A Shot in the Dark (Blake Edwards / U.S.-United Kingdom, 1964):

A mobile camera on the outside of a chateau, closely modeled on Renoir's Monsieur Lange, showcases the svelte choreography of Blake Edwards' farce and gives you the sight of George Sanders tiptoeing through a garden, besides. Inspector Clouseau (Peter Sellers), a sidelines buffoon in The Pink Panther, is given center stage to tumble out of windows and declare his Stan Laurel-cum-Zen philosophy: "I believe everything... and I believe nothing." It is this absurd openness which drives him on a quest against logic, the irrational faith on the innocence of a maid (Elke Sommer) found with smoking gun in her hand and corpse at her feet. Edwards took over the adaptation of the Harry Kurnitz play and, despite the absence of priceless gem and animated feline, made it the Pink Panther entry in which it all comes together -- Clouseau's dense inner balance in a widescreen world of inherent chaos, the sudden karate exercises with Kato (Burt Kwok), and the ocular twitch that overtakes police commissioner Dreyfus (Herbert Lom) as he ponders the question that keeps him awake at night ("What if Clouseau is right?"). The universe is the inspector's immovable object, he walks into a wall and gravely warns: "I suggest you have your architect investigated!" Henry Mancini's score is at its best when played by the band at the nudist camp, which gently remembers Russ Meyer's earliest comedies and provides the capper for the running gag of the police van, zipping repeatedly across the screen like Chaplin's locomotive in Monsieur Verdoux. Despite the continental suavity, this is a most brutal work, the end of an era as comic classicism is skewered by the jaundiced humor of the new decade. A Hitchcock climax is repeated thrice, each time with some innocent bystanders getting offed while the hero stumbles on, serenely. "Give me ten men like Clouseau, and I could destroy the world," Dreyfus muses, anticipating The Pink Panther Strikes Again. Screenplay by Edwards and William Peter Blatty. With Tracy Reed, Graham Stark, Moira Redmond, and Vanda Godsell.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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