If, like me, you love Peter Sellers, but find his Pink Panther films a little much and director Blake Edwards equal parts inspired and annoying, then Edwards’ 1964 A Shot in the Dark is probably the picture for you. Designed as a follow-up to the original The Pink Panther (1963), Edwards and co-author William Peter Blatty turned to Harry Kurnitz’ play A Shot in the Dark as a basis for the sequel. Using the play as a springboard, gave the film the kind of form and structure that’s lacking in so many of Edwards’ films. The fit was a good one. Edwards’ penchant for broad slapstick and Sellers’ expert buffoonery worked well within the confines of the plot. For once, the slapstick seems inherent and essential to the film and not, as so often is the case with Edwards, plastered onto it.
Giving the film more form than usual—not to mention an unusually worthy cast of comedic foils—also brought out the best in Sellers. His completely misplaced self-confidence and his mangling of the English language as Inspector Clouseau here seems less forced than it often does in later entries. Simply to watch the billiard game he has with George Sanders (one of the suspects in a murder case) is a testament to how well the film works. Rarely had Sellers so worthy a screen opponent, and no one but Sanders could have pulled off the scene with the kind of world-weary sangfroid he manages to display despite Seller’s stumbling antics. Sanders even manages to help set up at least one gag with no apparent attempt at being funny. (Then too, admirers of Sellers’ work on the radio’s The Goon Show can’t help but revel in seeing Sellers play against Sanders, who served as the obvious model for Sellers’ villainous Hercules Grytpype-Thynne on the show.) All in all, it’s the jewel in the Pink Panther series.