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Eddie Murphy Has Big Shoes to Fill in ‘Pink Panther’ Franchise

Oscar nominee will be latest star to follow in Peter Sellers' iconic footsteps

One of the oldest film franchises has once again been given new life and, as always, the announcement brings both hesitation and measured excitement for longtime fans.

Eddie Murphy is now the lead of an upcoming redux of “The Pink Panther.” News that Murphy is up for the role of Inspector Clouseau will not come across as a slight to legendary actor and series star, the late Peter Sellers.

After all, reports of a newcomer taking over for Sellers is nothing new; in fact, it’s a reminder of how many times this has already occurred.

From 1963 to 1975, Peter Sellers starred as Clouseau, the moronic but relentless French Chief Inspector whose assignments ostensibly spring off from a theft of the Pink Panther diamond (the series’ long-running McGuffin).

The series was noteworthy for being a showcase for Sellers’ comic brilliance, franchise director Blake Edwards’ skill with large-scale slapstick comedy, a bevy of attractive co-stars, striking and hilarious animated opening title sequences and especially Henry Mancini’s silky, charming theme music.

There was a single, off-brand entry: “Inspector Clouseau,” starring Alan Arkin in the title role (his French accent sounds more like his own voice than an affectation of Sellers). It was directed by Bud Yorkin, lacks the Mancini music and I only mention it for the sake of completion, as the film’s existence is the most interesting thing about it.

Inspector Clouseau 1968 Trailer | Alan Arkin | Frank Finlay

Otherwise, Clouseau was to Sellers what James Bond once was to Sean Connery.

In addition to Clouseau’s amusingly impenetrable accent, clever disguises and ability to leave a pile of rubble wherever he goes, the other series regulars included Herbert Lom’s longsuffering Inspector Dreyfuss and Burt Kwouk’s martial master Cato (Kwouk brought dignity to a potentially demeaning part).

There would also be opportunities for the original “Pink Panther” co-stars David Niven, Capucine and Robert Wagner to make welcome cameos. The first film arrived in 1963 and the title character (the panther, not the diamond) became the star of long-running cartoons a year later.

As the franchise grew older, Sellers depended greatly on stunt doubles to perform the dangerous slapstick gags the script demanded and the inspiration began to wane. When Sellers died in 1980, it seemed the film franchise would cease without him.

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However, with the box office consistently strong for the United Artists tentpole and Edwards willing to keep going, the franchise continued.

The first Clouseau comedy to be released after Sellers’ death (and the first since “Revenge of the Pink Panther” in 1978) was “Trail of the Pink Panther” (1982), in which a TV reporter (played by Joanna Lumley, years before “Absolutely Fabulous”) investigates Clouseau’s disappearance and interviews characters from prior entries.

Trail of the Pink Panther Official Trailer #1 - Robert Loggia Movie (1982) HD

In between these dry vignettes are outtakes from prior “Pink Panther” entries. At the time of the film’s release, many accused the film of being a cash grab and an easy way to make money from the memory (and discarded work) of Sellers. Countering this position by suggesting the film is a loving tribute to Sellers only goes so far.

Following a brief prologue of the Pink Panther diamond being stolen once again, a title card announces “To Peter, The One and Only Clouseau.” The outtakes on hand aren’t all golden, with many going on too long and indicating plainly why they needed to be cut in the first place.

Use of a double in the final scene, with a Sellers impersonator opening his coat to reveal the cartoon Pink Panther underneath, suggests the longevity of The Pink Panther franchise is as much about the animated panther as it is Clouseau.

After most of the end credits, the film announces, “Curse of the Pink Panther, Coming Soon.” This is where the real trouble begins.

FAST FACT: Peter Sellers initially planned to be a professional drummer before his innate mimicry skills convinced him to follow a more comedic path to fame.

Opening a year after “Trail of the Pink Panther” was met with a shrug, we got the entirely Sellers-less “Curse of the Pink Panther” (1983). The good news is that Herbert Lom’s increasingly insane Dreyfuss continues to steal these movies and, when the films became especially tired, the animated opening credits were always a highlight.

On the other hand, the franchise’s insistence that Clouseau is still alive and missing is as dubious as keeping Paul Walker’s character oddly intact in the “Fast and Furious” universe. The odd premise of “Curse of the Pink Panther” is that Dreyfuss summons the world’s greatest detective to find Clouseau and settles on Sgt. Clifton Sleigh, a New York cop who, from the first scene, is clearly an imbecile.

However, whereas Sellers found physical and verbal innovations to bring his character to life, Wass’ amateurish, unfunny turn never connects. As in the prior entry, it’s now Lom’s movie. Wass, to be fair, had an impossible task of following Sellers and had a much better time as a television actor (this movie and “Sheena” the following year ended his film career).

Edwards is still staging massive set pieces, and a few stand out for their hutzpah (Sleigh’s failed initial meeting with Dreyfuss and a drop through a glass sunroof are especially impressive). A late-in-the-film cameo by a major star to fill in for Sellers is the most successful and inspired idea here. What the film achieves most is spotlighting Sellers’ absence and inability to get ahead of it.

Edwards was also looking elsewhere at this point, with the creative and box office successes of “10” (1979) and “Victor/Victoria” (1982) indicating more grown-up fare ahead. While Edwards continued to make more slapstick-heavy comedies, only the John Ritter-led “Skin Deep” (1989) was worthy of being compared to his earlier works (in fact, why wasn’t Ritter hired to for the lead in “Curse of the Pink Panther”?).

A decade after “Curse of the Pink Panther,” Edwards gave the series one last shot and it wound up being his final film: “Son of the Pink Panther” (1993). The last of the original incarnation has a terrific start- the opening titles combine live action and animation, with the Pink Panther sharing the screen with Henry Mancini and Bobby McFerrin (whose new take on the music works).

Son of the Pink Panther (1/10) Movie CLIP - Bumpkin Cop (1993) HD

It’s an excellent opener. The villains are introduced and, as led by Robert Davi, Mike Starr (sporting a Mario Bros. mustache) and Jennifer Edwards, come across with the kind of grit and force you’d expect from a “Die Hard” sequel.

Give Edwards credit for trying something different. The contrast of introducing the title character, a moron like his father, should click since the spawn of Clouseau taking on a vicious group of criminals has rich possibilities.

Yet, while Roberto Benigni (pre-Oscar but already a popular comic worldwide) works hard as Clouseau’s son and gives himself to the physical demands of the role, his performance is irritating.

Attempts to connect this with the prior entries (Kwouk makes a welcome appearance, as does Claudia Cardinale, though not as the same character she played in the first “Pink Panther”) mostly work, and Edwards dependably goes big with the set pieces.

Yet it runs out of energy at the midpoint, coasts for far too long and invests more energy in the action sequences than the comedy. A last-minute attempt to suggest a sequel is unconvincing, as audiences ignored the film stateside (it was a bigger hit overseas, where Benigni had a greater following).

For 13 years, the Pink Panther went into hibernation.

The 2006 remake, starring Steve Martin as Clouseau, lacked Edwards or any real need to be made. However, the dependably brilliant Martin had a hand at writing the screenplay and, due to this and some choice moments, there is scattered hilarity throughout.

Martin does the Sellers’ French accent, which may not have been the best choice, as it only makes for the inevitable comparison. While the plot and feel of the film is generic, some scenes connect (Clouseau’s failed dialect course is a riot) and co-stars Kevin Kline (an inspired choice for Dreyfus) and Beyonce (pre-megastardom and charming here) help a great deal.

The Pink Panther Official Trailer #1 - Steve Martin Movie (2006) HD

The ’06 “Pink Panther” overcame bad word of mouth and became a surprise hit. The 2009 “The Pink Panther 2” was, not unwisely, aimed more at kids and, despite a few good physical bits, is far more unnecessary than its predecessor and failed to connect with audiences.

Now, after rumblings that Mike Myers might take on Clouseau, no less than Axel Foley himself is attached. Naysayers should keep in mind that Jerry Lewis purists once balked at Murphy remaking “The Nutty Professor” and that the star, when in the right project, is a comedy force of nature.

Is Clouseau a good fit for Murphy or will he be the latest actor to demonstrate that only Sellers truly owned the role?

Whether Murphy’s take on Clouseau connects or misfires, we can be assured that Clouseau, like 007, Indiana Jones, John Shaft and Freddy Krueger (to name a few) will always live on, though with the caveat of being forever associated with the original actor in the role.

Is that unfair for Murphy and, for that matter, did that work against George Lazenby and Alden Ehrenreich in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” and “Solo: A Star Wars Movie” respectively? Yes, but there’s something to be said about an actor finding their way into a role, even one that is impossibly iconic and owning their interpretation.

As time and a lot of false starts have proven, not just anyone can don a mustache, overcoat and thick French accent and simply do what Sellers did. Time will tell if Sellers is the only actor brilliant enough to play someone as remarkably stupid as Inspector Clouseau.

29 Comments

  1. Eddie Murphy is a hit or miss. The young comic of SNL and Sunset Strip is long gone. With his creation of his own production company and taking Producers credits, he is often in bloated and unfunny productions. He has a reputation for “not playing well with others” now, a diva-like arrogance. Yet, he is, in some sense, worthy of that Diva-ness. Surrounded by yes-man and hangers-on he is divorced from anything resembling ordinary people – his intended audience. He never, ever wants to humiliate himself unless it’s for comic effect with a wide eyes, fourth-wall breaking grin.

    But with all that, he DOES have comic talent AND prodigious acting skill. But Inspector Clouseau is an established franchise with its fans, and he must tread lightly. His taking on this role is a gamble, but at this stage of his career what should he do but not gamble, if he doesn’t want to fade away. Think of the last decades of comics, ones at the top of their peers and in the audience’s eyes. Jackie Gleason? Jerry Lewis? Jonathan Winters? George Carlin? Any standouts in their last decades? Eddie Murphy is facing that same slope, and it’s downhill.

    So I would encourage him to take this role, take the risk, but also humble himself and listen to others – a Director that cares about the movie not him, a producer that is not part of his usual circle, and talented actors for the supporting cast. Cato and Dreyfess are very, very hard roles to fill. Toss in racial/sexual/ethnic quotas and you have limited the talent pool to near zero, but Eddie Murphy has the clout to fight that.

    Me, not that anyone would ever ask me, I would take a different take. Set it in New Orleans – a corrupt as hell city with plenty to celebrate. Make the Inspector an old blue-blooded Creole born and raised in Pontchartrain Park with an incomprehensible accent, hired as a “token” on the force. Pair him with a Vietnamese-American descended from Boat-people. Make Dreyfess a “Yankee Carpetbagger”, an East Coast cop sent to “reform the city” but neither he nor the city want to be reformed, so he gets his East Coast mob-friends to put a hit on the Inspector, failing comically every time. And the core comic bit is that Clouseau keeps solving crimes – murders, bribery, carjackings – yet the powerful in the city don’t want him to (the politicians, the gangs, the drug- and slave-importers). Only the ordinary New Orleans citizens – black, white, Asian, gay, straight – want him to solve crime.

    If somebody wants the script and writes me a check, I’ll renew my ASA membership.

  2. It would be interesting to see if Murphy gives slapstick a try at this point in his career. I can’t think of a movie of his that involves anything approaching Clouseau’s level of physical comedy, which makes me think his version might be another “Master of Disguise” debacle where Murphy spends a ton of time in the makeup chair.

  3. Murphy is a great comic and comedic actor. His casting would not be another update of gratuitous Hollywood “token negro-ism.” A Black French inspector could be worked in by changing the setting to New Orleans, Quebec or Morocco. Or it may not matter that much if the art is good.

    1. @Lenny Schafer

      It’s estimated that 3 to 5 million people in France are Black. So, a Black French Inspector wouldn’t be unusual.

      1. Would Cato remain Chinese or should they change Cato to another race like Japanese?

      2. So will the Native American Cato culturally appropriate Asian martial arts? Perfectly politically incorrect. Maybe they’ll include scenes where he or she will try to scalp the black frenchman.

      3. Exactly, Cato is the correct spelling.

        “Cato Fong is Clouseau’s Chinese manservant, trained to attack him regularly to keep him alert and skilled in martial arts. Cato and Clouseau have a love-hate relationship, with their fights being long and vicious, as well as destructive to the furniture, and always interrupted by the telephone ringing, at which point they will become civil again. Cato puts a lot of effort into taking his employer by surprise, and Clouseau never really feels safe as Cato will stop at nothing.”

      4. @Dan

        I thought the Cato that PP was referring to was Kato, the character Bruce Lee played in the Green Hornet.

        I forgot there was a Chinese guy in the Pink Panther. I guess he didn’t have as much of a presence as Lee’s Kato.

      5. @Fred2: Your opinions about the Pink Panther is useless since you obviously haven’t watched it much. Everyone who’s a fan knows about Cato. He was a highlight and gotten many laughs in the original Pink Panther series with Peter Sellers.

      6. Obviously change Cato to an elderly Chinese Woman, a gender swap, to show how a Black Clouseau can beat up old Chinese women like in New York.

  4. I see Americans’ right to European culture, free speech and having opposite views being tyrannized by the leftist ‘thought police’. This is your new Socialist Democrat norm. Hollywood has gone Woke, this is cultural appropriation genocide.

  5. The attack on white culture and American values. Competency, tradition, intelligence has been replaced by trans-LGBTQRST+, gender and black issues, all in the name of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. Why did Marketing stop listening to the customer and become social warriors? Woke disgusts people.

    1. Nothing wrong with diversity, equity and inclusion. You should be able to enjoy a movie with people that don’t look like you. If that is difficult for you Sam you may want to stop watching all entertainment no matter what decade it was made in.

    2. I love how Sam Smith posts outrageous statements and then disappears. Probably because he can’t defend his insane wokeness remarks.

  6. Nope.. He can’t fill them. He’ s black and th inspetor was french and NOT Gay !! I won’t even bother to watch it.

  7. I’m skeptical but Murphy does surprise occasionally.

    What I find weird is there isn’t a Blu-ray box set of the Peter Sellers series. At least I haven’t found it. The first movie appears to be out on Blu-ray, but not the others. Though there is a DVD set.

    1. Reb, I thought that black actors taking roles originated by white actors was upsetting to Republicans. Isn’t that the key tenant of wokeness for you guys? I remember conservatives sobbing in the fetal position for months over a black stormtrooper. Have conservatives begun to mellow out? I hope so.

      1. Hi, are you the black or white Tinkerbell?
        The YouTube trailer of The Little Mermaid was mass “disliked” with comments blocked. A black Tinkerbell, and a black Little Mermaid. I see Disney push black cultural appropriation of European culture, the attack on white culture and American values.

      2. Roger, you have got to be kidding me. You were bothered by a black Tinkerbell and Little Mermaid?!!! You are such a huge fan of children’s fairy tales that you lost sleep at night crying over that?!!!!! The all black cast of the Wiz must have really been difficult for you too.

      3. @Roger Marris

        I hate to break it to you, but the animated The Little Mermaid is nothing like the original book, which sounds more like a horror movie.

        Collider has the creepy details:

        “Ariel and her mermaids aren’t the happy-go-lucky, Calypso-music-loving fish folk Disney makes them out to be. For starters, the Little Mermaid’s sisters play a game where they lure sailors into the water and to their deaths, then write and sing songs about their laughable terror. Fun! Mermaids also live for 300 years or so, and when they die, they turn into sea foam. The foam that forms when great decaying algae matter washes onshore? That could very well be the mermaid that lured your great-great-sea-captain grandfather to his demise. Mermaids also don’t have souls (there’s a joke in there about Ariel’s red hair, but we’re above that here). Humans don’t live as long, but have souls that live on eternally. Unlike the film, mermaids are permitted to see the upper world, once when they turn fifteen and then once every 365 days. To get to the surface, mermaids are aided by eight oysters who attach themselves to the mermaid’s tail, an experience described as horribly painful. Guess what happens on the Little Mermaid’s first venture?”

        https://www.msn.com/en-us/lifestyle/lifestyle-buzz/this-is-the-disney-movie-based-on-the-darkest-source-material/ar-AA196sOA?ocid=msedgntp&cvid=7e9d54958a5949b9bc83e10b636fc3ce&ei=18

      4. There’s a big difference between hiring the best actor/actress for a role and doing it only for virtue signaling. The Little Mermaid was done only for virtue points. No other reason. Audiences can tell, so the movie failed. I don’t remember there was any upset over Nick Fury being recast black. Because Samuel Jackson did a good job. Just like Jackson, I’m willing to give Murphy a chance since he’s proven himself capable in the past.

        And if the left thinks we shouldn’t have a problem with it, then I suggest the next Black Panther be played by a white actor. I’m sure that will go well.

      5. Reb, how do you know that the casting of Eddie Murphy is not virtue signaling. You have no way of proving it isn’t. You are being inconsistent. You cry yourself to sleep over a black Little Mermaid but celebrate the casting of Eddie Murphy.

      6. @Reb

        Actually, The Little Mermaid remake is doing well, largely thanks to American audiences. And the “America is irredeemably racist” narrative takes a massive hit.

        Moving on, I remember White supremacists protested Idris Elba playing the Norse god Heimdall in the “Thor” movie. Despite this, the film was a hit, and a big reason was Elba’s scene stealing performance. He did such a great job that Heimdall got a lot more screen time in the sequels.

        Thor wouldn’t be the first comic book film that racebent White characters and still made lots of money. Examples include Batman ’89 (Harvey Dent, Black), Man of Steel (Perry White, Black), Thor: Ragnarok (Valkyrie, Black), The Batman (Jim Gordan and Catwoman, both Black), and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (High Evolutionary, Black).

        Bottom line, the public simply wants GOOD movies and could care less about the race of the actors playing the characters.

        P.S.

        A White guy, Agent Ross, did become Black Panther in the comics. You may know Ross from the blockbusters, Captain America: Civil War and Black Panther 1 and 2.

    2. Reb, Shout Factory did a 6-disc BluRay collection a few years back. You might find it on the used market if you can’t find it new anymore….

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