Tag Archives: Robert Wagner

Pink Panther and Inspector Clouseau

 

The Pink Panther (1963) in the title refers to a magnificent diamond that has a small flaw if looked at under a microscope. The flaw looks like a little pink panther, if looked at the proper way. The diamond is worth millions and is stolen by the “Phantom”, a famous jewel thief played by David Niven (Sir Charles Litton) and his nephew, Robert Wagner (George Litton). A bumbling French inspector is brought in as the resident expert on the “Phantom”, Inspector Jacques Clouseau, played by the AMAZING Peter Sellers. This is how it all began. In place was some of the elements that helped with the success of a brilliant film and cartoon series.david-niven-and-peter-sellers-in-the-pink-panther-(1963)-large-picture

The producers for The Mirisch Company and director Blake Edwards decided early on to include an animated intro to the movie and hired a new animation production company formed the same year by Friz Freleng and David DePatie (DFE  Films) to design the title sequence. They were so pleased by the design and presentation of the Pink Panther cartoon character that they ordered a cartoon series shortly after the film was released. Their first short, The Pink Phink, would win Freleng an Academy Award the very next year. The Pink Panther character was a huge success, completely separate from the movie series, which ended up being wrapped around the very popular Peter Sellers character Inspector Jacques Clouseau. Interestingly, originally the inspector was just a supporting character as the film was supposed to be a vehicle for David Niven, but slowly over the course of the film, due to the improvisational style of Blake Edwards the director and the brilliant comedy mind of Peter Sellers, the inspector character stole the show, literally, from right in front of Niven’s eyes. This is simply a case of synergy that Edwards tapped into and took complete advantage of during the course of production. Give him credit for recognizing genius when he sees it and the flexibility of changing all plans to maximize what was to become a monumental opportunity.pink

Blake Edwards and Peter Sellers enjoyed working together to develop Clouseau down to every move and nuance of voice and expression. “For years I’d been getting bits of what I wanted into films, as writer or director…but I had never had an area in which to exploit my ideas to the full,” Edwards said later. “Then along came Peter, a walking storehouse of madness, a ham with an almost surrealist approach to the insanity of things, and we found an immediate affinity.” This almost didn’t happen as Peter Ustinov was originally cast as the inspector but quit before shooting began when Ava Gardner dropped the picture. Sellers was hired to replace him. Peter Sellers and Blake Edwards agreed completely on the notion that comedy should be painful. Edwards had worked with director Leo McCarey early in his career, and he said McCarey had taught him an essential truth about comedy through his ability to extend tension in his comic scenes past the point at which audiences became uncomfortable. “He called it ‘breaking the pain barrier,'” Edwards recalled.Peter-Sellers

Now, seeing the excitement build during rushes (term referring to raw footage viewed during production) lead cast, crew and especially the producers to think they had something special, and they had. Another bit of luck would shortly follow. Peter Sellers was next cast as another bumbling detective in the movie adaptation of a popular stage play at the time that would have him paired him up with another detective played by Walter Mathau, who were brought in to solve the murder at a country estate. Peter Sellers was not thinking the script for the movie was going well and he and Walter Mirsch convinced Blake Edwards to take over the writing of the script and the directing of the movie. After reading the current draft, Edwards got the brilliant idea to transform the script into a vehicle for Inspector Jacques Clouseau and Mirsch and Sellers readily agreed and they went into production on a new Inspector Clouseau movie which was released as A Shot In The Dark only 4 months after The Pink Panther was released. This really helped to solidify the character and the series moving forward. This film features 3 more elements that would become signatures in the series, namely Sellers mumbling and twisting of the original French accent, the Inspector’s Asian man servant Kato/Cato (played by Burt Kwouk) that attacks him at every opportunity and the Inspector’s boss Commissioner Charles Dreyfuss that wants him dead, played by Herbert Lom. Oddly, enough the actor who originated in the stage play, Walter Mathau (who won a Tony in 1962 for the part), dropped out when the play was completely rewritten by Blake Edwards and a young William Peter Blatty (most famous for writing The Exorcist).Inspector Cartoon

Inspector ClouseauThe next one to arrive was 4 years later and unfortunately both Edwards and Sellers were not available so the studio moved forward with Inspector Clouseau (1968) without them. In the role of Clouseau is Alan Arkin and it’s directed by Bud Yorkin. This entry is largely forgettable but from here on out, it’s notable that Inspector Clouseau’s customary hat and trench coat is introduced. All hands on deck were available for the next outing, The Return of the Pink Panther (1975) with Sir Charles Litton and his wife recast with Christopher Plummer and Catherine Schell. The success of this film enabled them to keep making the series.  The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976) was filmed shortly thereafter.  Herbert Lom is marvelous in this one, although, to his credit, he’s quite good in all of them.pink-panther-strikes-again

Revenge of the Pink Panther (1978) is my favorite as it was the first one my twin brother and I ever saw and was our introduction to this great series. I love Diane Cannon, so there’s another reason to like this entry. This one was the highest grossing of all the Pink Panther movies starring Peter Sellers, and arguably his last.  I say arguably, because he’s listed in the credits for The Trail of the Pink Panther (1982) and The Curse of the Pink Panther (1983) although neither features “new” footage of Peter Sellers, only reused or footage deleted from the other films in the series. These films are just dreadful and not really worth mention, but the last one does feature a nice little cameo by then Bond star Roger Moore as Inspector Clouseau.revenge

There have been two attempts to reboot the series.  The first time in 1993 for The Son of the Pink Panther with Roberto Benigni as the som of Inspector Clouseau. This one bombed at the box office and seemed to be a good match for Roberto and his style of comedy, but he’s not well known enough to get the spark ignited. The more successful of the reboots was in 2006 with Steve Martin in the role of Inspector Clouseau, but strangely enough held very few of the elements that I thought made the original series so successful. Although, a lot of people thought the combination was worthy and so The Pink Panther was reborn and made over $150 million dollars at the box office and was soon followed by The Pink Panther 2 (2009).Steve clouseau

The Thin Man and Dashiell Hammett

 

The Thin Man” was never meant to be a series of films, let’s get that straight right up front. The title doesn’t make reference to Nick or Nora Charles, the two main characters in the series, it makes reference to the murder victim in the first film.  The successful pairing of Myrna Loy and William Powell and the incredible characters they play are what influenced the creation of a mystery series moving forward, with the Thin Man moniker connecting the films together, even though he never appears in the series again.

The Thin Man was originally the creation of author Dashiell Hammett, one of my all time favorites…so much so that I named one of my dogs after him. It was published first in the magazine Redbook in December 1933 and then came out in book form a month later. Now, he wrote just the one novel for the Thin Man, but submitted script drafts for 2 of the screenplays that followed for After the Thin Man and Another Thin Man and later in 2012 these two screenplays were turned into novellas for the book Return of the Thin Man. I thoroughly enjoyed his original 5 published novels, his screenplays as well as these later works published by his estate.Dashiell Hammett

MGM loved the writing of Dashiell Hammett as well and went instantly into production on the movie as soon as the book was released and hired W.S. Van Dyke to direct and William Powell and Myrna Loy as the married detectives Nick and Nora Charles. Now a lot of the popularity of the series has to do with the pairing of these two actors who went on to do 14 films together with the The Thin Man series being only 6 of them, but I would like to add that it was another real married couple that has a lot to do with the popularity of the series and they never get the credit that is due them.  It is the writers Albert Hackett and wife Francis Goodrich who would write and rewrite the first 3 movies and arguable the best of the series. They were wonderful writers in their own right and would go on to write the classics; It’s A Wonderful Life, the 2 Father Of The Bride movies, Seven Brides For Seven Brothers and of course, won the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize for Drama for The Diary Of Anne Frank. The Hacketts were one of the most successful screenwriting partnerships in Hollywood history. From the time they got married in 1931, until their retirement in 1962, they turned out in excess of 30 scripts, mostly comedies and musicals.Hackett and Goodrich

Director W. S. Van Dyke (One-Take Woody) was given 3 weeks to shoot the film and he surprised everyone by bringing it in under budget and in only 12 days! It was a major hit at the box office and brought in 6 times it’s budget when it was released originally to theaters. I posted before about the film The Prizefighter and the Lady, which was directed by W.S. Van Dyke and starred Myrna Loy. He also directed Loy and William Powell in Manhattan Melodrama and because of the success of The Thin Man would direct them in 4 of the sequels. William Powell spoke of how much he loved working with Myrna Loy because of her naturalness, her professionalism, and her lack of any kind of “diva” temperament. “When we did a scene together, we forgot about technique, camera angles, and microphones. We weren’t acting. We were just two people in perfect harmony,” he said. “Myrna, unlike some actresses who think only of themselves, has the happy faculty of being able to listen while the other fellow says his lines. She has the give and take of acting that brings out the best.” W.S. Van Dyke paid attention to William Powell and Myrna Loy’s easy banter between takes and their obvious enjoyment of each other’s company and worked it into the movie. The director often encouraged and incorporated improvisation and off-the-cuff details into the picture.Powell, William (After the Thin Man)

Although the “Thin Man” of the title was the murdered man, Clyde Wynant, fans of the picture and the subsequent series began to refer to the Nick Charles character as “The Thin Man,” and all subsequent films included “The Thin Man” in their titles.  After the Thin Man (1936) was the second film in the series and reunited the 2 leads with their director and added James Stewart to the cast. Though William Powell and Myrna Loy were very close friends off-screen, their only romantic moments together occurred on-screen. The public, however, was determined to have them married in private life as well. When the two stars showed up in San Francisco (where most of this film was shot) at the St. Francis, the hotel management proudly showed “Mr. and Mrs. Powell” to their deluxe suite. This was an especially uncomfortable moment as Jean Harlow, who was engaged to Powell, was with them, and the couple had not made a public statement about their relationship. Harlow saved the day by insisting on sharing the suite with Loy: “That mix-up brought me one of my most cherished friendships,” Loy said in “Being and Becoming”, her autobiography. “You would have thought Jean and I were in boarding school we had so much fun. We’d stay up half the night talking and sipping gin, sometimes laughing, sometimes discussing more serious things.” Meanwhile, Powell got the hotel’s one remaining room – a far humbler accommodation downstairs.after-the-thin-man-herald-02-large

The next film was Another Thin Man (1939), and again featured the same writers, director and lead actors Loy and Powell. Two tragedies befell William Powell before the making of this film: the unexpected death of his fiancé Jean Harlow, and a difficult battle with colon cancer that required colon bypass surgery and new radiation treatments. Production of this “Thin Man” movie was delayed as a result, but Powell and Loy were given a standing ovation when he finally returned to join her on the set for filming.  Shadow of the Thin Man (1941) followed a few years later without the writers Hammet, Hackett and Goodrich.   Living up to his nickname, One-Take Woody, W.S. Van Dyke filmed this one in just 2 weeks.shadow-of-the-thin-man-print-ad-03-large

The Thin Man Goes Home (1945) was next and absent was director W.S. Van Dyke.  A lot was changed due to the war, for example the heavy drinking in the film series was curtailed in this entry due to wartime liquor rationing and the film was delayed because Loy went to New York to marry car rental heir John Hertz Jr. and was busy working for the Red Cross war effort. 2 years after that came the last one in the series, The Song of the Thin Man (1947).  This one is fun due to the appearance of incredible character actor Keenan Wynn and little Dean Stockwell as Nick Charles Jr. Ten years later would come a delightful TV Show of The Thin Man (1957), starring Peter Lawford as Nick and Phyllis Kirk as Nora. I miss Powell and Loy to be sure, but the TV show is fun and has a great tone unique all to itself. I think it’s a worthy mention in the series. You also have to wonder if the series was an inspiration to Hart To Hart (1979) with Robert Wagner and Stephanie Powers that came later.  I loved that show as well.the-thin-man-Kirk-Lawford