THE PINK PANTHER FILM COLLECTION

(MGM HOME ENTERTAINMENT)

ROCK HUDSON and DORIS DAY ROMANCE COLLECTION

(UNIVERSAL HOME VIDEO)

Fans of both the Pink Panther and the Rock Hudson - Doris Day comedies have ample cause for celebration, as most of the Panther and all of the Hudson- Day films are now available on dvd  in elaborately designed ( and very pink) box sets. 

The big news is that MGM, that most anamorphically challenged home video outfit, has released five of the seven Panther films in absolutely pristine anamorphic shape. I can't remember these resolutely slap-sticky capers ever looking this good, and the fact that each now have new 5.1 audio tracks is an added bonus that socks home the fact that Henry Mancini's wonderful musical contributions were as essential to the success of the series as those of star Peter Sellers and writer-director Blake Edwards.                                                  

The first of the series , THE PINK PANTHER is , without question, the most visually sumptuous of the series, and benefits immensely from the dashing and witty presence of the great David Niven, whose comparatively suave approach to the material contrasts interestingly with Sellers' manic Inspector Clouseau, though Sellers is far more subdued than he would be in future efforts. As this was the only PANTHER in Technicolor, it is unquestionally the best looking of the series, a fact that this marvelous looking 16 by 9 widescreen transfer makes abundantly clear.

The second of the series, A SHOT IN THE DARK, though actually loosely based on a non-Clouseau play,  is arguably the best in the series,  as it has a more substantial plotline than the other PANTHERS, a fact that showcases the physical comedic aspects to greater effect. In addition, it introduces two characters that would appear in all future episodes; Herbert Lom as the increasingly addled Chief Inspector, and Burt Kwouk as Clouseau's judo-obsessed houseboy. Additionally, George Sanders' dry and deadpan reactions to Sellers' physical shenanigans in the poolroom scene make this my favorite scene in the entire series.                                             

The next film in the series, INSPECTOR CLOUSEAU, is wisely not included in this box set, as it is a dumb and dreary affair with Alan Arkin and Bud Yorkin subbing disastrously for Sellers and Edwards, and similarly excluded, as it is apparently not now under MGM'S aegis, is the witlessly tiresome and unwatchable THE RETURN OF THE PINK PANTHER, which reunited a washed up Sellers and Edwards, and was, incredibly, so successful that it spawned three other PANTHERS, all of which are included in this collection.                         

In THE PINK PANTHER STRIKES AGAIN, and to a somewhat lesser degree, REVENGE OF THE PINK PANTHER, Sellers and Edwards hit their stride again, though by this time the series had forsaken any pretenses of subtlety, and settled into the realm of out and out physical mayhem, a fact that pleased audiences immensely, as both were sizable successes.

There can be no justification, however, for the shamelessly necrophilic shambles that is TRAIL OF THE PINK PANTHER, one of the most cynically (mis)conceived travesties ever commited to film. A tribute to Edwards' apparently limitless greed, this cobbled-together mess utilizes unfunny outtakes of the now deceased Sellers that  wisely ended up on the cutting room floor, as well as footage from previous PANTHERS, and surrounds them with new scenes and characters that are ludicrously out of step with the regurgitated footage. Poor David Niven , looking positively cadaverous, as he was in the final stages of Lou Gehrig's disease, unwisely appears here in his last film, but, as he could no longer speak distinctly, is dubbed, badly, by Rich Little. This is a very sad end to the Sellers-Edwards collaboration, and is best avoided at all costs, as viewing it will substantially decrease the luster of all that has gone before it, and which has been so lovingly restored in this terrific PANTHER collection.

 

Last year's forced and empty flop DOWN WITH LOVE hopelessly tried to duplicate the colorful look and salaciously innocent comedic values of the Rock Hudson-Doris Day romps, but, as this collection of all three of their films buoyantly and happily proves, there's nothing like the originals.                           

PILLOW TALK was one of the biggest hits of 1959 and totally reinvigorated Doris Day's box office luster, as well as earning her the only Oscar nomination of her career, and established Rock Hudson as a viable, if inexperienced, romantic comedy lead. The plot isn't much (Two people who can't stand each other fall in love via a party line), but there are so many funny lines delivered with aplomb by Day and third lead Tony Randall, and to a lesser extent by Hudson,  that PILLOW TALK, though certainly dated (part of its charm?), is a constant delight to experience, and it certainly doesn't hurt that the film's riotously gaudy and colorful sets are accurately rendered in this excellent anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer. 

While most fans consider PILLOW TALK the best of the series, I vastly prefer the followup LOVER COME BACK, in which rival executives find themselves advertising a product that doesn't exist. LOVER is, in fact, a very sharp and funny advertising satire disguised as a romantic comedy, and Hudson, while never any Cary Grant, really shows some comic ability here, and Day and Randall are even better than they were in PILLOW TALK. The anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer is good. 

While the third and last in the Hudson-Day-Randall series SEND ME NO FLOWERS is by far the weakest of the three, there are modest pleasures to be had in this story of a hypochondriac (Hudson) who mistakenly thinks he is dying and tries to provide another spouse for his wife (Day), but there's no denying that the fact that Hudson and Day are married in this one eliminates the comic sexual tension that was a defining element in both PILLOW and LOVER. The 1.85:1 transfer is good, and as is the case with the other two titles, the monaural sound is clean and crisp.                           

While DVD CLASSICS CORNER has never before commented on dvd packaging, I can't end these reviews without observing that PANTHER'S collectible black and pink patent leather packaging, which showcases witty illustrations by retro-hip artist Shag, is probably the smartest looking dvd packaging I have ever seen, and the lavender-pink Hudson-Day box, though more conventional, is no slouch either.            

--DICK DINMAN

 

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