The Pink Panther: Voyeuristic Pleasures in a Gem of a Trailer (Part I)

Blake Edward’s 1963 comic masterpiece the Pink Panther has a wonderful trailer, including special “shoot” material from Friz Freleng and music by Henry Mancini. The 3:30 minute preview displays innovations typical of the early contemporary period, while retaining a savor of the classic era in its preoccupations and presumptions about its audience. It’s also a hoot.

The trailer opens on a cartoon of the eponymous Pink Panther, (against an orange background) looking at the brownish frames of a film reel and chuckling. It’s a private moment of consumption, expressed with a visual palette and style that will define the series, its key art and cartoon.

His voyeuristic reverie is interrupted by an unseen interlocutor, whose leading questions and asides to the Panther presumed to know—but who only communicates gesturally—provide the oblique presentation of story, genre, cast and production information. The man’s voice is urbane, friendly and insinuating. “Pardon me sir, but what are you looking at,” he asks? “Is that the new Pink Panther?” After gesturing him away, irritated at being interrupted in his private viewing, the Panther nods.

“Who’s in it?” the questioner continues. The Panther, who never speaks, although he does chuckle, holds the celluloid out for the narrator’s inspection. The image seen is framed by the individual frame of a film cell, a bit of visually self-reflexive punning. The border is cartoon; the image is live action. “Oh, that’s David Niven…And Peter Sellers,” says the narrator as both men appear.

“How’s he in the picture,” the voice (oh, go ahead, call him an audience surrogate) inquires? “Roll’s ‘em in the aisles, eh?” he suggests, when the Panther falls down laughing. “Who else?” he clamors to know. Shown Capucine in the frame, he reacts: “Oh Exquisite!” Then, “I see Robert Wagner’s in it too,” followed by scenes of Mr. Wagner cuckolding Sellers. “What do you think of Claudia Cardinale,” the Panther is asked next, to which his reply is hearty foot stomping and a howl of approval.

The Panther next appears peering at the film through a loupe, frame by frame (modeling how we should be watching this film) our narrator jumps to the obvious conclusion: “Oh say, what now? Are those the bedroom scenes,” to which the Panther guiltily nods, but shows no inclination to share. “Don’t be so selfish,” scolds the voice, which has the intended effect, insofar as we are soon watching extended scenes from a mild sex-farce, rife with physical comedy, sexual innuendo and bawdy double entendre.

Back to the Panther who is now blasted in the eardrums by graphically depicted musical notes pouring from the film strip (the optical track?). This in reply to the narrator’s observation that: “I understand the picture features the music of Henry Mancini.” A classic Mancini phrase of insistent, infectious cocktail music continues below the narration: “And introduces Fran Jeffries” who is shown, buttocks first, in a form fitting pants outfit, entertaining the fashionable après-ski audience.

The questioning continues: “Can you give me some idea what takes place in the picture?” The Panther obliges, showing us the print. A succession of incidents in an Alpine ski resort unspools: a skiing accident; a man falling from a ledge where’s he’s been spying on another guest; a wild fancy dress party, at which Peter Sellers, in Knight’s armor, lights a sparkler (or stick of dynamite) which burns down and jumps the diegetic barrier into the animated trailer to ignite a pile of celluloid curled at the foot of the surprised and alarmed Pink Panther. It explodes. We next see him lying charred against a salmon field, his tail in the air flying a white flag of surrender. On the white flag appears the title of the film. The solicitous voice apologizes, “Most unfortunate. I’m sorry Mr…..I didn’t get the name,” to which the Panther’s grimace cleverly underscores the title.

[TO BE CONTINUED: In my next post, I answer the question: “Just who do these trailermakers think they’re addressing and what it is that they they think we want from our entertainment?”]

The Pink Panther

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movietrailers101 by Fred Greene is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

About Frederick Greene

Entertainment Copywriter & Visiting Assistant Professor, UCLA Dept. of Theater, Film & Television. I teach a graduate seminar in new movie marketing, which focuses on the history, contemporary practice and likely future of a/v advertising for motion picture entertainment.
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