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THE PINK PANTHER – Henry Mancini

November 6, 2017 Leave a comment Go to comments


Original Review by Craig Lysy

Producer Martin Jurow of the Mirisch Company felt the time was right to bring a sophisticated comedy to the big screen. The story would involve a jewel heist, which would pit the urbane and debonair jewel thief, Sir Charles Lytton, against the hapless and bumbling Inspector Jacques Clouseau. He tasked Blake Edwards to direct the project, who then personally collaborated with Maurice Richlin to fashion a hilarious screenplay. Casting went awry as Peter Ustinov, Ava Gardner and Janet Leigh all had issues, which prevented them from joining the production. Yet Blake was an experienced director who nevertheless succeeded in assembling a fine cast, which included David Niven as Sir Charles Lytton, Peter Sellers as Jacques Clouseau, Robert Wagner as George Lytton, Claudia Cardinale as Princess Dala, Brenda De Banzie as Angela Dunning, and Capucine as Simone Clouseau.

The story involves the famous “Pink Panther”, the largest cut pink diamond in the world. The Shah of Lugash gave the stone to his daughter Princess Dala as a birthday present. But after he was overthrown in a coup d’etat, the junta demanded the diamond be returned to them as state property. Dala refused and fled abroad. Now it comes to pass that renowned, and suave English playboy Sir Charles Lytton, who leads a double life as the jewel thief “The Phantom”, joins the Princess at an exclusive Swiss ski resort with the intention of heisting his greatest prize, the Pink Panther itself. Joining in the mix is Inspector Jacques Clouseau who is intent on apprehending the Phantom. What unfolds is classic slapstick comedic mayhem, a madcap adventure with wild car chases, misdirection, buffoonery, and an embracing of the absurd, which ends with Clouseau suffering the ignominy of being falsely imprisoned as the Phantom! The film was very popular with the public, so much so that it spawned a franchise of nine films. Critical success however was mixed with a scathing review penned by Bosley Crowther of the New York Times, and a more positive and praise worthy assessment by Variety. The film only received one Academy Award nomination, for Best Film Score.

Henry Mancini and Edwards had collaborated on a number of films, and Edwards believed that his jazz sensibilities would be a perfect compliment for the film. Mancini understood that Sellers’s performance would bring the requisite laughs, and so chose to support the story telling with music that was playful and mischievous. For the film’s primary themes, one stands as the most iconic and instantly recognizable themes in cinematic history, one that has since passed unto legend. I speak of the Pink Panther Theme. This minor modal theme emotes as a mysterioso in that it serves as Sir Charles Lytton’s secret identity as The Phantom. Its jazzy, syncopated music has a swagger, which showcases the talent of virtuoso tenor saxophone of Plas Johnson who mimics the soft footfalls of the stealthy Phantom. For the Princess we have the song “Meglio Stasera” or in English, “It Better Happen Tonight”. It emotes as an energetic Mambo, whose vibrant Latin rhythms excites and arouse. Mancini provided the music and Frank Migliacci wrote the lyrics.

The score is a celebration of dance, with Mancini infusing his soundscape with swinging mambos, cha-chas, and tangos. He would also feature accordion, sultry piano, sparkling horn flourishes, after hour’s jazz, and a classic smoky big band sound to round out the score. Mancini brought in some of the finest jazz musicians soloists of his time, which showcased the skills of Plas Johnson on tenor sax, Phil Woods on alto sax, and Carl Sanders on trumpet. Lastly, the score is listed as #20 in the American Film Institute’s 100 Years of Film Score list. However, I advise the reader that there does not seem to be an album which provides the complete score as used in the movie. This album, which I am reviewing, offers the major score elements, but much of the film score is not provided.

We open in the ornate palace of the Shah of Lugash, who presents the magnificent Pink Panther stone to his daughter Princess Dala as a birthday present. Within the stone is an imperfection, the image of a pink panther. As Dala looks within the stone we pass through a portal from which commences the animated roll of the opening credits. “The Pink Panther Theme” offers the score’s highlight, which showcases Mancini’s immortal theme. It is rendered in classic ABA form and supports the animation, which unfolds as a silly and slapstick cartoon. We observe the hapless inspector Clouseau searching for clues with a magnifying glass, a pink panther, which symbolizes the diamond prancing here and there, and an animated white glove, the Phantom’s calling card. The A Phrase of the theme is classic Mancini jazz, syncopated, full of mystery and swagger, and showcasing Johnson’s virtuoso tenor sax. The B Phrase hits us with classic big band horns, which power up the theme. As Claudia Cardinale’s credit flows atop the screen, a statement of her theme, the song “It Had Better Be Tonight” is heard. We close upon the A Phrase of the Main Theme, which culminates with a stinger as the Pink Panther is singed by a gun blast! Mancini was a genius! Later in the film the comic scene when Sir Charles and George are dressed as gorillas and trying to rob the Princess’ safe is also supported by the theme.

“It Had Better Be Tonight” is a splendid cue, where Mancini showcases the instrumental rendering of this vibrant song, which became a pop sensation. The accordion is prominent and the dance rhythms infectious! In the film, the theme often serves as a prelude to the Pink Panther Theme, reflective of the Phantom stalking his prey. Throughout the film the theme is prominent in scenes featuring Princess Dala, as it serves as her identity. It receives an extended rendering during the party scene at the Princess’ Roman villa. “Cortina” offers classic soft and elegant tango dance rhythms, which support vistas of the elegant alpine ski resort of Cortina d’Ampezzo. As we see Princess Dala skiing down the slope, her theme carries her with both energy and grace. In a chase scene where Sir Charles pursues the kidnapper of the Princess’ dog it assumes an aggressive martial articulation. In “Village Inn” the Princess has invited Sir Charles for dinner in gratitude for his attempted rescue of her kidnapped dog. Mancini offers another soft tempo mambo, which supports the various couples slow dancing at the Princess’ party.

In the next scene four cues flow seamlessly to establish and sustain the ambiance as Sir Charles entertains the Princess in his apartment. In “Champagne And Quail” Sir Charles sees an opportunity to seduce Princess Dala, offering soft light, a warm fire in the fireplace, and champagne. As she relates to him insight into her father, her strict upbringing and her virginity, he elicits her to drink champagne, but we see that she is wary, and guarded. Mancini provides soft mambo rhythms with a sultry sax to establish the ambiance and Sir Charles intentions. In “Piano And Strings”, the ambiance is sustained by soft, non-intrusive after hour’s bar music, which is carried by twinkling piano textures and warm strings. The Princess has taken a few glasses of champagne, and we see her defenses begin to drop as she lies atop a tiger pelt, with whom she forms an alliance to protect her from Sir Charles. Sir Charles at last sees the opportunity to kiss her in “The Lonely Princess”. As she opens up to the sadness of her life, Mancini renders her theme as melancholia. There is an undercurrent of romance, but also, duplicity. We close the extended scene with one of the score’s finest cues, “Royal Blue”. Once again we have after hour’s jazz with piano and soft percussive dance textures, which support a sterling Carl Sanders trumpet solo. Strings romantico, wordless chorus and a sultry sax play as Sir Charles struggles to transport the Princess, who has passed out, to his bed. The juxtaposition of this romantic line with Sir Charles comedic efforts is well conceived.

“It Had Better Be Tonight” offers the English chorus rendering of “Meglio Stasera”. In the film we had a solo female vocal that supported the Princess’ party. Once again the vibrancy of the Latin dance-like rhythms stimulate and carry you to the dance floor! The film shifts to Rome and “The Tiber Twist” supports the lavish costume party at the Princess’ villa. Mancini provides a jazzy, energetic big band rendering of the 1960s Twist dance, which perfectly supports the festivities. “Something For Sellers” offers another Mancini signature Cha Cha, the energetic and rhythmic Cuban dance form. The cue features a lyrical accordion, and showcases once again Johnson’s sterling sax work. In “Shades Of Sennett” Sir Charles and his nephew are both dressed in gorilla outfits and enter the Princess’ study separately to steal the diamond. To their chagrin they discover each other, and that the diamond has already been stolen. When inspector Clouseau and the police barge into the room the two gorillas leap through the window and a truly ridiculous madcap pursuit unfolds with both men driving cars in their gorilla costumes!. Mancini plays to the absurdity with silly carnivalesque music, which perfectly embraces the lunacy of the moment! As Sir Charles and George flee in separate cars, the police and Clouseau pursue them wildly to and fro through the streets of Rome. They eventually all collide in a massive pileup in City Square. In Sir Charles and George’s trial, Clouseau is setup for conviction when he pulls the Pink Panther out of his pocket with his handkerchief while on the witness stand. The film ends atop the Pink Panther Theme as the police car carrying Clouseau to jail runs over the animated Pink Panther figure. The final four cues are bonus cues for other Mancini efforts. including the 1975 sequel to this film, The Return of the Pink Panther.

Thank you Joe Reisman and Buddha Records for this fun and enjoyable album. The digital remastering was excellent and produced a fine sound quality. Few composers have had the good fortune to write an iconic theme, which is embraced and thereafter, instantly recognizable to the public. Mancini’s Pink Panther Theme achieved this singular honor and now resides in the hallowed halls of the pantheon of great cinematic music themes. The theme perfectly captured the film’s emotional core and persona of Sir Charles as the Phantom. What is also exceptional is how Mancini’s writing showcased the virtuoso talent of some of the greatest jazz musicians of his time; Plas Johnson on tenor sax, Phil Woods on alto sax, and Carl Sanders on trumpet. By incorporating the classic dance rhythms of the Mambo, Tango and Cha Cha, Mancini infused his score with both energy and vibrancy, which assisted in fueling the film’s narrative flow. Also praiseworthy is his use of the pop sensation song “It Had Better Be Tonight” as a leitmotif for Princess Dalla, which joins “Moon River” as one of the finest songs in cinema. Mancini really succeeded on all counts with this masterpiece, where film score and film narrative achieved a perfect confluence. This film, as funny and slapstick as it is, was made better by Mancini’s music. I believe it to be iconic, one of the finest in his canon, and a gem of the Silver Age. I highly recommend it, with the caveat that we need a label to offer a complete version of the film score. Until that time, this recording more than suffices.

For those of you unfamiliar with the score, I have embedded a Youtube link to the iconic Main Theme: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9OPc7MRm4Y8

Buy the Pink Panther soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • The Pink Panther Theme (2:39)
  • It Had Better Be Tonight (Instrumental) (1:47)
  • Royal Blue (3:13)
  • Champagne and Quail (2:47)
  • Village Inn (2:37)
  • The Tiber Twist (2:51)
  • It Had Better Be Tonight (Vocal) (1:59)
  • Cortina (1:55)
  • The Lonely Princess (2:29)
  • Something for Sellers (2:49)
  • Piano and Strings (2:36)
  • Shades of Sennett (1:28)
  • The Return of the Pink Panther, Parts I & II (5:12) – BONUS
  • The Greatest Gift (Instrumental) (2:21) – BONUS
  • Here’s Looking At You Kid (2:53) – BONUS
  • Dreamy (3:21) – BONUS

Running Time: 42 minutes 57 seconds

Buddha Records 74465-99725-2 (1963/2001)

Music composed and conducted by Henry Mancini. Orchestrations by Henry Mancini. Featured musical soloists Plas Johnson, Phil Woods, Carl Sanders, Robert Bain, Carl Fortina and Richard Nash. Recorded and mixed by Jim Malloy. Edited by Richard Carruth. Score produced by Henry Mancini. Album produced by Joe Reisman.

  1. November 6, 2017 at 6:26 pm

    Such a pity, this film was made in 1964, and was beaten by Mary Poppins in the oscars.

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