Throughout his career, Peter Sellers won worldwide acclaim for his amazing comedic performances in films like Dr Strangelove (1963) and Being There (1979). However, none of his other comic creations was as beloved by audiences as Inspector Clouseau.
Sellers starred as this bumbling French detective in a series of comedies that became big hits in the 1960s and 1970s, redefining slapstick comedy in the process.
The Inspector Clouseau character was introduced in 1963’s The Pink Panther. However, he was not the focus of this film. Instead, the story was built around Sir Charles Lytton (David Niven), a dashing playboy who also happens to be a professional thief.
Sir Charles travels to an Italian ski resort to get access to The Pink Panther – a giant diamond of astronomical value.
Since it is in the possession of Princess Dala (Claudia Cardinale), Sir Charles begins romancing her to get to the diamond.
However, there is one thing in Sir Charles’ way: Inspector Jacques Clouseau (Sellers), a French detective who is hot on the trail of ‘The Phantom’.
At first, this doesn’t seem to be a problem. For one thing, Sir Charles happens to be having an affair with Clouseau’s unfaithful wife, Simone (Capucine). Thus, he is able to keep tabs on Clouseau at all times and stay one step ahead.
Inspector Clouseau also happens to be the world’s worst detective. He is clumsy and inept, with a nasty habit of tripping over anything within arms reach and possessing the ability to unintentionally destroy almost any precious object he touches.
As the story progresses, this very clumsiness helps Clouseau throw a monkey wrench into Sir Charles’ plans and he manages to get his man in a memorable and funny way.
Although The Pink Panther was an ensemble piece, it was clear to everyone that Peter Sellers stole the show as the good-hearted but bumbling Inspector Clouseau. His comic timing and unique gift for physical comedy made the Clouseau character a favourite with all ages.
The film also benefited from a memorable music score by Henry Mancini, featuring a distinctive sexy saxophone-led main theme that became an instant standard.
There was also a funny animated title sequence featuring a cartoon Pink Panther and an animated Clouseau that perfectly set the tone for the film’s lightly comedic mood.
Sellers’ wild antics as Clouseau helped make The Pink Panther a multi-million-dollar success all over the world. The Pink Panther cartoon character also became a big hit with audiences, which led to a series of animated shorts and a Saturday-morning TV show all the Panther’s own.
With all this success, it was inevitable there would be a Pink Panther sequel. Audiences quickly received their next helping of Clouseau’s antics in 1964’s A Shot In The Dark.
The role of Inspector Clouseau had been originally planned for Peter Ustinov, but Sellers took over as a last-minute replacement, growing a Victorian moustache as a sign of self-asserted masculinity that gave him the key to the bumbling Sûreté detective.
Sellers once said, “God forbid that I should do a whole series of Pink Panther films”. From the first to the fifth he was forever stating categorically that the latest was his last – statements which everyone but Sellers took with a pinch of salt. Even in death, the role pursued him, with Trail of the Pink Panther being a collection of out-takes from the old films, thrown – with some new scenes – into a plot.
Sir Charles Lytton
Insp. Jacques Clouseau
Brenda de Banzie
John Le Mesurier