Chief Inspector Jacques Clouseau of the Surete Nationale (a main arm of the French police forces) is a fictional character in Blake Edwards’ series of farcical “The Pink Panther…” films. In most of the movies actor Peter Sellers portrayed the character, who was to become one of Sellers’ pivotal roles.

He’s NOT The Pink Panther!

Which was actually a piece of jewelry; a diamond, targeted for stealing by the aristocratic British thief Sir Charles Lytton, a.k.a. “the Phantom”, in the 1963 comedy thriller “The Pink Panther”. The main focus of the film was on the plotting of actor David Niven, as Sir Charles, with Sellers’ Clouseau providing slapstick comic relief.

Sellers’ antics lent to the popular reception of the film, and established Clouseau’s method of operations; that of a complete buffoon who somehow manages to solve major crimes by a combination of blind luck, inept villains, and fortunate accidents. And the lingering suspicion that, somewhere in his head lurks the identity of a true detective.

The Pink Panther went on to give its name to a suave cartoon feline (who was to feature in the movie credits), and a series of sequels.

He’s had Many Faces:

* The 1964 sequel “A Shot in the Dark” was based on a stage play that didn’t originally include the Clouseau character. It was in this film that Sellers first developed the exaggerated French accent that became Clouseau’s trademark.

The movie introduced two of the series regular characters: Clouseau’s superior officer, Commissioner Dreyfus (actor Herbert Lom), who’s eventually driven mad by Clouseau’s bungling, and his long-suffering Chinese steward, Cato (Burt Kwouk), employed to improve Clouseau’s martial arts skills by attacking him at random.

* For 1968’s “Inspector Clouseau”, the detective was portrayed by American actor Alan Arkin. Blake Edwards was not involved in this production.

* “The Return of the Pink Panther” (1975) saw the return of Peter Sellers to the role of Clouseau – and a rematch with the villainous Sir Charles Lytton (now portrayed by Christopher Plummer). The opening credits were animated by Richard Williams, and feature Clouseau seeking to retrieve the Pink Panther diamond after it is stolen by the Phantom.

* “The Pink Panther Strikes Again” (1976) continued the story from the end of “The Return of the Pink Panther”.The now insane Dreyfus creates a crime syndicate and constructs a doomsday device, with the intention of using it to blackmail the world into killing Clouseau.

Here’s a scene, courtesy of YouTube, depicting Clouseau’s unique style of interrogation:

* Sellers and Edwards originally planned the events of “Revenge of the Pink Panther” (1978) as the basis for a British television series. The movie ignores Dreyfus’ apparent “death” in the previous film, and has Clouseau investigating a plot to kill him after a transvestite criminal is murdered in his place. The movie was a box office success, and led to several more films after Sellers died in 1980.

* 1982’s “Trail of The Pink Panther” was Blake Edwards’ attempt to continue telling Clouseau’s story, despite losing his lead actor. Using outtakes and alternative footage of Sellers as Clouseau, the film introduced a new storyline in which a reporter (played by Joanna Lumley) investigates Clouseau’s disappearance. Along the way, she interviews characters from past Clouseau films, and meets Clouseau’s equally inept father (played by Richard Mulligan).

Seems like a bad idea? Well…

* “Curse of the Pink Panther” (1983) continued the conceit, with the revelation that Clouseau underwent plastic surgery to change his appearance. The character appears briefly, in a joke cameo by Roger Moore, billed as “Turk Thrust II”. Neither “Curse” nor “Trail” was a box office success, and the series was retired.

* Edwards attempted to revive the series a decade later with “Son of the Pink Panther” (1993). Here, it is revealed that Clouseau had illegitimate children by Maria Gambrelli (played by Elke Sommer in A “Shot in the Dark”; recast in this film as Claudia Cardinale, who played the Princess in “The Pink Panther”).

Clouseau’s son, Jacques Jr., was portrayed by Roberto Benigni, and his twin sister, Jacqueline, played by Nicoletta Braschi. Jacques Jr. attempts to follow in his father’s police footsteps, but is soon revealed to have inherited the congenital Clouseau ineptitude.

* Steve Martin starred as Inspector Jacques Clouseau in the 2006 reboot of “The Pink Panther”. The story casts Clouseau as an inept Gendarme hired by Chief Inspector Dreyfus to serve as the figurehead investigator in a high-publicity murder, so that Dreyfus can carry out his own investigation, without risking the repercussions of failure.

Although foolish, Martin’s Clouseau is nonetheless able to locate the Pink Panther diamond and solve the case through his own knowledge, and observation of obscure data.

Martin’s Clouseau is considerably older than Sellers’ was, and although the 2006 film was placed prior to the events of the first Pink Panther film (Clouseau is still in uniform), the time frame is advanced to the present day.

Here’s a YouTube trailer, for you:

* “The Pink Panther 2” (2009): When a series of rare and historical artifacts are stolen by the mysterious Il Tornado, Clouseau is assigned to a “dream team” of international investigators to recover the relics – and the Pink Panther. Despite appearing bumbling and clumsy as usual, Clouseau once again displays surprising cleverness through his unorthodox methods.

Mad Skills

Clouseau is promoted to Chief Inspector over the course of the film series, and is regarded by background characters as France’s greatest detective Рuntil they encounter him directly.

The Inspector (sorry; Chief Inspector) has an exaggerated view of his own intelligence, and attempts to appear dignified, regardless of any calamity he’s just caused.

He has a passion for elaborate costumes and aliases, ranging from the mundane (a worker for the phone company) to the ridiculous (a bucktoothed hunchback with an oversized nose). All of them are usually masked by his characteristic mannerisms – and accent.

Clouseau’s immense ego, eccentricity, exaggerated French accent, and prominent mustache were derived from Hercule Poirot, Agatha Christie’s fictional Belgian detective. A frequent running gag in the movies was that even French characters had difficulty understanding what he was saying!

Ironically, much of that humor was lost in dubbing the films into French, where Clouseau wound up with an odd-sounding, nasal voice.

Okay; that’s it, for this one.

See you, for the next – I hope.

Till then.