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Revisit those Swinging '60s!
on October 6, 2007
Though there are occasional exceptions, generally the best that comes out of a remake is a renewed appreciation of the original movie. The Peter Sellers edition of the MGM Movie Legends Collection contains both an example of the rule and one of the exception.
First in the four disc set (chronologically) is The Pink Panther, the first movie with Sellers as Inspector Clouseau, this time on a seeming vacation at an Alpine ski resort. He is actually out to catch the Phantom, a notorious cat burglar, who is after a gem called The Pink Panther owned by a princess. David Niven plays the classy thief, with Robert Wagner as his nephew. Though he has a major role, this is principally a Niven movie. Interestingly, just as people would incorrectly associate the name Frankenstein with the monster instead of the scientist (or that Nick Charles was the Thin Man), many would assume that Clouseau was the Pink Panther. This is a role Sellers would reprise several times and despite the efforts by Steve Martin in a remake, Sellers IS Clouseau.
Second is What's New Pussycat, in which Sellers is once again in a supporting role, this time as the psychiatrist treating Peter O'Toole, a man who attracts women too easily. When he finally falls in love with a woman, his efforts at commitment keep getting derailed by a series of beautiful women. Sellers is not so much interested in treatment but trying to use O'Toole's talents to snag some lovers of his own. This movie, which also has Ursula Andress, Romy Schneider and, in his first movie, Woody Allen (who also wrote the screenplay), is more than a bit dated, but it picks up a lot towards the finish.
Casino Royale is the movie that is much superior in its 2006 remake. The original cinematic version is actually a muddled parody which has its moments but also has all sorts of problems, probably not helped by the multiple directors. Niven plays Bond, called out of retirement to stop a diabolical villain. Sellers plays a card playing expert who takes the name of Bond to have a baccarat showdown with a Russian spy played by Orson Welles. This film is filled with stars, including Andress and Allen again, John Huston, Deborah Kerr, William Holden and George Raft. While some moments are brilliant, they are scattered and the end product is erratic. A bonus on this disc is the 1950s made-for-TV version of Casino Royale that may not be that well made but at least has historic value.
Finally, there is The Party, the only movie in the set in which Sellers is truly the star, playing an actor from India who is accidentally invited to the party of a studio chief. There is no real plot, just a series of humorous events as Sellers keeps getting involved in mishaps, which should be seen rather than merely related in a review.
All four of these movies are definitely in the style of the Swinging Sixties, which makes them both dated and all the more entertaining. Even with their flaws, What's New Pussycat and Casino Royale are high three star and The Party and The Pink Panther each merit a high four or low five stars. With a few extras, this is a nice four star set. With his limited roles in three of the four movies, this may not be a Sellers showcase, but it still is a good collection.