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The Pink Panther quad-crown poster

Released concurrently with the record-breaking James Bond series, United Artists also distributed the Pink Panther films, originally produced by The Mirisch Corporation, with whom UA had a long-standing partnership. The first film in the series was conceived as a sophisticated comedy about the charming, urbane jewel thief Sir Charles Lytton played by David Niven. Peter Ustinov was originally cast as Inspector Jacques Clouseau, with Hollywood star Ava Gardner as his faithless wife who was in league with Lytton. Gardner backed out of the project because The Mirisch Corporation would not meet her demands for personal staff, and on the advice of his wife, Ustinov also left the film and was ultimately sued by the producers. Director Blake Edwards chose Peter Sellers to replace Ustinov, taking full advantage of his comedic skills, employing multiple takes of many improvised scenes.

It soon became clear that Sellers, originally considered a supporting actor, was stealing the film from Niven. The pair would later appear in the spoof James Bond film Casino Royale in 1967, although they shared no scenes, but this time Peter Sellers received top billing. However, by this stage in his career Sellers was becoming so erratic and unmanageable, that he was fired from that production even before his role as Evelyn Tremble was completed. His disappearance from the film half way through made the already disjointed storyline even more confusing. Through clever editing, and use of material already shot but not included in the film, Peter Sellers then reappeared during the end credits of Casino Royale (1967).

The Pink Phink/Goldfinger USA 1964

The Pink Panther was initially released on December 18, 1963 in Italy, followed by a London opening at the ODEON Leicester Square on Thursday January 9, 1964. The film debuted in the United States on March 18, 1964, where it went on to gross over $10-million. The opening title sequence in The Pink Panther was such a success with the public that United Artists executives decided to adapt this into a series of theatrical animated shorts. United Artists commissioned DePatie–Freleng Enterprises, run by former Warner Bros. Cartoons creators David H. DePatie and Isadore ‘Friz’ Freleng to create the films. The first of the series, The Pink Phink, won the 1964 Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. The Pink Phink also supported Goldfinger on its original Christmas 1964 release in the USA and Canada. In total there were 124 Pink Panther animated shorts produced by DePatie–Freleng Enterprises between 1964 and 1978. 92 shorts were released theatrically, with the first 62 entries later appearing on Saturday mornings as part of the NBC television series The Pink Panther Show beginning in 1969. Pink Panther shorts would continue to support the James Bond films (and other United Artists distributed films) throughout the 1960s and 1970s. The premiere of Thunderball at the London Pavilion on December 29, 1965 also had a Pink Panther cartoon shown before the film, although this was replaced by British Movietone News at the Rialto Theatre screening which ran simultaneously. Four Pink Panther cartoons also supported Thunderbird 6 when it played in UK cinemas at afternoon matinee performances over the school holidays in July/August 1968.

A Shot In The Dark London Pavilion 1965

Following the success of The Pink Panther (1963) a sequel was hurriedly produced this time focussing on the Inspector Clouseau character. A Shot In The Dark was based on the French play L'Idiote by Marcel Achard, and filmed at the MGM Studios in Borehamwood, although the film is set entirely in France. A Shot In The Dark marks the first appearances of Herbert Lom as Clouseau's long-suffering boss, Commissioner Dreyfus; Burt Kwouk as his manservant Cato, and André Maranne as François. All three would become series regulars. The UK based production also explains the casting of many other notable British character actors in supporting roles. Released in the USA on June 23, 1964, A Shot In The Dark would not open in the UK until Thursday January 28, 1965. Playing for three weeks at the ODEON Leicester Square, A Shot In The Dark then transferred to the London Pavilion where it went on to play for a further 12 weeks. Once again distributed worldwide by United Artists, A Shot In The Dark was even more successful than The Pink Panther. The two films were then paired on a successful double-bill in late 1965 on both sides of the Atlantic.

A Shot In The Dark/The Pink Panther US 1-sheet/The Return Of The Pink Panther Leicester Square Theatre 1975

Despite the huge success of the first two films, director Blake Edwards and star Peter Sellers did not get along and vowed never to work together again. The pair later resolved their differences and eventually made a third film together in 1968. Although very successful, The Party is now viewed as a very politically incorrect so-called comedy, with Sellers made up as a bumbling Indian film star. The Mirisch Corporation had wanted to make a third Pink Panther film, but when Sellers and Edwards turned them down they went ahead anyway and cast American actor Alan Arkin in Inspector Clouseau (1968). Apart from the linking character, there were no connections to the Pink Panther series, other than the animated opening credits created and designed by DePatie-Freleng Enterprises. Directed by Bud Yorkin, Inspector Clouseau was a critical and commercial disaster for distributor United Artists.

The Return Of the Pink Panther London Pavilion March 1976

The franchise lay dormant until 1975 when Blake Edwards and Peter Sellers put aside their differences once again and returned to the series with The Return Of The Pink Panther. Co-starring Christopher Plummer, standing in for David Niven as Sir Charles Lytton (now credited as Litton), and Catherine Schell [Nancy in On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)], the film was again produced by The Mirisch Corporation, but the franchises’ distributor and main backer, United Artists, declined to finance the film as they had no interest in working with Blake Edwards or Peter Sellers, whose careers had declined by this point. The Return Of The Pink Panther was therefore financed by British producer Lew Grade's ITC Entertainment. United Artists, convinced the film would be a flop, gave ITC world distribution rights in exchange for a share of the profits. The film turned out to be a massive international hit and consequently one of UA's biggest money makers that year. Budgeted at $5-million, the film went on to take over $75-million at the box-office, and revived the careers and fortunes of all concerned. The Return Of The Pink Panther opened at the 1,407-seat Leicester Square Theatre on January 1, 1976 - where it played until Thursday February 26th. The hugely successful third film in the series then transferred to the London Pavilion on Thursday March 18, 1976 where it played for five weeks. The Return Of The Pink Panther also screened simultaneously at the 2,000-seat Metropole opposite Victoria station for 7-weeks from Thursday February 19, 1976; and also at the 150-seat Cinecenta 2 off Leicester Square for a staggering 20-weeks following its initial Leicester Square Theatre engagement.

The Pink Panther Strikes Again

The Pink Panther Strikes Again ODEON Leicester Square 1976

As a result of the renewed success of the franchise, a hasty sequel was immediately put into production and released at the end of 1976. The relationship between Blake Edwards and Peter Sellers had deteriorated again by the time they made The Pink Panther Strikes Again, which took the series to new heights of outlandish slapstick comedy. The now insane former Chief Inspector Dreyfus, played by Herbert Lom, organizes an elaborate James Bond-style criminal plot to threaten the countries of the world with annihilation by a massive laser weapon if they do not assassinate Clouseau for him. Despite its over-the-top elements, and ever more indulgent comic turns from Peter Sellers, The Pink Panther Strikes Again, was another massive international hit for distributor and financier United Artists. Given a Royal Charity Premiere at London's ODEON Leicester Square on Thursday December 16, 1976, The Pink Panther Strikes Again played at the flagship West End venue for 15 weeks.

In the USA The Return Of The Pink Panther was paired with The Spy Who Loved Me in late 1977, and then released on an official double-bill with The Pink Panther Strikes Again in time for the Christmas holiday season on both sides of the Atlantic. The pairing was another huge commercial success and joined United Artists’ string of hits that year; which included A Bridge Too Far and The Spy Who Loved Me, along with reissues of Carrie (1976) and One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest (1975).

Pink Panther double-bill US Box-office

Peter Sellers as Inspector Jacques Clouseau

Following the tremendous success of The Pink Panther Strikes Again, United Artists then released Revenge Of The Pink Panther in 1978. The fifth and final film to star Peter Sellers, had an early teaser trailer featuring the actor in a James Bond gun barrel spoof. The teaser showed no footage from the film, but as UA had owned half the rights in the James Bond franchise since 1975, they had no objection to spoofing an iconic element from the series to play on audience familiarity. This had not always been the case. In 1964 EON Productions and United Artists had objected to the character name “James Bind agent 006½” (originally intended for the Charles Hawtrey character) in Carry On Spying and threatened legal action. Carry On producer Peter Rogers changed the name to Charlie Bind, and made the agent's code number double 0 – ooh! Poster artist Tom Chantrell also had to modify the film poster when EON suggested that the artwork was too similar to Renato Fratini's iconic From Russia With Love poster. Carry On Spying was made (as were all the Carry On films) at Pinewood Studios in February/March 1964, at the same time EON Productions were making Goldfinger with Sean Connery.

The next film in the series Carry On Cleo (1964), also ran into legal issues when its original poster and publicity artwork by Tom Chantrell were withdrawn from circulation after 20th Century Fox successfully brought a copyright infringement case against distributor Anglo Amalgamated, which found the design was based on the painting by Howard Terpning for Cleopatra (1963) for which Fox owned the copyright. Ironically many of the sets and costumes seen in Carry On Cleo were originally intended for Cleopatra. Filming had begun in the UK in 1961, but after star Elizabeth Taylor became ill, the colossal production relocated to Rome. EON Productions would later threaten legal action over the 1988 teaser poster for A Nightmare On Elm Street 4 - The Dream Master designed by Graham Humphreys which also spoofed the James Bond gun barrel. Although some double-crown posters did get displayed in the London Underground, EON threatened to sue if they were not removed.

Revenge Of The Pink Panther had its Royal Charity Premiere at the ODEON Leicester Square on Thursday July 13, 1978. Peter Sellers had arrived 40-minutes early at the premiere and was displeased to find that director Blake Edwards had not attended, being allegedly confined to his bed in California with 'flu. The star hailed a cab and stormed off, only to reappear just in time to shake hands with Prince Charles. In 1976 Sellers had boycotted the premiere of The Pink Panther Strikes Again due to his wife-to-be Lynne Frederick not being included in the line-up to greet the Prince. Revenge Of The Pink Panther then played for nine weeks at the ODEON Leicester Square, and was another substantial commercial hit for United Artists. Revenge Of The Pink Panther was later paired with the two previous films from the franchise.

By 1980 United Artists were facing financial disaster due to the costly production of Michael Cimino's epic Western Heaven's Gate. On June 26, 1980, Cimino previewed a workprint for United Artists executives that reportedly ran 325-minutes. UA flatly refused to release the film at that length and contemplated firing Cimino, who promised he could re-edit the film, spending the rest of 1980 doing so. Cimino finally reduced the film down to its original premiere length of 219-minutes. The resulting delays caused Heaven's Gate to miss its original Christmas 1979 opening date. Following a brief theatrical release in November 1980, when the film was poorly received by critics, United Artists decided to pull the film from cinemas, re-releasing it in April 1981 in a truncated 149-minute cut.

The Spy Who Loved Me/The Pink Panther Strikes Again London Pavilion 1980

Whilst United Artists were still having major financial success with their James Bond, Pink Panther, and Rocky franchises, they had also had their share of box-office failures and needed to recoup some of their losses. It therefore made sense to team up two of their biggest hits for another double-bill in the UK. The Spy Who Loved Me/The Pink Panther Strikes Again opened at the London Pavilion on Thursday March 20, 1980 (where the double-bill played for four weeks), and across the UK from Sunday March 23rd. The pair were re-released over the Easter holiday period, but continued to play at many coastal resorts until August/September to take advantage of the school summer holidays. By now the James Bond films were aimed more at a juvenile audience, but this time backed up by a new marketing campaign to exploit the success of two of the studios’ most profitable series. The 1980 double-bill was once again very successful for United Artists, but within a year the studio faced bankruptcy, due largely to the critical and commercial failure of Heaven's Gate.

The Return Of The Pink Panther/A Shot In The Dark London Pavilion

Like the James Bond series, the Pink Panther films were reissued many times on double-bills which further added to their box-office success throughout the 1970s. Despite their initial reservations about The Return Of The Pink Panther, distributor United Artists then paired the 1975 hit with every other Sellers/Clouseau entry in the series, and it went on to become one of the highest-grossing comedies of all time. Just two months after playing as a single feature at United Artists’ flagship venue, a double-bill of The Return Of The Pink Panther/A Shot In The Dark screened for three weeks at the London Pavilion from Thursday July 1, 1976, although by this time the second Clouseau film had already been shown on British television. The Return Of The Pink Panther was then paired with The Pink Panther (which had also been shown on UK TV) for a staggering ten weeks at the 2,069-seat Dominion, Tottenham Court Road from Thursday September 30, 1976.

Pink Panther Double-bills 1976-77

The double-bill once again proved very popular and The Return Of The Pink Panther was then paired with The Pink Panther Strikes Again. This double-bill did not screen at the London Pavilion as The Spy Who Loved Me was still playing there after transferring from the ODEON Leicester Square. Instead The Pink Panther Strikes Again/The Return Of The Pink Panther played at the 350-seat Ritz cinema in Leicester Square for six weeks from Thursday, December 15, 1977, and then transferred to the 113-seat Scene 2 cinema in the Swiss Centre for a further 13 weeks from Thursday, January 26, 1978. From Thursday August 9, 1979, The Return Of The Pink Panther then played on a double-bill with Revenge Of The Pink Panther this time at the London Pavilion. Finishing its four week engagement at the London Pavilion on Wednesday September 5, 1979 (to be replaced by Moonraker), this was the final double-bill of Peter Sellers Pink Panther films. Within a year its star was dead, although the franchise limped on until director Blake Edwards passed away in 2010.

Revenge of the Pink Panther/The Return of the Pink Panther London Pavilion

“Curses and Connections...”
Romance Of The Pink Panther
was to have been the sixth film of the series, based on a script by Peter Sellers, although Blake Edwards was not scheduled to direct following another rift between the pair. Following the death of Peter Sellers in 1980, United Artists tried to get British actor/comedian Dudley Moore to take on the role of Clouseau, after his success in the Blake Edwards directed comedy 10 (1979). United Artists wanted the series to continue, but Edwards refused to cast another actor as Clouseau, based on the negative reception afforded Inspector Clouseau (1968) upon release. Edwards ultimately agreed to direct Trail Of The Pink Panther released in 1982. Peter Sellers’ role was created using outtakes and scenes cut from The Pink Panther Strikes Again, as well as flashbacks from the previous Pink Panther films. This film was intended as a tribute to Sellers, but after its release his widow Lynne Frederick successfully sued Blake Edwards and MGM/UA for tarnishing her late husband's memory. David Niven and Capucine reprised their original roles from the first Pink Panther film, although Niven was re-voiced by impressionist Rich Little due to the onset of Motor Neurone Disease. The film co-starred Joanna Lumley [English Girl in On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)] as a TV reporter investigating the disappearance of Clouseau. Not surprisingly Trail Of The Pink Panther was a critical disaster. Although the film was a modest commercial success, it was nowhere near as popular as its predecessors.

Peter Sellers & Roger Moore/Moore as Clouseau in Curse Of The Pink Panther (1983)

ABOVE: (left) A CLOSE BOND: Peter Sellers and Roger Moore at  Sellers’ home in Beverley Hills. Peter Sellers had played Evelyn Tremble (James Bond 007) in Casino Royale (1967), and was married to Britt Ekland [Mary Goodnight in The Man With The Golden Gun (1974)] from 1964-1968. (right) Joanna Lumley with Roger Moore in his cameo as Inspector Jacques Clouseau at the end of Curse Of The Pink Panther (1983).

Filmed concurrently with Trail was Curse Of The Pink Panther, with Robert Wagner joining his co-stars Capucine and David Niven (in his final film) from the first film of the series. Curse Of the Pink Panther attempted to relaunch the series with a new lead Ted Wass, as inept American detective Clifton Sleigh, assigned to find the missing Inspector Clouseau. Directed by Blake Edwards, and co-written with his son Geoffrey, Curse Of The Pink Panther was a final insult to the memory of Peter Sellers. It is revealed that Jacques Clouseau has undergone extensive plastic surgery, with the character appearing at the end of the film, played by none other than Peter Sellers’ close friend Roger Moore, in a break from shooting Octopussy at Pinewood Studios in 1982. Billed as Turk Thrust II [a nod to the character played by actor/director Bryan Forbes in A Shot In The Dark (1964)], Moore gives a suitably cringe-inducing performance opposite Joanna Lumley, in a sequence that was allegedly filmed in one take, with no rehearsals. Curse Of The Pink Panther was another critical and commercial failure upon its release in August 1983, with very little newspaper or television advertising. Blake Edwards subsequently sued MGM for wilfully sabotaging the film. MGM then sued Edwards for alleged fraudulent overspending, resulting in the director counter-suing MGM for defamation of character. The lawsuits combined totalled over $1-billion. After much legal wrangling, Edwards and MGM settled out of court in 1988. However, there was still one more entry in the series which did little to enhance the reputation of the franchise. Directed by Blake Edwards ten years after his last entry, Son Of The Pink Panther starred Italian comedian Roberto Benigni as Inspector Clouseau's illegitimate son Jacques Gambrelli. His mother Maria Gambrelli was played by Claudia Cardinale, returning to the series after thirty years. Cardinale had originally appeared as The Princess in The Pink Panther (1963). To add further to the confusion, Maria Gambrelli had been played by Elke Sommer in the 1964 hit A Shot In The Dark. With a budget of $28-million Son Of The Pink Panther (1993) recouped only $20-million at the box-office. Once again a critical and commercial failure, Son Of The Pink Panther marked the end of the original series, and was the last film directed by Blake Edwards, who died in 2010.

In the same year that the James Bond series was re-invented with the casting of Daniel Craig in Casino Royale, Inspector Jacques Clouseau also returned to the big screen in the 2006 reboot of the Pink Panther franchise, with popular American actor Steve Martin stepping into Peter Sellers’ shoes. The Pink Panther (2006) co-starred Kevin Kline as Chief Inspector Dreyfus, although he was replaced by John Cleese in the 2009 sequel The Pink Panther 2. Although the 2006 remake was commercially, if not critically successful, its sequel was not, and once again the franchise came to an end.

Whereas the James Bond series survived many interpretations of its main character, the Pink Panther series did not, and proved that in spite of his many personal problems, Peter Sellers is still probably best-remembered as Inspector Jacques Clouseau - a role he took over in 1963 and continued to play until 1978. Via the character, actor and distributor, the Pink Panther films were inextricably linked to the James Bond series for two decades.

Steve Martin in The Pink Panther (2006)


James Bond UK posters