Peter Sellers was not supposed to play Inspector Clouseau in The Pink Panther, but once chosen for the role, revolutionizes his character and changes the tone of the film altogether. But how did he do it?
The Pink Panther is the first installment in a franchise of seven feature films, six of which are portrayed by actor Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau. The film is directed by Blake Edwards, at the time known for Diamonds on the Couch and Operation Petticoats.
The story is based on a princess (Claudia Cardinale) fleeing her country for Europe with in her luggage an extraordinary precious stone, “The Pink Panther”. While on vacation in Cortina d’Ampezzo, she becomes the number one prey of the famous thief called Phantom. Inspector Clouseau is sent to the scene to flush out the elusive burglar.
Originally, the production of the film wanted Peter Ustinov in the role of Clouseau, but he refused. Years later, the actor will console himself by playing another cult inspector, Hercule Poirot, in Mort sur le Nil (1978), and five other feature films. It is in replacement of Ustinov that Sellers enters the scene.
According to legend, director Blake Edwards picks up the actor at the airport, and along the way, the two discuss their love of silent actors like Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. This brings about a radical change in the character of Clouseau, initially thought of as a serious and inflexible investigator, and who will undergo these influences from the beginnings of cinema.
From this idea of the two accomplices emerges an offbeat comic, born of embarrassing situations or the oddity of the character who embodies it. Sellers will use Clouseau to constantly try new things on the set. In order to satisfy the extravagances of his actor, Blake Edwards uses several cameras in order not to miss anything and to be able to more easily punctuate the gags during the editing.
But this impromptu change in direction of the film is not to everyone’s liking. In the credits, the star of the film is David Niven, who however takes a back seat because of Clouseau’s irresistible interpretation for Sellers which de facto attracts the cover on his side. Niven was thinking of starting a franchise in which he would be the hero, and Sellers eventually stole the show from him.
Because the impact of Sellers on Clouseau resonated so much with the public that The Pink Panther led to many sequels, always with the Edwards-Sellers duo at the helm: When the inspector gets tangled (1964), The Return of the Pink Panther (1975), When the Pink Panther Tangle (1976), The Curse of the Pink Panther (1978) and In Search of the Pink Panther (1982), during the filming of which Sellers died.
Outside “Pink Panther”, the duo also shoot the cult La Party (1968), which sees Sellers wandering around a party, bumping into the most eccentric characters and accumulating silly things without really realizing it.
More info: The Pink Panther is a diamond, but there is an animated pink panther character during the credits of the film. It appears moreover on most of the posters of the feature films of the saga. He became so popular that he had his own animated series as early as 1964, and many more would follow in the following decades.