Sometimes the most rewarding soundtrack releases are the least expected. 1983’s Curse of the Pink Panther marked the end – well, for a decade, anyway – of Blake Edwards’ long-running series of comedies which began with 1963’s The Pink Panther. Edwards’ seventh and eighth Panther films had been shot following the death of series star Peter Sellers, who proved to be irreplaceable as bumbling Inspector Jacques Clouseau. (A previous attempt to do Clouseau sans Sellers was 1968’s Inspector Clouseau, which failed despite a valiant effort by Alan Arkin in the title role. Kritzerland reissued Ken Thorne’s underrated score in a sold-out limited edition last year.) After his passing, it was decided not to shoot Sellers’ self-penned script entitled Romance of the Pink Panther, which the mercurial actor intended to film sans Edwards. Instead, Edwards concocted two connecting screenplays to be filmed concurrently. 1982’s Trail of the Pink Panther had uncomfortably shoehorned flashbacks and outtakes of Sellers from previous installments into a new story which ended with the inspector in hiding; a body double provided a shot from the back only. Curse introduced Soap‘s Ted Wass as one Clifton Sleigh, an incompetent NYPD officer enlisted to find the “missing” Clouseau. Sleigh didn’t count, however, on the number of people who would rather Clouseau not be found! Along the way, Sleigh fumbles, bumbles and encounters the insane Chief Inspector Dreyfus (Herbert Lom), who becomes determined to bump off Sleigh, much as he hoped to off his nemesis Clouseau. Robert Loggia, returning as Bruno Langlois, is also out for Sleigh’s life.
If the disappointing Trail can today be viewed as an off-kilter homage to Sellers and his indelible performance, Curse comes off even less well, despite some moments of typical Edwards mayhem and solid physical shtick. Yet one of Curse‘s chief assets has been one of its least well-known, and that asset is the score by Edwards’ key collaborator, Henry Mancini. European label Quartet Records has seen fit to give Mancini’s score to Curse of the Pink Panther its first-ever release in any medium (Quartet QRSCE014). Despite Mancini coming off Victor/Victoria (another Edwards collaboration) with an Academy Award in hand, Curse of the Pink Panther received no soundtrack album whatsoever. Even RCA’s Ultimate Pink Panther compilation featured no music from the score. (The other “missing” Pink Panther score is that of A Shot in the Dark, though its two central themes saw single release from Mancini’s label, RCA Victor.) The Quartet release, produced and annotated by Jose M. Benitez, reveals the score to be complex, well-crafted and quintessentially Mancini. This has been a good year for fans of the esteemed composer, with each reissue revealing a different side to the composer, from the high drama and action of The Hawaiians to the eighties synth/pop-influenced Married to It (both reviewed here). The score for Curse is pure Mancini comedy, with touches of a then-modern sound and of course, playful adventure in Panther style. Hit the jump for all of the specs on Quartet’s release!
I’m thrilled to report that Quartet’s package is top-notch throughout. Graphics are superb, with the full-color booklet boasting many full color shots from the film, including photos of perpetually-exasperated Chief Inspector Dreyfus (Lom), faithful servant and martial arts master Cato (Burt Kwouk) and Sir Charles Lytton, aka suave jewel thief the Phantom (an ailing David Niven, in his final screen appearance). Of course, the animated panther is on hand, too, in a swell retro image! Benitez’s liner notes offer a thorough look at the long-running Edwards/Mancini collaboration in a lengthy, nine-page essay. There are, however, no individual cue-by-cue notes. Benitez offers some interesting observations from his unique viewpoint, including a look at Mancini’s faux Spanish-flavored pieces in the score (the boisterous, choral “Arrival in Valencia” and “Las Fallas”). In addition, the score has been remixed from the original 24-multitrack as the original sound mix could not be located. The new mix was constructed by Benitez and his team from notes found on Mancini’s cue sheets and those of the original engineer, and it sounds terrific. Five bonus tracks include three alternate takes, an instrumental of “Arrival in Valencia” and a short (0:38) cue, “Bullfight.”
The music shows off Mancini’s continued versatility in a changing film music landscape. (The series, and its scores, had already embraced genres from cocktail jazz to disco!) The main title, of course, incorporates the famous “Pink Panther Theme” but also takes some melodic detours with synths emulating computer sounds, squarely placing it in its era. (The end title variation offers some swinging brass and even an electric guitar turn!) The clarinet-driven “Clifton Sleigh Theme” is slyly insinuating and a worthy successor to “The Inspector Clouseau Theme;” it shows off the composer’s gift for creating melodic themes that both accompany the images on screen and are evocative of those images to a casual listener. Sleigh’s motif is reprised in such tracks as “Museum Clouseau” and “Arrival at Liton’s [sic] Chateau.” Some of Victor/Victoria’s French atmosphere is evoked in cues such as the smoky “On a Terrace with a Doll I” and the jaunty “On a Terrace with Doll II”, both to good effect. And Mancini reminds one of his prowess at suspense, via cues like “Street Fighters.”
Curse of the Pink Panther concludes with the revelation that Clouseau has been the recipient of plastic surgery, and now looks exactly like…Roger Moore! (There are a couple of nods to Bond – James Bond – in the score, too, perhaps owing to Moore’s presence!) Moore might have been game, but after the disappointing box office receipts, another film was out of the question. The series would remain dormant until 1993, when Son of the Pink Panther reunited Mancini and Edwards with a team of stalwarts: Herbert Lom, Burt Kwouk, Graham Stark and Claudia Cardinale. Roberto Benigni played Clouseau’s son, but this installment too didn’t catch fire. Son of the Pink Panther is Edwards’ last feature film to date, and was the final film to be scored by Mancini before his untimely death at the age of 70.
Quartet deserves high praise for bringing this lost treasure to light in a release worthy of the ongoing fine work from long-established labels such as Intrada, Kritzerland and Film Score Monthly. Of the original series’ eight films (not counting Inspector Clouseau but including A Shot in the Dark and Son of the Pink Panther), Curse is only the second to have received the deluxe soundtrack treatment; 1976’s The Pink Panther Strikes Again was afforded such an edition on Rykodisc. There are numerous stumbling blocks to producing full soundtrack reissues of the other films, such as MGM controlling the films and music tracks but RCA/Sony or EMI/Capitol owning soundtrack rights. Yet it’s still this author’s fervent hope that such issues can be worked out (see: Intrada’s cross-licensed reissue of The Deep, with the original soundtrack album and true film soundtrack both included) so we can finally hear a soundtrack album for A Shot in the Dark or an expanded one for The Pink Panther. In the meantime, the wily animated cat endures as ever, and we soundtrack collectors can be happy with Quartet’s worthy rediscovery of the score to Curse of the Pink Panther.