Twitter Plot Summary: The Pink Panther franchise continues to hobble on, despite the fact its lead died some years previously. Thank Grud for Turk Thrust II.
Cobbling together a film after your lead actor has died is clearly a bad idea. It certainly didn’t work in Trail of the Pink Panther, a tribute to the comic genius that was Peter Sellers which used previously unseen footage and a few segments of new material to create a new, if totally uneven, story. So as a director whose success is tied to your lead actor’s performance and insanity (in this case, Blake Edwards) what do you do when your lead actor dies and you have a dearth of alternative opportunities? Why, you try desperately to spin the franchise off with a new lead character, of course, now with Sergeant Clifton Sleigh (Tim Wass) who is, for want of a better term, the American Clouseau. That’s not a good thing, it turns out.
You can almost feel the padding from the off – Clouseau interrupts a meeting between Joanna Lumley and some other moustachioed menace, his face hidden in shadow. Then a few minutes of extended credits with the animated Pink Panther fill time, almost unnecessarily so. It transpires that Clouseau has vanished and has somehow become a national hero, much to Chief Inspector Dreyfus’ bafflement and chagrin. Following an amusing sequence where they use a computer to pick the best candidate for locating Clouseau, Clifton Sleigh is selected and heads off on his trail. This includes revisiting old faces from the franchise, including an increasingly aged David Niven, Burt Kwouk as Cato, and Harvey Korman as Professor Auguste Balls (don’t ask), and – let’s face it – not much else.
Thankfully Herbert Lom is as batty as ever as the long-suffering Dreyfus. It’s him in fact that sells this production, one of the very few highlights in an overly long and mostly tedious picture. His regular appearances, constantly being accidentally injured thanks to Sleigh’s bumbling, add levity that makes you wish that Dreyfus was the focus rather than Sleigh. Without Dreyfus, this would be near unwatchable.
Then there is that cameo at the end, with Roger Moore taking on the role of Clouseau post-plastic surgery. It’s here that some of the fun from the previous films makes a return, but it’s all too brief and carried only by Moore’s charisma and ability to pratfall with the best of them. Wass looks like an amateur by comparison. It’s sadly no surprise that Wass has not achieved much fame since stepping into the shoes of Peter Sellers, in front of the camera at least – he’s forged a successful career as a director instead.
Other gags fall flat – the repeated gag of the Italian American gangster types always eating when they discuss business is poorly established, and the pratfalls handed to Sleigh – once the domain of Clouseau – on the whole feel forced and without Sellers’ nuance. It’s clear that Peter Sellers was a hard act to follow, and Curse clearly demonstrates that the magic went with him. In many respects this is a tribute act to the Sellers run of films, nothing more.