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The Pink Panther is a series of comedy films featuring an inept French police detective, Inspector Jacques Clouseau. The series began with the release of The Pink Panther (1963). The role of Clouseau was originated by, and is most closely associated with, Peter Sellers. Most of the films were directed and co-written by Blake Edwards, with theme music composed by Henry Mancini.
In the films, the Pink Panther is a large and valuable pink diamond which is first shown in the opening film in the series. The diamond is called the “Pink Panther”, because the flaw at its center, when viewed closely, is said to resemble a leaping pink panther. The phrase reappears in the title of the fourth film, The Return of the Pink Panther, in which the theft of the diamond is again the center of the plot. The phrase was used for all the subsequent films in the series, even when the jewel did not figure in the plot. It ultimately appeared in six of the eleven films.
The first film in the series had an animated opening sequence, created by DePatie-Freleng Enterprises and set to the theme music by Mancini, which featured the Pink Panther character. This character, designed by Hawley Pratt and Friz Freleng, was subsequently the subject of its own series of animated cartoons, which gained its greatest fame when aired on Saturday mornings as The Pink Panther Show. The character would be featured in the opening of every film in the movie series except A Shot in the Dark and Inspector Clouseau.
Although the two most-recent Pink Panther films starred Steve Martin, most of the films in the series starred Sellers as Inspector Clouseau and were directed and co-written by Blake Edwards. The popular jazz-based theme music was composed by Henry Mancini. In addition to the credits sequences, the theme often accompanies any suspenseful sequence in the first film and in subsequent films using the character.
The Pink Panther of the title is a diamond supposedly containing a flaw which forms the image of a “leaping panther”, which can be seen if held up to light in a certain way. This is explained in the beginning of the first film, and the camera zooms in on the diamond to reveal the blurry flaw, which focuses into the Panther (albeit not actually leaping) to start the opening credits sequence (this is also done in Return). The plot of the first film is based on the theft of this diamond. The diamond reappears in several later films in the series (The Return of the Pink Panther, Trail of the Pink Panther and Curse of the Pink Panther). It also comes in the 2006 reintroduction of Inspector Clouseau also called The Pink Panther and its sequel The Pink Panther 2). The name “the Pink Panther” became attached to Inspector Clouseau, in much the same way that Frankenstein has been used in film titles to refer to Dr. Frankenstein’s creation or The Thin Man was used in a series of detective films.
A Shot in the Dark, a film which was not originally intended to feature Clouseau, is the first of two films in the series (the other being Inspector Clouseau) that features neither the diamond nor the distinctive animated Pink Panther in the opening credits and ending. Many critics, including Leonard Maltin, regard this film as the best in the series.
In the original film, the main focus was on David Niven’s role as Sir Charles Litton, the infamous jewel thief nicknamed “the Phantom”, and his plan to steal the Pink Panther. The Inspector Clouseau character plays only a supporting role as Litton’s incompetent antagonist, and provided slapstick comic relief to a film that was otherwise a subtle, lighthearted crime drama, a somewhat jarring contrast of styles which is typical of Edwards’ films. The popularity of Clouseau caused him to become the main character in subsequent Pink Panther films, which were more straightforward slapstick comedies.