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Peter Sellers at His Finest

In 1961 a French play called L’ Idiot was adapted as a play for Broadway as A Shot in the Dark. It ran for 389 performances at the Booth Theatre starring Walter Matthau (who won a Tony Award), Julie Harris, and William Shatner (still working today.

United Artists purchased screen rights and assigned Blake Edwards to direct.  He then brought in William Peter Blatty (later to direct The Exorcist movies) to help rewrite the script. None of the characters from either version of the play wound up appearing in the film, though Matthau was retained to play a detective, and Peter Sellers was signed to play one as well. Both parts, however, were dramatically altered as the property evolved.

Sellers was none too pleased with the many changes and left the project. He took a vacation where a French hotel manager with a peculiar accent unwittingly inspired the character Sellers would fashion as his classic “Inspector Clouseau.”

Upon returning to the production, Sellers was necessarily clobbered by Edwards until he sized up the new characterization Sellers had conceived, in particular the odd pronunciations of words — adding the letter “u” where it did not belong!

During shooting in England Sellers improvised a great deal of his dialog. He also made several actual mistakes, which he would then correct on camera. Edwards almost always used those takes, making for fresh, authentic comedy. In addition, both Sellers and Edwards were huge Laurel & Hardy fans, and were inspired by the team’s visual comedy, plus their skill at performing slapstick.

Ad lines: “The picture gets away with murder!”

“Meet the inspector who was always on the job…in the bedroom…in the night club…in the nudist colony!”

It took three years, but on June 23, 1964, with a Henry Mancini score, A Shot in the Dark was issued to movie theaters around the world and was an immediate critical and popular success.

This was the sole Clouseau movie that did not use the name “Pink Panther” nor the cartoon character in the opening credits.

Body count — 14 people, and one crow.

Always confusing — this is the second Inspector Clouseau film. First The Pink Panther, also in 1964. After these, there were several more sequels, but even though Peter Sellers stuck with the role, the law of diminishing returns does apply.

A Shot in the Dark still holds up. It is a lot of fun.

“What you just said, Clouseau, qualifies you as the greatest prophet since Custer said he was was going to surround all these Indians!”

“Give me ten men like Clouseau, and I could destroy the world!”