One of the most enduring aspects of the Pink Panther films is undoubtely the wonderful animation shows as the opening titles run their course. The cartoon was created by Fritz Freleng who had started out in Disney in the 1920s but made his mark on animation history with the Merry Melodies unit of Warner Bros. There he created the characters Speedy Gonzalez and Yosemite Sam, the later of which was said to be a self-caricature. He was also responsible for developing the characters of Porky Pig, Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Sylvester and
Tweety. After Merry Melodies dissolved in 1963, Director Blake Edwards approached Fritz and asked him to design a cartoon cat to introduce his new film. The
"Pink Panther" was born.
The animated Pink Panther's brief appearance in 1964 at the start of the film paved the way for the numerous highly succesful and brilliant cartoon shorts, series and even comic books, starting with the Academy Award winning "The Pink Phink" in 1964. Freleng himself directed the initial and definitive Pink Panther cartoons before delegating the duties to his long-time layout man from Warner Brothers, Hawley Pratt. Before long the Pink Panther shorts were being double billed with another series called "The Inspector", featuring a cartoon version of Inspector Closeau and Commissioner Dreyfus.
Blake Edwards' importance not only to the Pink Panther films but to 20th century cinema is enormous. His career in the film industry spams from pre-war to present day. He began as an actor appearing in over 20 films before he made the transition towards his destined to be succesful vocation - screenwriting and later, directing. Among his best pre-Pink Panther work would be the Academy Award winning "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and the "Peter Gunn" TV series, both of which saw the beginning of his works' association with the music of Henry Mancini.
By the time the first Pink Panther film had been released, Peter Sellers' contribution to the comedy world was already unequalled by most. He began appearing alongside Harry Secombe and Spike Mulligan on the classic BBC Radio comedy series, "The Goon Show" in 1949. Two years later Sellers worked with his fellow Goons on his feature film, "Penny Points to Paradise". It was his starring roles in "Ladykillers" (1955) with Alec Guiness, "The Mouse that Roared" (1959), and "I'm All Right Jack" (1959) that really introduced his face to the masses. The latter film also won him an Academy Award for Best Actor. His performance in each of the Pink Panther films confirmed time and time again the comic genius he most certainly was. Peter Sellers continued to make films at a prolific rate throughout the rest of his life even when it became life threatening to do so.
"The Pink Panther", released in 1964, sees the bumbling Inspector Closeau trying to catch 'The Phantom', an elusive jewel thief that he has been on the trail for his whole career. His incompetence is so great that he doesn't even realise that his wife is having an affair with Sir Charles (David Niven) who is the thief. Sir Charles and his nephew George (Robert Wagner) check in to a Swiss ski chalet in the hope of stealing a priceless diamond, the 'Pink Panther', from one of its residents. He and his accomplice are eventually caught but once again evade justice by planting the evidence on the unsuspecting Inspector Closeau who discovers it while giving evidence in court.
The hugely succesful sequel, "The Return of the Pink Panther" did not get released until 1974 but made $ 17 million on its initial release. The Pink Panther diamond has been stolen again and Closeau is on the case. This time Sir Charles is innocent but Closeau does not for a minute entertain that possibility. He adopts many transparent disguises to catch his old adversary.
"The Pink Panther Strikes Again" continued the success in 1976 as did 1978's "Revenge of the Pink Panther". Sadly three more Pink Panther films were made following Peter Sellers' death in 1980 using outtage footage of Closeau. The only other film with Inspector Closeau was 1964's "A Shot in the Dark" and was actually the first film in the series to be made although it wasn't released until after "The Pink Panther".
The slap stick humour, the shear stupidity of Closeau with his unparalleled incompetence and the oblivious expression permanently held on his face are what made the Pink Panther films so special. The twitching insanity of Chief Inspector Dreyfus (Herbert Lom) combined with the suprise Kung Fu lessons courtesy of Cato (Burt Kwouk) provided the additional comic formula that audiences came to expect from the follow up films. With lines as memorable as "Do you ave a reum?", it's easy to understand why the Panther films have retained their popularity for such a long time.
In his career, Henry Mancini contributed to the world of cineman music at least as much as and probably more than the likes of John Barry, John Williams and Ennio Morricone. His career took off with Pink Panther director Blake Edward for whom he recorded music for "Peter Gunn". Two years later in 1961, the Blake Edwards film "Breakfast with Tiffany's" was released and included Mancini's classic "Moon River". Mancini won five Grammys and two Oscars for this soundtrack score alone. With the Pink Panther, his music perfectly matches every individual scene and greatly enhances the whole cinema experience. And this CD shows off perfectly one of Mancini's greatest talents; it shows his mastery of numerous and very different styles of music, music that can often only be described as indescribable.
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