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


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#61 goingtopluto

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Posted 21 September 2016 - 11:31 AM

In the clip from “A Shot in the Dark” I particularly enjoyed the gag about the pool cue rack. I loved the way it initially started by knocking it over and then continued through as he tried to pick it up. I found the use of verbal slapstick to continue the gag inventive. Clouseau finally gives up trying to fix the rack then says, “Whoever invened that rack should have his head examined.” Sellers then continues the gag as he tries to leave the room but runs into the wall and then says, “I suggest you have your architect investigated as well.”

I think this gag is a great comic paradigm spoofing some peoples lack of willingness to admit they made a mistake or were wrong. Since Clouseau is an Inspector I think it can especially apply to public officials and politicians. However, in todays information-driven society I believe it has an even broader scope. I work at a museum and I have found over the years there seems to be an increasing reluctance for some people to say the words, “I don't know” in response to a question. Perhaps I should show them this clip so they can see the comic reaction to bumbling through a made-up answer. ;)

Perhaps we laugh so hard at Inspector Clouseau because remember the times we we were clumsy are awkward. So in essence we are laughing at ourselves. We also remember to admit to our foibles.


It is to Sellers credit that he is able to make these satirical comments through his character but still keep his character likeable. Leslie Nielsen had the same talent as seen in his comedies. I wonder if he was a fan of Peter Sellers.
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#62 jkbrenna

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Posted 21 September 2016 - 11:10 AM

From the beginning of this clip with the curved pool cue to the walking into the wall behind the door at the end, Peter Sellers shows his excellent comedic talents.  He is another master of slapstick.  The one gag I particularly liked (and laughed out loud) was Sellers trying to put the cue back in the rack, with them falling all over the place, including himself.  IT was a masterful performance hitting all the spots with the props.  He tops it off with walking behind the door to exit into a wall.  His physical slapstick combined with his verbal slapstick (in the misuse of language) is hysterical.

 

Clouseau is a bumbling detective who somehow manages to get the right culprit.  George Sanders, more of a dramatic actor, is a perfect foil to Sellers' jousting.  IT's Clouseau's verbal and physical slapstick that puts him in the class with Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd.

The butler, Maurice, adds to the comical atmosphere as he too struggles with Clouseau and the pool sticks.

 

These days there's not too much fun in police dramas.  Sellers added to the rapid mistakes of the Keystone Kops and created his own immortal simple-minded, straight-faced, yet intelligent detective.  Can't wait to watch the whole film again.


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#63 jenikoterba

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Posted 21 September 2016 - 11:04 AM

I love what Barracuda89 points out below about the attempts to fix a mistake....especially with the cue sticks, the physical comedy of tripping and trying to get them to be upright.

I think Seller's comedy is so funny because I think all of us have a little of him in us.....you're trying to be taken seriously or do something simple, and you screw it up in front of someone and then you're rushed and can just make it more horrible.  That's what makes me laugh even harder.  :)

 

 

 

3. Sellers adds to the slapstick tradition of poking fun at detectives by the ever so obvious attempts he makes as fixing several mistakes he makes. For instance, after ripping the billiards table, he pulls and tugs at the ends of the ripped cloth in an overt, yet feeble, attempt to repair his mistake. The visual of the authority figure making a mistake, then being unable to fix it, so trying for a haphazard repair is one seen time and time again, yet done well as Sellers did, never gets old.


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#64 TonyZao

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Posted 21 September 2016 - 10:08 AM

Inspector Clouseau is one of the best comedy characters ever made, and the fact that films with him are still made (although after Sellers no one was even close to him) proves his lasting legacy and popularity.

 

Sellers' Clouseau has no match when it comes to combining visual with verbal gags. Here, we watch him angrily confronting the incomparable George Sanders with his trademark outrageous French accent, while at the same time he's having trouble with a weird billiard cue the latter gave him, and later with all the cues.

 

Clouseau is a typical comedy character, naive, dim-witted, well-natured and always cool, even when the world is collasping right next to him. This clip shows one of the very few moments when he becomes really furious, shouting nonsense at Sanders' character, though his tend to blame others for his own mishaps (as in the last moments of the clip) is another trademark of his. Despite his general kindness, Clouseau thinks he's always right (paradoxically enough, he usually is, when it comes to serious matters), even when his conclusions make absolutely no sense, and will not take it easy when someone challenges his methods, ideas and conclusions.

 

Policemen appear in film comedy from the very early years but, as mostly seen in Charlie Chaplin's films, they are usually antagonists. Clouseau was perhaps the first protagonist cop, and his success helped mixing comedy with other genres such as police procedurals and crime films. Film franchises like Le Gendarme de Saint TropezPolice Academy, Beverly Hills Cop and The Naked Gun all used similar or different policemen as protagonists and the "cop comedy" sub-genre has become vastly successful. Clouseau was one of the keys to this success.


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#65 drmichaelbowman

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Posted 21 September 2016 - 09:55 AM

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)

 

There are two gags that work because of a lack of visual and the use of sound effects.

 

The first is Clouseau using the stick to tear the pool table top.  The camera establishes Clouseau, the table, the ball, and the cue stick before zooming into Clouseau.  When Clouseau strikes the ball, we don’t see the tear but hear the fabric ripping.

 

The second is when Clouseau is leaving the room at the end of the clip.  He exits on the wrong side of the door and runs into the wall.  Again, we don’t see him running into the wall but hear the sound of him crashing into the wall.  The use of sound and lack of visuals allows viewers to create our own visual comedy mentally.

 

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?

 

Of course, Peter Sellers is an outstanding comedic performer.  His facial expression, physical movements, and humorous accents makes Clouseau a great character.  But to me, the contrast between Clouseau’s outragous character and the subdued reactions of the actors in the same scene make the situations funnier.  George Sanders is a great dramatic actor.  It is Sander’s ability to “play it straight” against the bumbling Clouseau that heightens the comedy.

 

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?

 

It is the blend of comedy and drama in the Pink Panther films that make the Clouseau character work.  The Keystone Kops were cartoonish in their films.  While Clouseau is a bit outrageous, the Pink Panther films could easily be turned into a drama (unlike the Keystone Cop films) had Sellers decided to play it straight without the laughs.


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#66 riffraf

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Posted 21 September 2016 - 09:52 AM

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 from this scene would be when Inspector Clouseau accuses George Sanders of murder with so much intensity (jage or rage) that he warps the shape of his cue stick to the point where it could never be used yet he presses on with the billiards game.  Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau maintains a straight face and a serious demeanor in contrast to the visually absurd prop, his cue stick and takes his shot.  Though we do not see him making actual contact with the table, the sound effect of the ripping cloth is hilarious.

 

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?  

 

Inspector Clouseau’s key characteristics would be the seriousness in how he approaches his profession, his solid determination to solve the case and his physical ineptness.  This makes for a perfect combination to deliver slapstick situations throughout an otherwise dramatic storyline. He’s effective in solving crime as long as he can survive his own physical bungling nature.

 

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?  

 

I believe what Mack Sennett wanted to do was to take what would normally be considered a very serious profession (Cops) and look at it in the light of comedy (Kops) and from that angle add every conceivable idea of a gag, from car chases to bank robberies and make them funny, laughable situations.  Inspector Clouseau’s character updated the Mack Sennett idea and adapted it into the 1960s and made it playable for a more modern audience. 


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#67 felipe1912t

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Posted 21 September 2016 - 09:52 AM

I think my favorite gag on this scene is the moment when the inspector tries to get out of the room and misses the door. It is visually perfect because at this point we've already seen Clouseau in a series of misfortunes, some of them even predictable ones (like the bent stick, which obviously isn't going to end well) and the action is highly unexpected. Things get even better because of his later observation about the house's architecture, which obiously is an attempt to run away from his own responsability for the punch in the face. Laughing a lot until now!

 

Clouseau has a strong accent, is clumsy, proud-spirited about his beliefs and his actions are somehow a repetition of visual and/or verbal gags one after another. We don't know exactly what will come next, but we're sure someting wrong is gonna happen! With that in mind, we have at least two of the five main slapstick characteristics clearly visible on him (ritualistic routines and make-believe). In a time when visual slapstick didn't have as much physical tone as decades earlier, we can say for sure that this is a genuine slapstick.

 

I think one of the key new-elements relies on the fact that the police/detectives may be wrong as much as anyone else. While in the past gerat part of gags was based on visual and physical situations, Clouseau personality give shape to the character as well. We definetely don't take him seriously!


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#68 GeezerNoir

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Posted 21 September 2016 - 09:49 AM

What does Inspector Clouseau add to the history of slapstick characters in law enforcement?

 

One thing, I think, that makes Clouseau distinctive is the degree to which he takes himself seriously and the extent to which others will go to buy into this and to take him seriously as well.  Clouseau truly believes that whoever invented the cue stick rack made a terrible job of it.  While Maria Gambrelli seems always to regard Clouseau as her heroic police inspector.  Clouseau’s high regard for his own abilities makes his ineptitude all the funnier.  This characteristic will be emulated in future police procedural spoofs.


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#69 Barracuda89

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Posted 21 September 2016 - 09:41 AM

1. The gag that I chose to explore was the mangling of Seller's pool cue and subsequent shot which ripped the pool table. The set up for this gag was a treat to watch, as the actor was manipulating the cue while talking about "fealous jage". The payoff was then perfect when it is revealed to the audience just how much mangling Seller's has done to the cue, yet will still attempt to pull off a billiards shot. The exceptional setup that allows the audience to see what's happening without exposing it overtly is part of what makes Peter Seller's comedy unmatched. 

 

2. The key attribute I understand from Sellers in this scene that makes him an effective slapstick character is his air of ignorance. Every slapstick character seems to have some aspect that they are ignorant of. In Sellers' case, he is so sure that he has solved the case, that he becomes ignorant of his surroundings and the effect he is having on them, creating some funny situations. 

 

3. Sellers adds to the slapstick tradition of poking fun at detectives by the ever so obvious attempts he makes as fixing several mistakes he makes. For instance, after ripping the billiards table, he pulls and tugs at the ends of the ripped cloth in an overt, yet feeble, attempt to repair his mistake. The visual of the authority figure making a mistake, then being unable to fix it, so trying for a haphazard repair is one seen time and time again, yet done well as Sellers did, never gets old.


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"You should never, never doubt what nobody is sure about."--Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka


#70 Mandroid51

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Posted 21 September 2016 - 09:28 AM

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)

The crooked cue gag plays well but wouldn't be nearly as funny if not for Clouseau's (Sellers') hesitancy and performance of building the slapstick because the audience already know trouble is abound. The train wreck is commencing :) Pink Panther is iconic so the costume and look of Clouseau is ingrained from the cartoon and movies even without knowing Sellers' style. The genius behind Clouseau is definitely Edwards and Sellers.

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?

He's a walking contradiction. A paradox in human form. He's doomed for failure but sure to create laughs. Perhaps just perhaps the laws of the universe are on his side so good shall prevail despite his ability to deconstruct anything and everything :)

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?

He adds (by his very presence and existence) the silly notion that the law and its representatives is always right even when it is clearly bumbling, controlling, and completely ridiculous at the best and worst of times. In summation: he is a freak of nature, complete chaos exemplified. A hurricane/tornado/tidal wave of insanity :)
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#71 Russell K

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Posted 21 September 2016 - 08:59 AM

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)

 

Gag - Sellers playing pool with crooked cue, rips fabric of pool table, attempts to fix it

Performance - Sellers attempts to maintain composure as bumbles through his attempt at playing pool, deadpan expression reminding of Keaton, so much expression in Sellers eyes, word use - realous jage! - wringing of the pool cue prior to making the shot, taking time to set up the gag

Costume - all are dressed in black, restrained in contrast to the ridiculousness of Sellers and the mishaps he finds himself in

Props - the pool cue (crooked) - he uses it in two ways

Set design - color in contrast to the characters in the scene.  Makes the props stand out even more

Sound design - little in the way of sound thus emphasizing the ripping of the fabric on the pool table

 

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?

 

Definitely see exaggeration, physical, ritualistic, and make believe in this character.  Branding of a character like we saw with Chaplin as the tramp, some of the deadpan of Keaton.  He is such a klutz, people have trouble understanding his accent, jokes are repeated throughout the series of Panther movies.   And let's not forget the wonderful music that came to be associated with this character.  More on Clouseau as a character found here:

 

https://en.wikipedia...pector_Clouseau

 

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?

 

As noted in the website above, despite being a klutz, he is successful in solving cases whereas others in the history of slapstick police work, often did not.  Consider how Chaplin outsmarted the police.  Sellers opened the door to a tradition we still see in film with movies like Jump Street, The Heat, etc.  


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#72 ln040150

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Posted 21 September 2016 - 08:55 AM

I appreciate this particular scene being picked for discussion because it is, perhaps, one of the weakest scenes in this particularly good film. We see Sanders, again as often, staring in utter befuddlement at Sellers at he goes about dealing with whatever situation he has caused to become an utter absurdity. Why dwell so long, over and over, upon Sanders' reaction shots? And, in this scene, we have the most absurd of Sellers' haphazard movements, flattening out three-dimensionality itself when he walks into the wall rather than around the door? No, not believably funny.

Of course the opening of this clip is probably the most classic in terms of both verbal and physical comedy. M. Ballon (tr. as "balloon") is the most likely suspect and is also Clouseau's romantic rival (at least in his eyes). So the phrase, "writ of fealous jage" has several twisted meanings. But, speaking of "twistings," watch as Sellers works the end of the twisted pool cue like a balloon he'd like to turn into a dog or, perhaps more likely, Ballon's neck in a fit of jealous rage. But, as always, he is mercurial in his moods. Indeed, he is almost schizoid; yet so in command of them that he can seemingly become sly enough to turn that twisted pool cue around, after having mis-cued several times, in an attempt to take advantage of his newly learned skill. Here, the off-camera sound effect picked up from the 1930s slapstick comedies plays to a tickle.
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#73 Dr. Rich Edwards

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Posted 21 September 2016 - 08:49 AM

Today, we get a clip from one of the films in The Pink Panther series, A Shot in the Dark, and the wonderful Inspector Clouseau, played by Peter Sellers. 

 

In the first Daily Dose this week we explored how set design was used in 1950s slapstick, then the role of color. In this clip, we look more closely at performance and acting, and how slapstick comedy often results in a particular character being associated with a performer (think of "The Boy" character of Harold Lloyd). 

 

As always, the Daily Dose can also be viewed on the Canvas.net course site in our Daily Dose archive.

 

Enjoy your discussions!


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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)

 

 





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