an existence unbelievably prone to accidents, and that expression of utter self-belief, the taking himself so seriously… this man enters a scene, and I start to bubble over with laughter, he’s so funny.

And other bits about the film that are great? The music (Henry Mancini). The screenplay. The direction. The presence, behind the camera, of an aficionado like Blake Edwards.

What I didn’t like:

The role of Kato (Burt Kwouk), who acts as Inspector Clouseau’s Asian servant. I don’t have anything against Kato—what irks me is the fact that Kato doesn’t have anything much to do in A Shot in the Dark other than practise karate with Clouseau, no matter what Clouseau may be otherwise involved in at the time. A dim-witted servant with a one-track mind? Or does this smack slightly of racism? I don’t think so, but the Kato episodes didn’t amuse me as much as the rest of the film.

But: a satisfying note on which to end the year. Goodbye, 2010! And goodbye, Blake Edwards: thank you for the laughter.

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14 thoughts on “A Shot in the Dark (1964)

  1. I somehow managed to miss out on Blake Edwards films, I am a huge fan of his wife Julie, but missed out on Victor , Victoria. I have seen some portions of this Pink Panther film. I liked what little I saw of it. I would like to reiterate that these old films are always strong on script and content and not just special effects.

    • I am a huge fan of Julie Andrews too! Do look out for Victor Victoria – I hadn’t seen it until after I reviewed Thoroughly Modern Millie last year, and a couple of readers recommended Victor Victoria as a good Andrews showcase.
      I completely agree with you on script versus sfx here – there are no special effects here, it’s just the script, the brilliant dialogue, and the superb acting that make the film what it is. And that always wins; special effects can only achieve this much, not beyond…

  2. I have seen Breakfast at Tiffany’s but have not been able to see any from the Pink Panther series. I hear they are super Funny. So anytime soon surely :)

    Happy New Year to you and your family and have a splendid year ahead. :)

    • Thank you, Sharmi, and a very happy new year to you and yours as well! Have a fantastic 2011! And yes, do watch at least A Shot in the Dark – it’s a hilarious film. :-))

  3. I used to have all the best dialogues memorized from these films…my brother and I would entertain ourselves with them on looooong family road trips. Have you seen the Edwards-Sellers collaboration “The Party” where he plays an Indian actor who mistakenly crashes a swank Hollywood party? It’s one of my all-time favorite films despite my sneaking suspicion that it might smack of racism too. But it makes me laugh helplessly. Would love to hear your thoughts on it!

    • I have heard of The Party, but have never seen it. Will certainly look out for it now, because after having seen The Russians are Coming The Russians are Coming, I’ve realised our taste in comedy may be very similar!! Thank you for that recommendation – I loved that film so much, I think it’s time I rewatched it.

      My father bought the VHS of A Shot in the Dark years ago on a trip to London. My sister and I also ended up memorising large sections of the dialogue, but that was more inadvertent than anything; it happened simply because we watched the film again and again and again! :-)

  4. Finished watching the entire Pink Panther franchise last fortnight.

    Thought The Pink Panther was quite a crushing bore whenever Sellers was not on screen. David Niven is like England’s answer to Cary Grant but nowhere as cool. That scene where he gets Claudia Cardinale drunk and they flirt is *interminable*. I was like, “Cut! Cut! What, is the cameraman sleeping? CUUUUUT!” Evidently Edwards knew what was the best part of the film by far and kept only that for the sequels.

    A Shot in the Dark is the second best of the lot. It is surpassed only by The Pink Panther Strikes Again, which is also by far the looniest installment. In ASitD, at least the basic plot is a commonplace country mansion murder mystery. TPPSA is almost a James Bond movie filtered through a slapstick lens.

    The nudist camp sequence was the highlight of this film. Quite risqué back then, I suppose. I presume that the wholesomeness of your blog has prevented you from posting those screenshots, um? ;)

    Blake Edwards’ films were notorious for racial stereotyping of Asians. Alongwith Cato Fong in 6 films, there is Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s and the Japanese characters in Blind Date. I haven’t seen The Party but I can imagine Sellers’s Indian character demeaned in the same manner.

    • Now I’m wondering if I’ve seen The Pink Panther Strikes Again or not. I may have, but it’s definitely not been in the past ten years or so – so it’s probably high time I watched that.

      “I presume that the wholesomeness of your blog has prevented you from posting those screenshots, um? ;)

      Hehe. Yes! Not that too many people read my reviews of non-Hindi films, but still. And, compared to what one sees these days, that nudist camp sequence is pretty tame. ;-)

      A friend of mine recommended The Party and was even keen on doing a watchalong. That never happened, but I’ve got the film lying around ever since, and have never got around to watching it – because I guessed there’d be some pretty annoying racist stereotyping there. Perhaps I should watch it someday to see just how bad it is. (Or – am I being optimistic? – not).

      • I have seen The Party since making that last comment. It was surprisingly funny and also quite poignant in parts, particularly the ending. There was little racial stereotyping, luckily.

        Now I can happily suggest it to you to watch it. You won’t regret it.

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