Peter Sellers' Many Pink Panthers, Part 2 (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

...Continuing from Part 1, we come to the the sequels, all of which are making their HD debuts in Shout's set.  The first of these, is 1964's A Shot In the Dark.  I already told the story of how A Shot was never originally intended to be a Pink Panther film; but never the less, this is where it really all clicks into place.  Clouseau is now the protagonist and he speaks in more than just the generic French accent of the original, but the unique, eccentric manner he's famous for.  And while he did briefly wear a similar rain coat and hat in the first film; he spent the majority of his time lounging around in sweaters; where here he's truly become the signature Clouseau character.  This is also the film where we meet series regulars Inspector Dreyfus, Cato and Andre Maranne's Sgt. Francis.  Really, the only missing element is the panther diamond and its name in the title.
Many call this the best of the Panthers, and it's hard to argue against that.  Lots of great gags, contrasted against an elegant and classical mystery.  There's a touch of restraint.  George Sanders lends the film some dramatic credibility to play the humor against, Graham Stark proves a fun, contrarian assistant and Elke Sommers... well, at least they didn't have to dub over her entire performance.  Fun fact, by the way, this one was co-written by The Exorcist's William Peter Blatty.

So, of course I've got the same 2004 DVD set and 2017 Shout Factory sets as in Part 1.  And once again, I've got a single disc release.  But instead of the more modern 2006 disc, this time I've got the original 1999 DVD.  That should be fun for these comparisons, because it has distinctly different transfers.  That's "transfers," plural, because it's a flipper disc with an anamorphic (unlike the original film's  widescreen version, plus a fullscreen on the flip.  So four clearly distinct transfers comin' up!
1) 1999 US MGM DVD widescreen side 2) 1999 US MGM DVD fullscreen side
3) 2004 US MGM Collection DVD 4) 2017 US Shout blu
So first of all, wow, look at that fullscreen transfer.  No open matte there; they've actually chopped off more picture than they left in.  And interesting that the fullscreen (1.33:1) and widescreen (2.34:1) editions on the same disc also have unique color timings.  I guess they actually used two separate masters?  Curious.  You'll also notice that this 1999 widescreen disc pans surprisingly far to the left than the other widescreen editions.  Anyway, the 2004 disc already got another new master.  It's not just another adjustment to the colors, going considerably more red, the framing's been slightly adjusted, with a new AR of 2.29:1, and they've done some clean up (note the disappearing green spot in the second set of shots).  But now comes along the HD transfer, with slightly paler colors again.  Detail is definitely the strongest yet, though still a bit on the soft side (for HD; it obviously trumps the DVDs with no difficulty).  Apparently this is a 4k scan of the interpositive, and it has a very naturally filmic feel.  They've also reframed to a more accurate 2.35:1, which includes little extra slivers on the sides.

The 1999 DVD just gives us the original mono audio and an equally mono French dub, with optional English and French subtitles.  The 2004 DVD adds a 5.1 mix, a Spanish dub and Spanish subs to that.  And Shout, as you'll see they consistently do, strips away all the foreign language options, but now gives us three English tracks, throwing in an additional stereo mix to their mono and 5.1 (all in DTS-HD) and English subs.
Special feature-wise, this film's always been barebones 'till now.  The 1999 disc had the trailer and an 8-page insert, and the 2004 boxed set only added a photo gallery.  Interestingly, Shout's packaging doesn't suggest it has anything else either, only listing the trailer and a still gallery, because they've actually come up with a bunch of great new stuff.  First off, there's an audio commentary by Jason Simos of the Peter Sellers Appreciation Society.  We're going to get commentaries from them on all the sequels in this box, and Simos is quite good, with lots of information and a pleasing, conversation style.  Then there's a cool 23-minute on-camera interview with producer Walter Mirsch.  This is all new stuff Shout made for this set, and they don't list it on the back of the case, just the trailer and gallery... bizarre.  Anyway, then there's a cool vintage clip of Blake Edwards and (his wife) Julie Andrews on The Dick Cavett Show.  It's not an amazing interview, but they show deleted scenes from the film, which are the real treat.  Then there's a series of five trailers, which are worth watching for some unique animation, and three galleries.  Great stuff!
The Return Of the Pink Panther is an interesting one.  For one, like it's title says, the pink panther diamond is back.  And this time it's being pursued by Christopher Plummer, and Clouseau must travel to Moracco to solve the crime.  It almost feels like Plummer and Sellers are in two different movies, one a fisticuffs-filled thriller, and one a screwball comedy.  Sure, Plummer gets caught up in the comedy; but he laso has some long action sequences played quite straight, with Edwards' deft direction somehow bridging the gap.  1978's Return comes almost ten years after Sellers' last Panther film, so times have changed, but the team proves they can make Clouseau's antics work just as well as ever.  Anybody who says A Shot isn't their favorite entry usually picks Return instead, because everything in this one works so well, especially since nobody could be sure Edwards and Sellers could bring back the magic all these years later.  But they surely proved themselves here.
Interestingly, this one, one of the better known and beloved entries in the film series, isn't in the 2004 boxed set.  That's because this film seems to have wound up in Universal's hands, rather than MGM's.  I do have a 2006 single disc release of it, though, from their Focus Films line.  And thankfully, Shout was able to license it for their blu-ray set, giving the film its HD debut in America (Universal had already put it out on blu in the UK in 2016).  So let's have a look at those.
1) 2006 US Universal DVD 2) 2017 US Shout blu
Looks like they're still using the same master.  Framed at 2.35:1, Universal's copy looks quite good - especially for its time in 2006 - so I guess they didn't feel the need to spend on a return to the film elements.  There's a little bit of flicker and speckles of debris, but grain is surprisingly authentic for such an old master, giving it an overall very pleasing, film-like feel.  The two discs look like concurrent releases, with the step up from SD to HD being the only obvious distinction - you'd never guess one disc was eleven years older than the other.  But that's more a compliment to the DVD than a criticism of the blu.  When I read that Shout wasn't giving this a new scan, I was prepared to be let down, but I'm actually pleasantly surprised.  Contrast/ black levels could be a smidgen deeper maybe, and the colors aren't exactly overflowing, but overall this is really nice.

Universal gives us the original mono track, plus optional English, Spanish and French subtitles.  Shout gives us the mono but upgraded to lossless DTS-HD, plus optional English subs.
Universal has nothing to offer but some random bonus trailers, however once again, Shout has cooked up some terrific new stuff and completely undersells it on the packaging.  The case lists the trailer, TV spots and a still gallery.  This is of course all there, but we also get a brand new interview with Catherine Schell, who plays Plummer's scheming wife, a nearly half-hour interview with the production designer Peter Mullins, another fact-filled audio commentary by Jason Simos, and a vintage 'making of' featurette.  Plus, there's actually three trailers, three galleries and several radio spots.  Why keep them secret?  So strange.  Even if you just want to list some of your special features, to not overcrowd the back cover, what's the logic in giving that space to minor things like stills galleries and TV spots instead of the brand new interviews, audio commentaries and all the great stuff that would really compel people to buy this set?
The Pink Panther Strikes Again brings us to 1978, and where the polish starts to rub off this series.  I know there's a contingency that likes this film best, though, and I can see why.  This is the one that really gets silly.  Instead of trying to solve a manor-house murder or catch a jewel thief, Clouseau is now on the hunt for his own police inspector Dreyfus who's becomes a literal cloak-wearing super villain hiding in a secret castle with a giant ray-cannon that can evaporate entire cities.  This is just a big tonal change, which I assume is designed to appeal more to kids, who after all, are being drawn to the films by the never-ending cartoon series.  I can remember being a small child myself when I first saw a Panther film (not sure which one) and being super bummed once the animated credits ended and that was it for the cartoons; the rest of the movie followed a live action policeman.  So that may've had something to do with it; plus they're probably swinging the pendulum too far after having drifted afield in the other direction last time, doing all those non-comic Morocco drama scenes with Christopher Plummer.  This is some serious over-compensation, though.
Clouseau's disguises go from a silly mustache as an excuse to throw him into some out-of-career comedy bits into complicated special effects make-up showcases (a la Dana Carvey's infamous Master of Disguise).  They've bridged the gap between the movies and the cartoons, entirely to the movies' detriment.  And jokes are being repeated practically verbatim by this point.  For example, the scene of Clouseau swinging through the villain's lair and flying right out the window unnoticed is a perfect duplicate of him doing the same thing in the apartment building in A Shot In the Dark.  But still, this movie isn't all bad.  Let's face it, the plot has always mostly just been an excuse to string comic Peter Sellers scenes together, almost as much of a sketch show as a narrative feature; and there are still some high quality, original bits here, including some great English drawing room mystery scenes early in the film.  By now, the Cato attacks are really starting to feel like they're just being stuck in as tradition, and the amusing novelty's worn off even as they grow longer and longer; but they do come up with some clever ways to keep this one fresh.  Omar Shariff turns up for a super cool supporting role, and Henry Mancini teams up with Tom Jones for a great, Academy Award-nominated song.  And it is nice that Herbert Lom finally got to play a bigger role.  But the list of the really great Pink Panther movies had already concluded, and this one didn't make the cut-off.
It's not even the first film he's worn this suit of armor
Besides the 2004 DVD set and the 2017 blu-ray set, I've got the 2006 MGM single disc release.  At this point, it kind of goes without saying that these 2004 MGM DVDs and the 2006's are basically the same.  But I've got 'em, so I'll keep sticking them in to be thorough.
1) 2004 US MGM Collection DVD 2) 2006 US MGM DVD 3) 2017 US Shout blu
So the DVDs are virtually identical, anamorphic 2.31:1 transfers.  They look pretty good for DVD, but the blu-ray is still a very nice step up.  Another fresh 4k scan of the interpositive, this looks unsurprisingly like Shout's presentation of A Shot In the Dark.  Fixed to 2.35:1 and including a little more picture information, particularly on the left, Strikes Back receives a nice HD boost, though still feeling a bit soft in terms of fine detail and film grain.  And again, there's a bit of flickering and dirt, though those mostly just wind up serving as gentle reminders of the movie's filmic origins.  I actually like the colors and contrast even better on this one than Shot.

So the DVDs gave us the option of a 5.1 mix or the original mono, plus Spanish and French dubs, and English, French and Spanish subtitles.  Shout has once again dropped the foreign options, but in addition to bumping the English tracks to DTS-HD (and yes, it has English subs, too); they've added another stereo mix option.  However, Update 6/2/18 - see the comments: in this case, you'll probably want to play the 5.1 mix, even if you're usually a mono purist.  Why?  Because the mono and stereo mixes on the Shout disc are incorrectly pitched down.  In other words, everything sounds deeper, as if it were playing in slightly slow motion.  The disc defaults to the 5.1, so people who don't play with their audio settings probably won't even encounter it, but toggling between the audio tracks during, play, it's disappointingly noticeable.
You're probably picking up on the pattern by now, but just in case: the DVDs are barebones except for the trailer and a gallery.  And Shout's packaging suggests the same, but once again, it's got great, uncredited stuff.  There's another Jason Simos commentary, plus two substantial on-camera interviews, with Upstairs Downstairs' Lesley-Anne Down and editor Alan Jones.  Plus, there's another vintage featurette, four trailers, four TV spots, four radio ads and four galleries.  But, uh, keep that under your hat, I guess?

What's the next one?  Revenge Of the Pink Panther, the least memorable one, that's for sure.  It's the last legit Peter Sellers Pink Panther, really.  What stands out about this one?  Well, this is the one where Robert Loggia does The Godfather schtick, and where they wind up going to Tokyo.  Tokyo at least works to lend the film another exotic locale, giving Edwards something interesting to shoot and Burt Kwouk more to do.  But, man oh man, the bigger productions Sellers' costumes become, the less funny they are, like they're just trying to throw money at script problems.  Graham Stark really hams it up in a bad way here, especially compared to his much more enjoyable roles in previous films.  Edwards and his cast are still able to bring a certain charm to the proceedings, and big Clouseau fans will still say this movie's okay; but it's really just starting to feel like we're panning for tiny laughs in a long, dry movie at this point.

So I've got the 2004 set, the 2006 single disc, and the 2017 set.  Let's go.
1) 2004 US MGM Collection DVD 2) 2006 US MGM DVD 3) 2017 US Shout blu
Shout's blu-ray is not a fresh scan this time, but it's still a distinct improvement on the DVDs.  The 2.30:1 framing has been corrected to 2.35:1, revealing a tiny bit more on each side.  The colors are gently improved, and the HD really brings out the detail.  The jump to HD all the more satisfying because the DVDs seem a little over and unpleasantly compressed.  Nothing scandalous, but even compared to their sister Panther DVDs, they could've looked better.  And that's cheerfully cleared up on the blu-ray.  There are moments where it seems like they might've tried to sharpen or boost the image a little bit, grain looks like it's been tampered with in places - possibly because this is an older HD master, maybe just intended for DVD - but nothing egregious.  I mean, look at this.  It may not be perfect, but it's a very satisfying upgrade:
2006 US MGM DVD left, 2017 US Shout blu right.
As far as the audio, at this point, you guys can probably sing it with me.  The DVDs have a 5.1 mix and the original mono, plus Spanish and French mono dubs and English, French and Spanish subtitles.  The blu has the DTS-HD English tracks in mono, stereo and 5.1, plus English subs.

Special features-wise, the DVDs are still barebones apart from a trailer and gallery and Shout is once again unlisting their best extras.  But there is less stuff this time around.  The audio commentary is now by Patrick Maynard of the Peter Sellers Appreciation Society, as opposed to Jason Simos.  And I'll say that when he's talking, Maynard is fine and every bit as good as Simos.  Unfortunately, those moments are rare, and the vast majority of the commentary is silent dead air.  It's really hard to listen to, because the stretches of silence go on longer than the actual bits of commentary.  When he has information to share, it's welcome; but he seems to have a real misunderstanding of how audio commentaries work or something, because it's mostly just death.  Making this one of the worst audio commentaries I've ever heard, second only to Umberto Lenzi's Nightmare City and maybe the one David Cronenberg did for that Japanese edition of Naked Lunch that subsequent companies scrapped and replaced.  And apart from that, there's just trailers, TV spots, radio spots and galleries.
Look familiar?
Finally, we arrive at Trail Of the Pink Panther, which I can't believe was even released as an actual movie.  It feels like a TV special.  Peter Sellers had died at this point, but they still wanted to make more Panther movies.  So the first third of this film is consists of outtakes from the previous movies intercut with new scenes and a stand-in doubling as Sellers' Clouseau.  Then the second third is a clip reel of "greatest hits" comedy moments from the older films.  Those clips, by the way, are edited in such a way that they're less funny here than they were in their original contexts.  And then the final third has Absolutely Fabulous's Joanna Lumley play a news reporter who goes around interviewing cast members from the previous films (as their characters) about their memories of Sellers.  And then it all just finishes, open-ended and baffling.
If you saw this in theaters or bought this as a single release DVD, you got conned.  I still can barely believe Blake Edwards wrote and directed this sham.  But as the last disc is a boxed set, it does work as an amusing, elaborate special feature.  We see unreleased deleted scenes from the previous films, and it's sweetly nostalgic when Lumley chats up past co-stars, from Robert Loggia to David Nivens and Capucine.  And this is a genuinely funny, all new comedy scene where Lumley interviews Clouseau's never-before-seen father, expertly played by Richard Mulligan.  It also weirdly ends on a cliff-hanger, which is picked up again in Curse Of the Pink Panther, the one starring Ted Wass.  It's a curiosity.  And it's neat that MGM and Shout included it in their sets.  But it's also an exasperating sham.  Oh boy.
1) 2004 US MGM Collection DVD 2) 2017 US Shout blu
This one's not a fresh scan by Shout either, but that's fine.  It feels like they went the extra mile bumping this non-movie up to HD in the first place.  Comparing the earlier shot of Niven, Cardinale and Sellers to the same shot in Part 1, it's immediately evident how much better that footage looked in disc 1.  This one's flatter, duller and cropped a bit more... though all of that may be how the recycled footage looked theatrically, too.  Because the footage above really does look crisp and detailed, a very strong boost from the DVD version.  Again, it corrects a 2.30:1 AR to 2.35:1, pulling in a little more picture.  Contrast is a little up and down, and there's more dirt and flecks on this one than most, but it's still a perfectly fine HD transfer.  I've seen people out this one down a little further, but I think that may partially just be because the film doesn't look as nice.  You know, I wouldn't give it an "A," but there's really nothing wrong with it, and it's a solid HD boost that substantially upgrades the DVD.

And in terms of audio and special features, it's exactly the same story as the last disc.  DVD has 5.1 and the original mono, plus Spanish and French dubs and English, French and Spanish subtitles.  Blu has DTS-HD English tracks in mono, stereo and 5.1, plus English subs.  The DVD has just the trailer and a gallery, while the blu has another blanket of dead air... er, I mean Patrick Maynard commentary, plus two trailers and three galleries.
The Academy Award winning Pink Phink
That's about it for the Shout set, but I can't leave without pointing out that the 2004 DVD set also includes the six most famous Pink Panther animated shorts.  They're exclusive to the MGM set, but A Shot In the Dark is exclusive to the Shout set, which is infinitely more critical.  It's a bit of a bummer that Shout stopped at just the Peter Sellers films, especially when Trail ends on a cliff hanger, and the resolution isn't in the same box.  Sellers are the best films, though, and probably the only ones you really need unless you're a major fan (and I'm not sure, then, if you really even need those last couple Sellers ones), so it's not too painful a loss.  And it has to be pointed out, that all the other Panther films are available on blu.  Kino has put out Inspector Clouseau, Curse Of the Pink Panther and Son Of the Pink Panther, as well as volume 1 of the animated films, with volume 2 already being released this summer, and possibly more after that.  And those Steve Martin remakes have always been available from Sony; you can probably get them used for next to nothing now.
So yeah, I do remember back a couple years ago when MGM announced a huge blu-ray boxed set that was supposed to include special editions of absolutely everything, and yes, what actually came out falls short of that.  But what's important is that now they're all available in HD; and this particular set contains all the best ones, very affordably priced in one neat little package.  It's one multi-disc amary case in an attractive slip box with a 28-page booklet, plus an insert listing all the Shout Select releases. No Clouseau fan should be without it.


  1. Interesting fact regarding on The Return of The Pink Panther; the film was produced by ITC with United Artists handling distribution and ironically owning the copyright (UA had no interest to do another PP film at the time). As a result, ITC had full ownership of the title. It wasn't until 2008 MGM acquired all but home video rights to Return (which was still with Universal/Focus Features)...that is until 2015 (40 years after the film's release) when MGM acquired the last of the rights from ITV (for whatever reason according to the DVD edition from Shout!, available so far exclusively at Best Buy and Wal-Mart, Universal/Focus is still listed when it comes to that movie so I'm guessing Universal/Focus still has at least home video rights for the time being. Nonetheless, MGM now has full ownership of the title).

    1. Also one thing to note; the mono and stereo mixes for The Pink Panther Strikes Again are in low-pitched, the 5.1 is in the correct pitch though.

    2. Thanks for your comments! You're absolutely right, and I've updated my post. Switching back and forth between the three audio tracks, the low pitch is immediately obvious.