One has to keep in mind that, when this was made, only 2 other Clouseau movies existed, THE PINK PANTHER and A SHOT IN THE DARK. At that time it may not have been clear to the whole world that only Sellers could really play Clouseau. Maybe this movie helped prove that.
Anyway, it seems that Arkin's Clouseau starts with the character as he was in SHOT and takes him in a different direction than the '70s movies with Sellers would. Sellers' Clouseau at that point didn't yet have his totally ridiculous accent but sounded more like a real Frenchman, so it's only natural that Arkin would sound like one as well. Like Sellers' Clouseau, Arkin's is well-intentioned but with incredibly bad judgment, clumsy, prone to focus on what's not important, and easily thrown off course by a pretty face. Unlike Sellers' Clouseau, Arkin's is not only emotional but prone to panic, and is not only aware of but comes to mourn his ineptitude. It takes some time to get used to his voice, lower and thicker than Sellers. So, this is not the Clouseau we know, though the character here is well-defined and interesting in its own right.
The animated opening credits barely even try for the humor and charm of those in the Sellers films. The score by Ken Thorne (who scored the Beatles' "Help" and the Monkees' "Head") is the next best thing to Mancini, though.
Whatever complaints one might have about the plot and the directing (I won't repeat the ones already made, other than to note that the flow early in the movie is rather bumpy), I'll say this: the Pink Panther films made after this one came so much to rely on familiar formulas that it's actually refreshing how this film does NOT use them. There is no superior of Clouseau's being driven mad by Clouseau's ineptitude -- just one reacting to it like a real person would. The crime plot here is actually pretty interesting -- much more so than the theft of the Pink McGuffin that got so overused later. Sellers' Clouseau always sounded like a Frenchman among Englishmen, even when he was in France, which didn't make sense. So it was a good idea in this case to actually *put* him among Englishmen. (His malapropisms come off, quite logically, as due to his unfamiliarity with English.) And the rather obnoxious fantasy elements present in STRIKES AGAIN are nowhere to be seen here.
So, to sum up: Different from, and not as good as, most of the Sellers entries. But give me Arkin's Clouseau over Ted Wass' Clifton Sleigh.
A few highlights:
- The nicely choreographed scene in Braithwaite's office near the beginning ("And what makes you think I trust YOU?")
- The scene with the tape recorder in the graveyard.
- Clouseau "eavesdropping" on the gang's bank robbery plans.
Item of special interest: the use of an Amphicar as a getaway vehicle. Cool!