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Inspector Clouseau
(1968)

Director: Bud Yorkin
Cast:
Alan Arkin, Frank Finley, Barry Foster


I think all of us at one time or another have dreamed to be an actor seen on the big screen. I will freely admit that I've certainly had that dream many times over my lifetime. But as the years have passed, my idea of what ideal big screen role that I would like to have has considerably changed. When I was much younger, I would have pleasant fantasies of being cast in the lead role of a motion picture. But as the years passed, learning just how much stress a lead role actor in a motion picture more often than not gets - and realizing that I might not have the acting chops to be strong enough in a lead role - the idea of being a lead actor has kind of soured for me. I suppose it's possible that if the right lead role came along I would take it. But there are certain lead roles that under no circumstances would I think of taking on. One of those kinds of lead roles that I would refuse to take would be that of some kind of iconic character. Oh sure, I admit that part of me would be tempted to take on such a role for several reasons. One reason being that quite often when an actor signs on to take the part of some kind of iconic figure, he or she will get a lot of respect not from the industry, but from the public as well. There will be people that think that if the actor is thought to be good enough to take on an iconic character, well, he or she must be very talented. Another reason why I might be tempted to take on the part of an iconic character would be that many times acting in such a role can make casting agents think of you as someone who can play any kind of character. If you are talented enough to pass as the iconic character, it is a sign you can take on different roles of different complexity.

But while there are reasons for an actor to take on the role of an iconic character, doing so can also bring in some disadvantages for the actor. It's a double-edged sword. There's one obvious reason that I'm pretty sure you have thought of already, that being that there is the risk of being typecast. Look at George Reeves when he signed on to play Superman on television; the role made him so famous, many casting agents refused to see him as something else. But the act of taking on the job of filming a movie about an iconic character doesn't just pose potential problems for the actor. It can also create a lot of headaches for the filmmakers and studios themselves. For example, if someone who is cast as the iconic film figure doesn't meet the expectations of the mass public, there can be a gigantic backlash. Just look at when Michael Keaton was cast as Batman; though he proved to be adequate in the role, there was still a lot of grumbling by die hard fans of Batman. I also wonder about the case of Elmo Lincoln way back in the first Tarzan movie, the 1918 silent feature Tarzan Of The Apes. I haven't seen the movie yet, but the reports I've read claim he looks too old and pot-bellied in the role; it makes me wonder if there was a fanboy backlash back then. Then there are the cases of the actor being adequate in the role of the iconic figure, but all the same turns out to be a pain in the ass for the production. This is what happened when George Lazenby was cast as James Bond. Though Lazenby was adequate in the finished product, his unprofessional behavior behind the scenes eventually spread and made him practically unbankable for years afterwards.

The case of George Lazenby also brings up another problem for filmmakers and studios when making movies about iconic figures, that being when they have to cast someone new in a role that has been firmly established by another actor in previous films. Audiences can get so used to an Inspector Clouseauactor in an iconic role that they can find it hard, if not impossible, to accept a new actor in the role. This can be seen in the Pink Panther series. Ah, you're probably thinking, those two awful Pink Panther movies made several years ago that starred Steve Martin. Yes, it was hard to accept Martin as Inspector Clouseau after Peter Sellers established the character. But what you might not know is that long before those Steve Martin movies, there was another attempt to continue the adventures of Inspector Clouseau without Sellers. That movie was the 1968 effort Inspector Clouseau, which cast Alan Arkin (who was later in The In-Laws and Fire Sale) in the role. Not only that, but the movie was made without the participation of writer/director Blake Edwards, the force behind all of the official movies of the series before the Steve Martin remakes. The lack of Blake Edwards wasn't a promising sign, but I remembered Alan Arkin is a talented comic actor - he won an Oscar for his performance in Little Miss Sunshine. And the obscurity of this movie intrigued me, so I decided to give the movie a whirl in my DVD player. Inspector Clouseau opens with England dealing with the stunning modern day version of The Great Train Robbery. Scotland Yard, after determining that there is a mole in their midst providing information to the robbers, decides that the best thing to do is to get a policeman from another country to investigate the robbery. The policeman they choose is, of course, Inspector Clouseau of France. What Clouseau doesn't know is that the robbery was just a way to raise funds for a bigger heist the robbers have planned - robbing multiple banks on the European continent. To make matters worse, the robbers, after learning who is pursuing them, frame Clouseau for their bank robberies! Can the ever bumbling Clouseau not only catch the robbers, but prove his innocence?

In case you were wondering, yes, over the years I have managed to watch all of the original Pink Panther movies that had the force of Blake Edwards behind them. And I felt that the eight movies in the series done by Edwards ranged greatly in quality - some were good, and some were downright bad. If you are familiar with the Pink Panther movies as I am, you are probably wondering how Inspector Clouseau comes across in comparison to any of them. Well, as you have probably guessed, it's nowhere near such entries as A Shot In The Dark or The Pink Panther Strikes Again. But on the other hand, it does not sink to the desperately unfunny depths as such entries as Son Of The Pink Panther. Unlike that particular movie, Inspector Clouseau does have some funny moments here and there. Early on in the movie, there's an amusing scene where Clouseau meets with Scotland Yard superintendent Weaver (Finlay, Murder By Decree) in his office, and the two men get into a slight comic ballet as they each move around the room, forcing them to move lamps and pictures in order to keep eye contact. When Clouseau subsequently is taken elsewhere in the building to get some James Bond-like gadgets, Clouseau of course makes a slapstick mess of things while handling them, which not only does provoke some genuine laughter, it feels in the spirit of the Peter Sellers entries of the series. That spirit can be seen in the other genuinely funny moments in the movie, ranging from a scene where Clouseau totally screws up using a microphone on an arrow to try and listen in to a meeting by the crooks across the street, to when an assassin tries to eliminate Clouseau but ends up getting into a fierce game of jacks with the bumbling detective.

Inspector Clouseau's funniest scene, in my opinion, is when Clouseau is stranded in a small Swiss town and attempts to use a pay phone to try and call London, using desperate (and hilarious) measures to try to keep the operator on the line and to get connected. Alan Arkin's comic timing in this scene is top notch. Which is a little unusual, because Arkin for most of the movie seems a little unsure of himself. Let me repeat that I think Arkin is a talented comic actor, but let me add that this particular comic role seems out of reach for him. To be fair, he gives Clouseau some likeability, and he does not make the mistake of overacting like Steve Martin did in the role years later. But Arkin seems afraid of going out a bit goofier. Maybe he was afraid that trying to be too zany would make him overact. Whatever the reason may be, he ends up being a bit too casual more often than not in his performance, and Clouseau's ineptness doesn't seem natural or believable. And when Clouseau is suddenly made to go slapstick wild for a brief moment, it usually doesn't feel like the same character we saw earlier. While a better comic performance by Arkin would have helped things somewhat, the movie would still be hampered by one big flaw - the script simply isn't all that funny. Even by 1968 standards, the humor is for the most part extremely lame. Many of the gags can be predicted before they actually unfold, like Clouseau's lengthy introduction when his plane has just landed at London Airport. Looking for his shoes (which he didn't realize he wasn't wearing until walking on the rain soaked pavement outside of the plane, ha ha), I was able to predict every so-called comic turn of this sequence.

I could give you many other examples of unfunny and predictable comic sequences in Inspector Clouseau, but not only would it be redundant, it would not give me room to discuss at an appropriate length some other big problems with the script. Certainly, Clouseau's investigation for large chunks of the movie moves extremely slowly or simply not at all for lengthy periods of the movie. Another problem is that there are some key plot details that are unclear or downright incoherent. It's not clear why such a notorious bumbler like Clouseau was hired by Scotland Yard for such an important case, and for that matter the situation that forced the Yard to do so remains unclear for the longest time. There's also one scene when Clouseau visits a man in prison to try and get information from him, but Clouseau is made unconscious by the prisoner during the interrogation. The prisoner then escapes (I think) from the prison, and the incident is never brought up again, with the movie simply moving on to the next scene as if nothing happened. I don't know if more explanation for those (and other) presently incoherent moments was originally filmed by director Bud Yorkin (Start The Revolution Without Me) but cut out in the editing room, but Yorkin certainly has his share of blame for what we do get to see. The movie moves at a sluggish pace for the most part, even in the action scenes, and that's like moving the head of a match slowly against the side of the matchbox - it's difficult to generate sparks (comic or otherwise) as a result. Frankly, it's quite amazing that those aforementioned few amusing moments managed to pop up in these circumstances. But it's much more understandable why Inspector Clouseau as a whole remains an unknown movie to this very day.

(Posted April 14, 2020)

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See also: Detective School Dropouts, Find The Lady, Night Patrol

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