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A Shot in the Dark


A Shot in the Dark
Blake Edwards and Peter Sellers wasted no time in following up the smashing success of The Pink Panther with an even funnier sequel called A Shot in the Dark, which has earned a reputation over the years as the funniest film in the Pink Panther franchise and deservedly so.

This 1964 laugh riot finds Inspector Clouseau (Peter Sellers) assigned to investigate the murder of the driver of wealthy Benjamin Ballon (Oscar winner George Sanders) and the primary suspect appears to be Ballon's buxom and beautiful maid, Maria Gambrelli (Elke Sommar), but Clouseau refuses to accept Maria as being guilty, which not only gets him in a lot of trouble with his boss, Commissioner Dreyfus (Herbert Lom), but has a hand in an additional seven deaths that happen in the course of the investigation.

A film that features eight murder victims hardly seems to be material for a film comedy, but Blake Edwards and William Peter Blatty have concocted this outrageously over-the-top black comedy, which is actually based on a play by Harry Kurnitz, who was clearly influenced by writers like Noel Coward in coming up with this bizarre murder mystery that really isn't that mysterious. Director and co-writer Edwards stages a brilliant staging of the murder at the opening of the film, before the opening credits, that already clue in on the audience that we are not being told everything...during the opening, we several people going in and out of various doors on the Ballon estate and we see four people go into the same room before the shots ring out, so we know there are at least two more people who know something but are saying nothing.

It's not the story that makes this movie so funny, it is the brilliant collaboration between Blake Edwards and Peter Sellers, whose uncanny ability to concoct hysterical physical comedy out of practically nothing at times that makes this movie works. You know you're in for some major laughs when Ballon suggests that he and Clouseau engage in a game of billiards and hands Clouseau a curved pool cue, not to mention later when he asks him to return a pool cue to the rack. Watch Sellers' face when he is questioning Maria in his office and every time she grabs him, a piece of his suit comes off in her hand. Their misadventure in a nudist colony provides major chuckles as well. I also loved the running bit of Clouseau donning different disguises to follow Maria after having her released from jail and getting arrested repeatedly for occupations that require a license. And that scene where Clouseau and his assistant (Graham Stark) are trying to synchronize their watches had me on the floor.

Edwards and Blatty have also come up with the perfect comic foil for Clouseau in Dreyfus. Love the look on his face when he first learns that Clouseau has been assigned to the case and how frustrated he gets when he learns that Ballon doesn't want Clouseau taken off the case. It's so funny how working with Clouseau has turned Dreyfus into a basket case who can't eat or sleep, has a problem with self-mutilation, an eye that won't stop twitching at the mention of Clouseau's name, and is deep in therapy.

Peter Sellers proves to be the master physical comedian here, bringing a goofy dignity to this character, while barely allowing a smile to cross his face during the entire running time. Lom and Sanders underplay beautifully and Sanders must be applauded for keeping a straight face with Sellers, but the lion's credit for why this works has to go to director Blake Edwards, whose undeniable skill at slapstick comedy gets a full work out here. So if you're a fan of his later work like 10 and Victoria/Victoria, you might want to give this classic a look.