For Reel


The Party (1968)
October 3, 2016, 10:27 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Blake Edwards
4.5 Stars
the-partyBlake Edwards’ riff on Jacques Tati’s Playtime takes most of its inspiration from the superficial elements. If each filmmaker deals with a soirée involving the social elite, rife with modern gadgets and a loosely-structured plot, Edwards is more keen to attract audiences through their association with social paranoias. Peter Sellers’ Hrundi V. Bakshi is an outsider in every sense of the word, and from the moment he arrives at the eponymous event he meets disaster on the regular—the pleasant smile he gives to mask the fact that he’s desperate to use the facilities is something audiences can easily identify with. Edwards’ sense of escalating chaos is not so much tied to the actual event itself, rather to the foibles of Bakshi’s social deficiencies. Lest the audience mistake the film for mean-spirited towards Bakshi, however, the final act elevates him to a sort of hero, inciting a grand party while protecting the honor of an elephant and a girl. To Edwards, this sense of disorder is the first time that the playing field is truly leveled, and an outsider like Bakshi can overcome the social gatekeepers that spend most of the film appalled by his antics. If Tati’s film is more loving and gentle throughout, The Party‘s finale plays like a fantastical wish fulfillment, where the socially inept Bakshi becomes the centerpiece of a party and wins the girl.



A Shot in the Dark (1964)
October 3, 2016, 10:24 pm
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Director: Blake Edwards
3.5 Stars
a-shot-in-the-darkOnly three months after The Pink Panther hit movie screens, this immediate followup continued the exploits of the bumbling Inspector Jacques Clouseau (Peter Sellers), the inarguable standout of the classic Blake Edwards caper. This time, the mystery matters even less, instead serving as a backdrop for a number of inspired comic setpieces—the best of which occurring with a number of near-miss murder attempts at a revolving series of nightclubs. Again, Sellers plays Clouseau as a man with misplaced self-confidence, bungling even the simplest of gestures and passing it off like it never happened. The familiar setup in the finale, in which all of the suspects are gathered in a drawing room as Clouseau rattles off the facts, is given new life by the humorous ways it finds to demonstrate Clouseau’s incompetence. That the suspects end the film with their own premature confessions, thereby robbing Clouseau of his grand reveal, is apropos—the point of the Clouseau films is not to witness the methodical solving of a murder mystery, but rather to witness how delightfully Sellers plays a man who is consistently unaware that he is in over his head.



The Pink Panther (1963)
August 12, 2016, 2:10 pm
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Director: Blake Edwards
2.5 Stars
The Pink PantherFor its lasting place in pop culture history, it is surprising that The Pink Panther was birthed from an essential mistake. Originally wrought as a vehicle for star David Niven, it was the film that made Peter Sellers a star—in fact, he’s so good that he is arguably the only thing that makes the supposed comedy watchable. Niven’s cat burglar brings the expected class but very little sense of levity, worsened by the stiff relationship with Claudia Cardinale. Much of the film feels similarly labored and grasping—if the surrealism and heavy doses of nostalgia in the climax bring some life (everything about the gag with the zebra costume is a masterpiece of low-brow comedy), it doesn’t account for the preceding tedium. Sellers is the only actor who really gets to be funny, and his smallness as a performer suggests lessons taken from the great reactionary comics like Buster Keaton. If Sellers’ pratfalls are funny, the fact that he ignores the absurdity of each of them makes them hysterical. He is the least grandstanding of comics—when he shrugs his shoulders to the final notes of a song, it seems like a lived-in gesture from Inspector Clouseau himself rather than a comedian using the opportunity for a small physical gag. Director Blake Edwards similarly shows an understated confidence in his directing, with the Fran Jeffries musical number being staged with a masterful precision in  composition rather than flashy camera tricks or an overuse of editing. Despite the talents involved, however, the material is just a slog.