In a single swoop MGM Home Entertainment have decided to release 4 parts of the "Pink Panther" comedy series on DVD. It is a series I have been looking forward to for quite a while because these films are some top-notch classic comedies with the late and unforgettable Peter Sellers. The films all have a unique charm, and Sellers’ physical comedy, clumsiness and the witty dialogues have helped establish them in the ranks of some of the most notable comedies of the 60s. Everything matches in these films, having you giggle and laugh constantly and even the films’ animated opening credits are as hilarious as the films themselves. Time to take a look at what MGM’s DVD releases have to offer. We have picked the first film of the series, titled "The Pink Panther" and gave it a closer look.
The Pink Panther is a giant, flawless diamond of inestimable value. Inherited through generations it is now in the possession of princess Dala (Claudia Cardinale) and accompanies her on a vacation trip to Cortina D’Ampezzo, to an Italian upper class ski resort. As you would expect from such a valuable item, it has already caught the attention of criminals however. Sir Charles (David Niven) is a professional thief, also known as "The Phantom", and in order to steal the precious gem, he befriends the princess and carefully plans his moves. Close on his heels is Inspector Jacques Clouseau (Peter Sellers), the clumsiest inspector the world has ever seen. Tripping over every piece of furniture within reach and breaking everything he touches, Clouseau is trying to uncover the identity of "The Phantom". What he doesn’t know however is that his wife is actually the Phantom’s accomplice and so the masterful thief is aware of Clouseau’s every move. Only his dumb-luck can help the clueless inspector now to find out the truth about the Phantom he has been chasing for a long time.
"The Pink Panther" is a very well crafted atmospheric detective story that revolves around the dopey inspector Clouseau. Interestingly, the sequels to "The Pink Panther" made Clouseau even more the focus of the films, by adding a vast number of hilarious Clouseau disguise acts. Peter Sellers is perfect in the role of the incompetent inspector and truly made the part his own. The dryness, innocence and naivete with which he portrays Clouseau cannot be beat. He manages to create an antihero that never seems truly silly, stupid or dull, but always funny and incapable. Clouseau is a culprit to his environment and still always remains loveable.
David Niven as Clouseau’s antagonist is also a perfect cast. His aristocratic appearance and nonchalant play create the perfect image of this Arsene Lupin-like gentleman thief, who leads a very active and open social life, while on the other hand being Damocles’ sword hanging over other people’s wealth - quick to cut it off.
Apart from the riotous story and the incredibly funny characters, "The Pink Panther" also features some great visuals. Carefully crafted and framed pictures, embellished by Philip H. Lathrop’s detailed lighting settings and cinematography, create a very warm and cozy atmosphere throughout the picture, despite the freezing settings of the snow capped Alps. In fact they create an atmosphere that almost lets you smell the burning wood in the fireplace.
MGM Home Video are presenting "The Pink Panther" in its original theatrical 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio. Although the disc also contains a pan & scan version of the movie, it is so heavily cropped that it literally destroys the film’s beautiful cinematography. Avoid this version at all cost! Although the quality of "The Pink Panther" on this disc is generally quite good, the film is definitely due for a full restoration. The film print used for this release exhibits a large number of scratches, spots, stains and discoloration in certain scenes. While the immediate conversion of this damaged print to DVD is very good, it would nevertheless be well worth to get rid of these artifacts that indicate the film’s age and wear and create a new cleaned up high definition transfer. The compression on the disc is good throughout and color reproduction is generally faithful with naturally rendered colors. Although a little soft, the transfer is nevertheless nice to behold with solid blacks and good shadow detail. Slight ringing is noticeable in a handful of scenes but it is nothing truly noteworthy.
The fact that MGM did not utilize a high definition master to create a 16x9 enhanced DVD for this particular film indicates that this transfer is the best available source to date. "A Shot In The Dark" and "Revenge Of The Pink Panther", two other parts of the series are presented in 16x9 enhanced versions and while these transfers exhibit slightly more details, even these prints show visible signs of wear. To be totally honest with you however, I think the films have never looked so good, and until remastered high definition transfers of these movies become available, I am sure there won’t be better looking versions around anywhere.
"The Pink Panther" contains an English monaural soundtrack in 2.0 channel Dolby Digital. As expected, the soundtrack is a little thin and sound muffled in places. This is clearly a result of the technical limitations of the times when the film was originally shot in 1963. English and French subtitles can also be found on this disc. But there is yet another highlight on this disc that you should not miss. The film’s original theatrical trailer can be accessed from the main menu and just in line with the movie, this is one of the funniest trailers I have seen in a very long while - so make sure to check it out.
While we have seen many slapstick comedies and a large number of physical acts, none of them has the charm of the "Pink Panther" series. One could argue the romanticized feel of the films helps making the atmosphere and characters more delightful, but I truly believe these films are just so well written, acted and produced that they have quickly become institutions in the comedy genre. The series has made Peter Sellers one of the hottest comedians of his time and if it hadn’t been for his untimely death, he would certainly still grace the silver screen today with his outrageously funny performances. Although we have only given "The Pink Panther" a close look in this review, all four parts of MGM’s series are highly recommended. If you liked and enjoyed "The Pink Panther" - which I am sure you will - there can be no doubt that you also want to own "Revenge Of The Pink Panther", "The Pink Panther Strikes Again" and "A Shot In The Dark".