There aren’t many comedies that can reduce me to tears like “A Shot in the Dark” does. It’s one of those rare incredible comedies where every element from the story to the characters is so pitch perfect, it’s astounding. Character Clouseau even breaks the fourth wall at one point, destroying the momentum of the final confrontations. But he gets away with it so slyly, because Peter Sellers’ timing, matched with his physical comedy is flawless and genius. Even if you’ve never seen a Pink Panther movie, getting acquainted with Jacques Clouseau is a breeze because Sellers and director Blake Edwards establish him with subtle idiosyncrasies and almost no dialogue.
After a man is murdered at the mansion of a local wealthy family, Clouseau is called in to investigate the mysterious crime. Clouseau is inept, clumsy, and prone to disaster, but in his mind he’s a crack detective who refuses to drop the case when he finds he has something to gain from solving this crime. This includes respect, and the love of a beautiful suspect in the crime (The beautiful Elke Sommer) who may or may not have killed her lover in a crime of passion. To make things worse, someone out there is trying to kill Clouseau, someone that may or may not be involved in the initial murder itself. The crime plot itself is merely window dressing for the one hundred minute showcase of Peter Sellers’ amazing timing with both verbal and physical comedy.
While normally it would eventually get tiresome, Clouseau always manages to pull a new gag out of his hat. These jokes also serve as exposition for Clouseau whose deluded sense of confidence is a consistent source of laughter. Whether it’s Clouseau battling his man servant Kato, or playing off his long suffering assistant Hercule LaJoy (Surprisingly dead panned Graham LaJoy), Clouseau is never short of antics to make bring the audience to tears. Herbert Lom is fantastic as Clouseau’s foil and equally long suffering superior Comissioner Dreyfuss, who purposely puts Clouseau in danger in hopes of getting him killed, and instead ends up on the receiving end of (often) self inflicted vicious punishments. “A Shot in the Dark” is a masterpiece of comedy and crime cinema, and Sellers really does display his keen skill for comedy of all kinds. It’s a slapstick and very raucous film that I never tire of watching.