A SHOT IN THE DARK
Tagline: It's Sellers the Sleuth... and there's nothing he won't do to track down a body -- dead or alive!
Preshow Entertainment: ABC PROMO REEL
For Preshow, we watched the rest of the ABC promo reel from the 1960s and 1970s. These were commercials as well as promos (for affiliates, I guess) of premieres and returning shows. Here's some of the spots we saw:
Mannix, Cannon, Family Affair, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Time Tunnel, Land of the Giants, The Invaders, Lost in Space, UFO, The Second Hundred Years, The FBI, Felony Squad, Jim Bowie, Batman, Hollywood Palace, Mike Wallace Interviews, That Girl, The Ugliest Girl In Town, Journey to the Unknown, Toma, Griff, Adam's Rib, Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice, Alpha Caper, The Six Million Dollar Man, Love on a Rooftop, Judd for the Defense, Hondo, Apple Pie and Taxi.
We also saw a campaign they had called "We're the One!" which featured every damn star on their roster, sitting on bleachers singing the song and holding up one finger. I'd like to see them get away with that today. Also on the reel, a stunning Volkswagen commercial featuring King Kong.
Coincidentally, we watched a lot of Mannix, Voyage, Giants and Time Tunnel this year, so it was pretty cool to also see how they marketed the shows.
AND NOW, OUR FEATURE PRESENTATION:
With cartoons, TV shows, reboots, sequels and even sequels of remakes, there's no question as to the success of any panther of the pinkish variety. It's the Starbucks of movie franchises, popping up at every turn. Even today, nearly 45 years after his debut, I saw a Sweet'N Low TV commercial starring the Pink Panther and Regis Philbin. What is open for debate is how good they are. "Not very" is a fine answer for most of them. But the first two, THE PINK PANTHER and A SHOT IN THE DARK, were the bright spots. The 2006 Steve Martin one, which he also co-wrote, was an empty and sad attempt, with nary a joke to be found. So that could only mean one thing - they're making a sequel, due in 2009.
Also debatable is which movie was first, A SHOT IN THE DARK or THE PINK PANTHER. Released only months apart, it turns out SHOT was shot, shelved by the studio, and released only after the huge success of PANTHER.
A SHOT IN THE DARK is a classic parlor room mystery, but instead of Hercule Poirot we get Jacques Clouseau, a bumbling detective who makes Inspector Lestrade look like Lt. Columbo (it's wisely never mentioned just how a fool like Clouseau could ever be on a police force).
ASITD opens with tryst-seekers making staged, farcical entrances in and out of rooms of a mansion to Mancini's haunting "Shadows of Paris." Then, a single gunshot. A murder has been committed at the home of millionaire Ballon (George Sanders) and somehow Clouseau is put in charge of the case.
Clouseau becomes instantly smitten with the prime suspect, maid Maria Gambrelli (Elke Sommer), and he defends her innocence at every turn. And here's the worst part - could Clouseau be correct? And who could blame him? Unlike icy Catherine Tramell-y types, Maria is truly a cuddly kitty.
And this is all you need to know. The rest of the movie is all Sellers. His slapstick falls (like from the car into a fountain or rocking himself right off the couch), his spoonerisms ("a rit of fealous jage!", though that's rumored to have been a slip of the tongue and they just left it in), his declarations ("I suspect everyone, and I suspect no one!"), and the way he progressively drives his boss (Herbert Lom) so mad he may actually commit a murder himself. The murders pile up (at one point someone is even after Clouseau) but it doesn't really matter. Clouseau is smitten with Maria, and we want him to win the girl and the case. And also get his hand stuck in a spinning globe.
Attention movie editors (and directors)! Watching this movie again, I realized (again) just how important the reaction shot is. While Sellers is chewing up the scenery (not quite literally, but almost), they cut to whoever is watching. The direction must have been, "just stare at him with a deadpan look, and don't make a sound." And it works unbelievably well.
A SHOT IN THE DARK is thought by many to be the best of the franchise. Ironic, since the original script didn't even have Clouseau in it. It was a play (with Walter Matthau!) retro-fitted for Sellers and the character. Blake Edwards directed the movie (we're seeing his movie 10 next month, to celebrate the beginning of RMC's 10th year) and co-wrote it with William Peter Blatty, who went on to write the book and script for THE EXORCIST. That's just cool.
Perhaps the most popular trademarks of PINK PANTHER movies are the theme song (maybe the most recognizable of all of Mancini's works) and the animated opening. This one lasts a full four minutes, and it doesn't even feature that darn cat. But that may be because, as mentioned earlier, this film was made before THE PINK PANTHER (whose title refers not to a feline but a diamond).
I have friends who love Peter Sellers and others who hate hate hate him. I guess I'm somewhere in the middle. I love the clueless Clouseau even in the bad movies. I laughed a lot at his Mr. Hulot-ish turn as a guest in THE PARTY, and as a lawyer in I LOVE YOU ALICE B. TOKLAS. His poetic performance as Chauncey Gardner in BEING THERE is, for my money, his best. I loved him in LOLITA and DR. STRANGELOVE. But I didn't care for much of his other work (that I've seen). It's too bad BEING THERE wasn't his swan song. No, he had to go make THE FIENDISH PLOT OF DR. FU MANCHU.
But if you do like Sellers, farce and slapstick, then you'll undoubtedly enjoy A SHOT IN THE DARK. My favorite moment? Towards the end, all of the characters are huddled close in a huge verbal argument, yelling at each other and pushing Clouseau away whenever he tries to gain entry to the cluster. Unable to get in, he turns and looks directly into the camera with a quick look of full blown exasperation, then turns back to the crowd. Though done before in comedy (Oliver Hardy), it's still brilliant. Other great moments: the 90 second "synchronize watches" improv between him and his thankless assistant/punching bag Hercule (Graham Stark), the final parlor scene, and the sort of famous nudist camp scene (apparently, throwing a beach ball around was a big nudist sport).
And now, if I may paraphrase Clouseau regarding who will like A SHOT IN THE DARK - "I suspect everyone, and I suspect no one!"
Tags: random movie club, a shot in the dark, old ABC promos, peter sellers, elke sommer