There’s a long tradition of brilliant detectives in movies, film and books, but none are more respected than Inspector Jacques Clouseau. A brilliant mind wrapped in a meticulously maintained body, Inspector Clouseau is the pride of the French Sûreté, aka the civil police force.
Or none of that’s true.
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In fact, Inspector Clouseau is the perfect vision of the oblivious, bungling detective, one of the prototypes of the trope. He epitomizes failure but is so out of touch with his own reality that he sees all of his failures as successes thanks to his keen proficiency at rationalization and ignoring “facts.” He’s so out of touch that he employs a servant named Kato (spelt Cato is subsequent films) who has been instructed to attack him to keep the Inspector sharp. This rarely goes well.
The second film in The Pink Panther franchise, A Shot in the Dark is about a series of murders being investigated by the indomitable Inspector. He falls in love with one of the main suspects, which raises the ire of his supervisor, and is arrested several times while investigating. Once while selling balloons without a license. Seriously. Despite himself, he eventually solves the case.
Inspector Clouseau is truly one of the great comedic characters to exist in film and holds up well. A Shot in the Dark was released in 1964 and is still funny almost 50 years later, particularly due to Sellers’ portrayal of Clouseau. He’s often referred to as bumbling, which does not do the character justice. His failures are epic in proportion as is his ability to rationalize them.
Peter Sellers portrayed the iconic character in several films, some good and some bad. And other actors have played Clouseau, including Steve Martin in two recent films. As great a comedic actor as Martin is, his version of Clouseau does not come close to what Sellers does. Sellers infuses Clouseau with a level of undeserved arrogance that gives you a sense of satisfaction when he fails, yet still makes the character endearing enough that you root for him to succeed. Sellers’ Clouseau is chaos and destruction personified, often being more of a detriment to his case than anything else. His success is more by chance than anything else. He can barely stand up for more than a minute without falling down. How can he possibly solve a case?
And yet he does and we believe it. While he has been described as…difficult to work with, Sellers is a brilliant actor and masterfully funny comedian. He simply breathes life into Clouseau on the screen. The combination of physical comedy, the ridiculous accent even his peers can’t understand, and the facial expressions he uses can only be pulled off by Sellers. It is a performance both exaggerate and subtle at the same time.
Anything else is a poor substitute.