Movie Classic – The Pink Panther (1963)

Banish all thoughts of cartoons and Steve Martin from your mind – this is the real deal

If you haven't heard of Blake Edwards's The Pink Panther, you'll at least have heard Henry Mancini's score. But one of the silliest movie series in history might never have existed if Ava Gardner hadn't been such a diva.

She was supposed to play the role of Simone Closeau in The Pink Panther with Peter Ustinov playing her husband Inspector Jacques Closeau – shudder – in a straight man role. But the director Blake Edwards and co couldn't meet her demands.

Well, thanks Ava – because instead we got Peter Sellers improvising his hat off in this 1963 ensemble gem and saving what could have been a dreadful crime "caper" set in palacial ski resorts and masquerade balls.

So while David Niven's running about being charming and smooth as Sir Charles Lytton, we get a masterclass in how not to act around beautiful women from Clouseau – he plays the violin in bed and tends generally to trip over or get caught in any object in his path.

Clouseau's also pretty damn good at not protecting precious goods, like the titular Pink Panther – the biggest diamond in the world, which belongs to Princess Dala. Or catching thieves, like his main foe The Phantom. It's not ruining the ending too much to say that Clouseau ends up behind bars, with the serial thief on the loose.

The later Pink Panther films are just a vehicle for Sellers' exaggerated accents and enviable comic timing – but here he really stole the show. David Niven was supposed to be the star of the film but even dressed in a gorilla suit he's not as funny as the Inspector.

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