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Daily Dose of Doozy #11: Building a Character as Slapstick: Peter Sellers


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#21 Charlie's Girl

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Posted 22 September 2016 - 09:24 PM

"Without a Clouseau, would there have been a Maxwell Smart (“Get Smart!” Debuted in 1965)?  I don’t think so."   

 

I think you're right!  



#22 Whipsnade

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Posted 22 September 2016 - 07:06 PM

The disadvantage of living on the west coast is that by the time I see the Daily Dose and am able to compose a response to the questions, the post count is in the range of 40 to 50.  So many have said so much so well, it’s hard to know what to add.  This results in responses that don’t always directly or completely answer the questions as asked.  Still, I feel compelled to try to add something, so...here goes:

 

      In this clip from “A Shot in the Dark” (1964), we see Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau attempting to interrogate the suspect Ballon (George Sanders)  about the killing of Miguel while attempting to play billiards with him.  As the full scene shows, it is Ballon who hands him an already bent cue (he advises Clouseau that it is great for curved shots), having been made aware that Clouseau knew nothing about the game by his selection of a bridge as a cue.  Clouseau’s cool detective demeanor at the start of the clip is shattered when he discovers that Ballon was having an affair with Maria Gambrelli (Elke Sommers), the lead suspect with whom Clouseau has fallen in love.  His mangling of “fit of jealous rage” betrays his own jealousy, as does his response to Ballon’s statement/question “I admit to the affair, but kill for her?  Would you kill for her?”  He answers “Of course...uh, not.”  The interview is doomed, but Clouseau plows on -- right through the table felt.  The role reversal of the “cool detective and the flustered suspect” narrative is completed with his disastrous attempt to re-rack the cue.  The scene culminates with him misjudging the door and running into the wall.  The visual slapstick is heightened by the contextual jealousy and the verbal slapstick that follows the physical action (when he questions the sanity of the rack designer and the architect, to deflect from his mistakes and hide his embarrasment).   Adding to this role-reversal is Ballon’s unflappable demeanor and deadpan expression.  The  effectiveness of the scene is increased by the use of costume (trench coat & hat stereotype for detective), props (the cue rack and the bend cue) and the use of sound to represent unseen actions (the ripping of the felt, running into the wall).

 

     Clouseau is a man who has a high regard for his position and his own abilities.  In terms of his bumbling methods and arrogant demeanor, this view is unjustified, but in terms of results, he has a baffling ability to solve the crime in spite of himself.  This is what drives Inspector Dreyfus (Herbert Lom) mad.  Though Clouseau has the outward appearance and attitude of a “Joe Friday” cop, he acts like a Maxwell Smart,  or even a Dudley Do-Right (with Dreyfus in the Inspector Fenwick role).  Seller’s athletic ability, comic timing and ridiculous accent make him an effective slapstick character.

     The long history of lampooning police/detective work in films (and television) meant that Sellers had to add something unique to make an iconic impression on this genre of comedy.  He did so by meshing the visual slapstick skills of the “Early Masters” (Chaplin, Keaton & Lloyd) with the verbal slapstick skills of the “Classic Masters” (Laurel & Hardy, W. C. Fields & The Marx Brothers).  When combined with his inflated sense of self-worth and importance, it created an intellectual disconnect that made a lasting contribution to the history of slapstick characters in law enforcement.  Without a Clouseau, would there have been a Maxwell Smart (“Get Smart!” Debuted in 1965)?  I don’t think so.   


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#23 Higgs5

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Posted 22 September 2016 - 05:14 PM

Clouseau mocks police work by making it appear foolish and disordered.  He is an incompetent, clumsy individual who does recognize his own idiocy and arrogantly blames others or outside factors for outcomes – yet through fate he prevails.  As illustrated in the warped cue stick gag, his sense of logic is impaired.



#24 ln040150

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Posted 22 September 2016 - 04:36 PM

George Sanders was wonderful -- urbane, sophisticated, everything Clouseau was not.  I loved Peter Sellers' comic timing and understated delivery.  Very visual and without the Jerry Lewis screaming that annoys me so much.  The scene also reminded me of Dudley Moore in Arthur, when he knocked a mail holder off a shelf and made a drunken attempt to put it back together, in the end confessing, "This is a goner."  
 
https://www.youtube....h?v=9qHA9iDmxl4

What a good catch! I, too, loved Lewis as a child, grew to dislike that screaming humor later, but then have grown to appreciate him more later in life all over again. But then to have the insight to bring in Dudley Moore, one of the last--until recently and poorly revived by Russell Brand--to use the classic vaudeville character of "The Drunk" to comic effect as public taste grew tired of seeing what was now taken as a disease made fun of..
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#25 Charlie's Girl

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Posted 22 September 2016 - 04:09 PM

George Sanders was wonderful -- urbane, sophisticated, everything Clouseau was not.  I loved Peter Sellers' comic timing and understated delivery.  Very visual and without the Jerry Lewis screaming that annoys me so much.  The scene also reminded me of Dudley Moore in Arthur, when he knocked a mail holder off a shelf and made a drunken attempt to put it back together, in the end confessing, "This is a goner."  

 

https://www.youtube....h?v=9qHA9iDmxl4


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#26 JazzGuyy

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Posted 22 September 2016 - 03:10 PM

The gag that got me was when Sellers turns into the wall. Unlike the bits with the pool cue and the cue rack, you don't really see that one coming and it's almost like a throwaway gag and caps the whole scene.

 

I suspect that the name Inspector Clouseau is meant as a kind of tribute to the great French director Henri-Georges Clouzot who made several suspense/detective films with comedic elements, most notably 'Les Diaboliques' and especially 'The Murderer Lives at Number 21' which is filled with bizarre and rather comic characters which certainly plays some role in inspiring this film.

 

Sellers, who I have heard was a rather empty man when not portraying a character, was always good with imitating and exaggerating accents as he did on radio, in recordings and on the screen. He always used these accents as part of building a character and that is certainly evident with Clouseau and his rather bizarre French accent.

 

I see Sellers combining certain elements of Keaton and Lloyd and extending them. He is mostly stone-faced and somewhat befuddled as Keaton could be and yet he is dressed like and superficially plays an ordinary character well known to film audiences--the police detective -- just as Lloyd played the average man. His portrayals though are more exaggerated and paced for a later time.


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#27 drzhen

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Posted 22 September 2016 - 01:36 PM

The bit with the pool cues is very funny. Whether he's fracturing the English language with his dysfunctional French or embroiled in physical mayhem, Clouseau is so steadfastly earnest that it underscores the gag. This is not Jerry Lewis bumbling apologetically from one situation to another, this is a man blinded by his own sense of self importance blaming a world that does not accommodate him.

Blake Edwards did more than anyone else in the sixties to revive and revere slapstick tradition in American cinema. He and Sellers created the modern equivalent of the time honored knocking-a-top-hat-off-of-a-pompus-man's-head gag with a great, sustainable character twist; Clouseau himself is the pompous man, and the dignity he's unwittingly skewing is his own.


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#28 RhondaWI

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Posted 22 September 2016 - 01:13 PM

I agree with others who have responded to this topic that the gags have been covered and everyone did a great job. What I think needs to be pointed out is how Peter Sellers embodies a character - he truly becomes the person he is portraying.  Whether it is from the Pink Panther or Dr. Strangelove - you believe he is the character from every nuance that can possibly be done - that then allows a gag - that is being reused become fresh again for the viewer.


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#29 ln040150

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Posted 22 September 2016 - 12:47 PM

The gags themselves have been well-covered. But what I like in the way that they are executed, and in the character himself, is that Clouseau never breaks character -- he remains pompous, dignified, upper-crust in costume and language-- a perfect match to the character that George Sanders is playing (and has perfected in other films). (Here at least), Clouseau doesn't fall or mess up his clothes -- the Judas goat figure earlier described. The mayhem doesn't stall or disrupt the action, it's just part of it. It's one of the things I admire in slapstick and comedy -- when the people who are being the funniest don't laugh at themselves. I also shouldn't be amused at the exaggerated French accent, but it absolutely cracks me up. One of our standing family jokes comes from this character. When one of us brings somebody else a snack or meal, we do our best Inspector Clouseau saying "reum service" as we enter. And as a take on police comedies, again, I appreciate that Clouseau may seem clueless, but always cracks the case. One of my problems with slapstick is that the protagonists are often trouble-makers, and I'd rather cheer for the Good Guy.

Absolutely! For us, two generations now, it has been "booomp"!
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#30 SKS

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Posted 22 September 2016 - 09:51 AM

The gags themselves have been well-covered. But what I like in the way that they are executed, and in the character himself, is that Clouseau never breaks character -- he remains pompous, dignified, upper-crust in costume and language-- a perfect match to the character that George Sanders is playing (and has perfected in other films). (Here at least), Clouseau doesn't fall or mess up his clothes -- the Judas goat figure earlier described. The mayhem doesn't stall or disrupt the action, it's just part of it. It's one of the things I admire in slapstick and comedy -- when the people who are being the funniest don't laugh at themselves. I also shouldn't be amused at the exaggerated French accent, but it absolutely cracks me up. One of our standing family jokes comes from this character. When one of us brings somebody else a snack or meal, we do our best Inspector Clouseau saying "reum service" as we enter. And as a take on police comedies, again, I appreciate that Clouseau may seem clueless, but always cracks the case. One of my problems with slapstick is that the protagonists are often trouble-makers, and I'd rather cheer for the Good Guy. 

My mom and I are the same way with the exaggerated French accent. We will quote the movie often imitating his accent. One of my kids got a new toy stuffed monkey and my mom said " Do you have a license fer yer Menkey?" My kid gave her the funniest look and all I could do was laugh. He is such a loveable character and you are so right about how he remains in character so well despite all the physical gags. I love the pink panther movies so much and this one is my favorite. 


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#31 ameliajc

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Posted 22 September 2016 - 09:43 AM

The gags themselves have been well-covered. But what I like in the way that they are executed, and in the character himself, is that Clouseau never breaks character -- he remains pompous, dignified, upper-crust in costume and language-- a perfect match to the character that George Sanders is playing (and has perfected in other films). (Here at least), Clouseau doesn't fall or mess up his clothes -- the Judas goat figure earlier described. The mayhem doesn't stall or disrupt the action, it's just part of it. It's one of the things I admire in slapstick and comedy -- when the people who are being the funniest don't laugh at themselves. I also shouldn't be amused at the exaggerated French accent, but it absolutely cracks me up. One of our standing family jokes comes from this character. When one of us brings somebody else a snack or meal, we do our best Inspector Clouseau saying "reum service" as we enter. And as a take on police comedies, again, I appreciate that Clouseau may seem clueless, but always cracks the case. One of my problems with slapstick is that the protagonists are often trouble-makers, and I'd rather cheer for the Good Guy. 


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#32 Dr. Rich Edwards

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Posted 22 September 2016 - 09:39 AM

Dr. Edwards,

The Daily Dose #12 was emailed this morning to us and it's about The Great Race movie.

The Great Race movie was aired last night.

Can you send these out before the movie is shown so we can some background first?

Thank you,

Bob

 

I understand and appreciate the feedback. But at this point in the course it is too late to make this change. 

 

Best, Dr. E.


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Richard Edwards, PhD

Ball State University

Instructor: TCM Presents: The Master of Suspense: 50 Years of Hitchcock (2017)

Instructor: TCM Presents: Painfully Funny: Exploring Slapstick in the Movies (2016)

Instructor: TCM Presents: Into the Darkness: Investigating Film Noir (2015)

 

 


#33 Club Med

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Posted 22 September 2016 - 09:31 AM

Dr. Edwards,

The Daily Dose #12 was emailed this morning to us and it's about The Great Race movie.

The Great Race movie was aired last night.

Can you send these out before the movie is shown so we can some background first?

Thank you,

Bob

 


Ski, sail and snorkel


#34 Dubbed

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Posted 21 September 2016 - 11:41 PM

Honestly, I have a great desire to riddle this post with numerous lines of "Haha!" in response to Inspector Clouseau's attempts of seriousness, but for the sake of articulation, I'll refrain.

I adore this scene and love the line "a rit of fealous jage." Sellers seems to have taken the Marx Brothers quickly paced, humorous chatter and turned it on its head. He spins this type of dialogue directly suiting Clouseau's character. I applaud this brilliance because he is presenting the dialogue in the way anyone (excluding the Marx Brothers and only a handful of others) would relay such wordage. Tongue-tied. The verbal athleticism of dialogue sparring takes evident natural inclination and much needed intensive practice. And, let's face it, Clouseau is not by any means naturally inclined to perform such gags, which is exactly why they work to such a degree of perfection. His gags have an apparent masking of gags that have truly gone wrong. Pure genius.

Clouseau is a klutz, naturally clunky in his own mannerisms. Subtlety, especially in dealing with suspects and investigations is an unrequited love. He looks for that ever so close relationship with the smoothness, possibly intimidating persona so effectively possessed by archetype detective characters often prevalent in crime films. Clouseau's slapstick approach lies within his own natural inabilities.

Sellers subverts the authoritative figures' traits he's trying to embody holistically. He uses every attempt in his questioning and investigating tactics to implement his slapstick gags. Detectives are supposed "poker face" type players. They typically are not overt with their facial expressions, all the while lacking an element of grace during the investigative process. They're resolute, serious, unflinching. Sellers reverses this aspect of detectives to execute his comedic routines. And, we are presented with an unlikely, yet unforgettable "inspector" the cinematic world still celebrates today.

*After viewing Dr. Strangelove some years ago, I quickly concluded Peter Sellers was in an arena of his very own, and I do believe I was correct in this assumption.
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#35 Bluboo

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Posted 21 September 2016 - 10:38 PM

1. Like others, my favorite gag in this clip was Clouseau ripping the rely on the pool table. We have the physical set-up of the wealthy house, a well-dressed Clouseau, and M. Ballon in a tuxedo. Earlier in the scene, Clouseau tried desperately to hit the cue ball with the curved stick, to no avail. What made the scene hysterical is that we see Clouseau turn the stick so that the curve arcs downward, but then the camera moves to the upper portion of Clouseau. We hear the felt tear, much like the sound of pants ripping, and then we see Clouseau trying to mend the felt. I thought that just hearing thesound of the felt ripping was funnier than seeing it with the sound effect.

2. Thinking back on our definition of slapstick, Peter Sellers fits the definition as Clouseau. His movements are physical and exaggerated. He is the victim of his own actions, and the slapstick is violent. His silly accent and mispronunciations are verbal slapstick, along with his pompous attitude. He is a clown with athleticism and perfect timing. We recognize that Clouseau is make-believe, but Peter Sellers makes Clouseau so real.

3. What Sellers did with Clouseau was to take a bumbling g fool and make him into a hero who solved his cases. We, the audience, recognize that his success is always accidental, and we watch the toll it takes of Chief Inspector Dreyfus. Clouseau is a master of keeping up appearances, and he somehow always managed to get the crook and the girl.
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#36 ScottZepher

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Posted 21 September 2016 - 09:27 PM

1.  So many great posts from a three-minute clip! 

While there are several excellent gags to choose from, I will ask some small indulgence, as I point out a gag, while occurring probably seconds before, manifests itself throughout the entire clip.  If there is a billiard table, Clouseau will not only choose the most warped cue in existence,  but he's bound to have trouble with the chalk.  Lo and behold: from the :31 mark onward, you see the unfortunate results.

 

2. Clouseau is hopeless--completely, clinically, ritualistically  hopeless.  Literally everything the man touches, looks at or refers to, explodes.  It's all in the line of duty for our intrepid Inspector, physically making his way though the scene, leaving violent chaos in his wake. 

 

3. Sellers' signature character. IMHO, is the very definition of the "Bumbling Detective" who, despite his ineptitude, manages to lure the guilty into custody, sometimes screaming their confession just to get away from him.  Clouseau spawned a long line, reaching beyond slapstick into dramatic television (Inspector Columbo) and even cartoons (Inspector Gadget)


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#37 savaney

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Posted 21 September 2016 - 08:34 PM

1. Select one gag from this scene and describe why it is effective as visual and verbal comedy? (You can include discussion of performance, costume, props, set design, sound design)

 

My favorite gag involves the pool sticks, because it so simple and it enhances Seller's delightful clumsiness. One pool stick is used for comic effect: it is bent and Sellers has to turn it correctly, and the other pool sticks are for disorganization, where he drops them and slips while trying to fix them.

 

2. From this scene, what are key characteristics you would use to describe Inspector Clouseau? Based on those characteristics, what makes Clouseau an effective slapstick character?

 

Clouseau speaks in a uncharacteristically gibberish language, where he mumbles and misspells words; he has a questionable accent; his body movements cause him to slip and fall; and his expression never seems to change. Clouseau is a classic character because he is not afraid to look stupid and careless. Although he gets himself in extreme situations, you know he means well and wants to solves a case.

 

3. Making fun of police/detective work is a line of slapstick comedy that stretches all the way back to Mack Sennett's Keystone Kops in the silent film era. What does Inspector Clouseau add to the history of slapstick characters in law enforcement?

 

Clouseau adds a lever of physicality that looks and feels natural. The way that Sellers portrayed him is not reduced to stereotypes, and he doesn't wink at the audience. There have been many actors to play the character, but none have captured the absurd grace and experience that Sellers had. 


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#38 MrDougLong

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Posted 21 September 2016 - 08:31 PM

1.      Multiple people have already covered the major gags in this short clip, so I’ll have to repeat and go with the pool table rip. After preparing to make a respectable shot with a bent cue, the camera zooms enough that we no longer see the end of the cue. We see him shoot and hear a loud RIP. We cut to George Sanders, just looking, then cut back to just Clouseau’s hands trying to pull the felt together. The camera pans up to Clouseau’s placid face as he calmly understates an apology: “I’m dreadfully sorry, Monsieur Ballon, I appear to have grazed your billiard table.”

2.      Clouseau considers himself a top-notch inspector and attempts to behave in an official, even condescending way. Sellers’ comedy as Clouseau comes from his ineptness, which circumvents all his attempts to gain respect. He tries to be careful in word choice with the man he is accusing of murder, but starts off the scene by mangling “fit of jealous rage” as “rit of fealous jage”; when this kind of thing happens, he pretends nothing is wrong. As Clouseau, Sellers assumes a faux snooty, French-like voice. He dislikes appearing foolish, so toppling the pool cues enrages him, something he tries to cover, as well.

3.      Police in the silent comedies were often the antagonists of our comedians – Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd, Arbuckle, etc. We hoped our guys didn’t turn the corner and find a humorless cop ready to arrest them for stealing a sausage, breaking a window, etc. The Keystone Kops, of course, were fools, which makes them a more direct line to Clouseau although they had none of his delusions of grandeur. Clouseau is often matched by cultured, witty Brits, like George Sanders here, who upstage him at his attempts to appear cleverer than they.


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#39 johnseury

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Posted 21 September 2016 - 07:40 PM

1. All of the bits in this clip are hilarious and priceless but I think that the one with the pool cue stands out. Clouseau nervous warps th cue and tries to play with it, damaging the carpet in the pool table and later knocks over the cue rack. Of course, he tries to explain it away. Peter Sellers demonstrates masterly of verbal and physical slapstick in this scene.
2. Clouseau is a well-meaning but bumbling, pompous idiot, in a good sense , of course. His verbal malaprops destroy both English and French and he is always a second away from a pratfall. Ten combinations make Clouseau almost the perfect slapstick character.
3. Clouseau adds an international dimension to slapstick's put down of the police. International intrigues, glamorous locales and conspiratorial plots serve as backdrops in the Pink Panther series and everything gets a once-over and comeuppance.
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#40 ShawnDog

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Posted 21 September 2016 - 07:35 PM

1. When Clouseau tears the pool table felt, the audience actually does not see it happen, but between his curved pool cue, and the angle he lines up, you anticipate it. Instead of seeing it, you hear it rip the felt.  To add to the humor, Clouseau describes it as "grazing" the table, while he is hopelessly trying to put the seam back together.

2. Clouseau tries to maintain his dignity, which his actions continually betray.  This resistance, to keep control, stretches and magnifies the humor.  It fleshes out and broadens the silent era trope of the snooty socialite getting a pie in the face.  

3. Clouseau includes a layer of verbal comedy, with malaprops and mis-sayings, as well as an arrogant delusion of control, that enhances the slapstick foundation, and makes one anticipate perpetual failure for this character.


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