While the original Pink Panther film was full of comedic flourishes and moments of hilarity viewers often forget how little the bumbling Inspector Clouseau was used. Peter Sellers stole every scene he appeared in and Writer/Director Blake Edwards, when adapting the French play L’Idiote, made the brilliant decision of inserting Jacques Clouseau into the murder mystery mix as the protagonist – the result of which is best depicted in the photo above.
A Shot in the Dark lives and dies with Peter Sellers. His Closeau stumbles, bumbles, trips, falls, and makes a fool of himself – in the most endearing way possible – throughout every second of the film. Edwards’ direction is suitably unobtrusive, betraying his love for the silent era of cinema and allowing Sellers (and a wonderful supporting cast) room to breathe and perform. He paces the film superbly, and underneath the slapstick and physical humor lies an amusing murder mystery at the core. As the body count piles up Clouseau’s hopeless (or not so hopeless) romantic attraction to Maria Gambrelli (Elke Somner) allows him to ignore the overwhelming evidence (in hilarious fashion) and consistently exonerate her.
It’s a frantic, madcap affair, full of twists and mix-ups (personified beautifully by an opening scene in which an extended crane shot tracks numerous characters sneaking around a mansion for various sexual liaisons, culminating in the titular shots in the dark). Ultimately, however, this is Peter Sellers’ film and Edwards is fully aware. Aside from a surprisingly suspenseful dancing sequence of pure cinema in a club Edwards stands back and lets Sellers have at it. And he certainly does. From ridiculous glances of suspicion, to outrageous accented line delivery, to endless physical comedy of error – if one gag doesn’t hit its mark the next surely will. Those with an aversion to Sellers and his personal brand of comedy should look elsewhere, as the man’s style permeates the entire film and he destroys nearly every frame with his inimitably ludicrous presence. “I suspect everyone!”