'A Shot In The Dark' - The Film Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

'A Shot In The Dark' - The Film

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The Pink Panther Films
The Pink Panther (1964) | A Shot In The Dark | Inspector Clouseau
The Return of the Pink Panther | The Pink Panther Strikes Again | Revenge of the Pink Panther
Trail of the Pink Panther | Curse of the Pink Panther | Son of the Pink Panther

Clouseau: 'Facts, Hercule, facts! Nothing matters but the facts. Without them the science of criminal investigation is nothing more than a guessing game. Now then, the facts in this case are: the body of the chauffeur was found in the bedroom of the second maid. Fact! Cause of death, four bullets in the chest. Fact! The bullets were fired at close range from a .25 calibre Beretta automatic. Fact! Maria Gambrelli was discovered with the murder weapon in her hand. Fact! ....And now, finally comes the sworn statement of Monsieur and Madame Ballon, as well as all the members of the staff, each of them with perfect alibis. Now then, Hercule, what is the inescapable conclusion?'
Hercule: 'Maria Gambrelli killed the chauffeur'.
Clouseau: 'What? You idiot, it's impossible!'


A shot in the dark, in the house of a wealthy leading industrial millionaire, kills a chauffeur. The suspect, found holding the murder weapon, is beautiful maid Maria Gambrelli, who was having an affair with the deceased. Although it would be in the best interests of France for the murder to be sorted quietly and quickly, the first man to arrive at the scene of the crime is incompetent detective Inspector Clouseau.

Falling in love with Maria, Clouseau immediately declares that she is innocent. Soon, everywhere Maria goes, more murders occur. The more dead bodies pile up around her, the more Clouseau insists that Maria is innocent, driving his superior, Commissioner Dreyfus, to breaking point and beyond.


Characters and actors in bold returned to appear in other films in the series.

Inspector Jacques ClouseauPeter Sellers
Maria GambrelliElke Sommer
Commissioner Charles DreyfusHerbert Lom
Hercule LaJoyGraham Stark
Kato1Burt Kwouk
François2 André Maranne
Benjamin BallonGeorge Sanders
Dominique BallonTracy Reed
Madame LaFargeVanda Godsell
SimoneMoira Redmond
PierreMaurice Kaufmann
DuduAnn Lynn
GeorgesDavid Lodge
MauriceMartin Benson
Nudist Camp AttendantTurk Thrust3

Elke Sommers was a popular actress and model in the 1960s and 1970s and was the leading lady in many films, including 1975's Carry On Behind, for which she was paid the joint highest amount for any actor in a Carry On film. However, when the character of Maria Gambrelli returned in Son of the Pink Panther, her role was replaced by Italian actress Claudia Cardinale. She would later co-star with Peter Sellers in The Prisoner of Zenda. Oscar-winning actor George Sanders is perhaps best known as the voice of Shere Khan in Disney's animated film The Jungle Book. He won the Best Supporting Actor for All About Eve, and starred as villain Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert in the 1952's adaptation of Ivanhoe.

Tracy Reed also played Miss Foreign Affairs, the only female in Dr Strangelove: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Martin Benson would later be Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz in the television series of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Bryan Forbes, who had a brief role as the Nudist Camp Attendant, was a close friend of Peter Sellers4. He was an extremely successful director – including Whistle Down The Wind, the original The Stepford Wives and The Slipper And The Rose – and writer, writing several screenplays.

A Shot In The Dark - The Play

This film was originally intended to be a filmed version of a popular stage play entitled A Shot in the Dark by Harry Kurnitz, which was adapted from a French play, L'Idiote by Marcel Achard. Marcel Archard wrote several plays between 1923-1959, most of which were comedies. Four of his plays were adapted for Broadway, the most successful of which was A Shot In The Dark, adapted by Harry Kurnitz in 1961. It had 389 performances between 18 October, 1961 and 22 September, 1962 and was the first Broadway role for future Star Trek actor William Shatner5 as magistrate Paul Sevigne, the comedy's straight man. It also starred Julie Harris as Josefa Lantenay, later to be the role of Maria Gambrelli adopted by Elke Summers. Walter Matthau played Benjamin Beaurevers, the inspiration behind Benjamin Ballon, winning a Tony award for Best Supporting Actor.

The plot was simple. A pretty young parlour maid is discovered unconscious, nude, holding a gun while her lover, the chauffeur, lies dead beside her. Paul Sevigne, an upstanding magistrate, jeopardises his career in order to prove her innocent of the murder.

The Mirsich Corporation purchased the film rights and intended to make a straight adaptation of the play, replacing William Shatner6 with Peter Sellers. They originally intended to retain Walter Matthau.

The Making Of A Shot In The Dark

In 1961 the Mirisch Corporation bought the film rights to A Shot In The Dark. In 1963 they hired Anatole Litvak to direct and cast Sophia Loren as Josefa, with the script re-written for film by Alec Coppel. Sophia Loren refused to make Coppel's script, which was sent to Norman Krasna to be re-written; however the re-writes failed to resolve the problems and both Sophia Loren and director Anatole Litvak pulled out. The sets for the film had been made and everything was ready to begin shooting; however there was no script and no director. All that was going in the film's favour was the still largely unknown star, Peter Sellers.

After making The Pink Panther, Peter Sellers was contracted by the Mirisch Corporation to appear in A Shot in the Dark. Sellers was reluctant to do it, but as he had enjoyed making The Pink Panther, which he had just finished, he asked Walter Mirisch if Blake Edwards could direct. As Edwards was an experienced scriptwriter and director, the Mirisch Corporation eagerly pursued him, although Blake Edwards agreed to direct only on condition that he be allowed to re-write the script to adapt it to include Inspector Clouseau. This was before The Pink Panther had been released. The Mirisch Brothers, already losing money on the film, agreed.

A Shot in the Dark was adapted by Blake Edwards and William Peter Blatty7, who wrote the screenplay on the five-day transatlantic ocean liner voyage between New York and London. This film introduced popular Pink Panther characters Cato (known in this film as 'Kato'), Commissioner Dreyfus and François. Clouseau's assistant, Hercule, was played by Sellers' long-term friend Graham Stark, who like Burt Kwouk as Cato and Herbert Lom's Dreyfus would appear in every Pink Panther film made after this point with the exception of Inspector Clouseau. Graham Stark described his recording of the watch synchronising scene with the words:

'Blake Edwards said to me, "Now Graham, you turn to Peter and both of you synchronise your watches." Then he added, "by the way, how exactly do you synchronise watches?" The ensuing sequence wasn't even rehearsed, it was totally ad-libbed, Peter and I knew each other so well. Blake supplied the inspiration; Sellers the performance.'

This film was made at a very difficult point in Peter Sellers' life, having recently broken up with his first wife, Anne Hayes. Consequently he felt very lonely. Blake Edwards said:

'Sellers became a monster. He just got bored with the part and became angry, sullen and unprofessional. He wouldn't show up for work and began looking for anyone and everyone to blame.'

Elke Sommer, when interviewed later for The Peter Sellers Story revealed:

'He felt he was not loved by people. He asked me to marry him, believe it or not, even though no physicality, nothing happened between us. I think he was just desperate to be married. I said, "Peter, I like you very much as a friend, I don't love you." He said, "Yes, but that will come". I always got the feeling of a very lonely man who would do practically anything to have somebody who was his.'

It was while he had almost finished filming A Shot In The Dark that he met Britt Ekland8. Eleven days later they were married. Peter Sellers had been influenced by his personal clairvoyant, Maurice Woodruff, who had predicted that he would have a successful, lasting relationship with someone with the initials 'BE'9.

Filming A Shot In The Dark caused considerable friction between Peter Sellers and Blake Edwards. This stress did have the unexpected benefit of introducing Clouseau's exaggerated French accent. This came about near the end of filming when Peter Sellers, wishing to escape from the stress, left the production for a weekend and booked himself into a French hotel to relax for a couple of days. Whilst there he reportedly met a French concierge who spoke with the same eccentric accent, pronouncing words such as 'room' like 'rheum' and 'monkey' as 'minkey'. Peter Sellers found this to be hilarious, persuaded Blake Edwards to allow it to be introduced into the film and so this accent makes its appearance near the end of the film. On its introduction, its comic value made it difficult for the actors filming the key scene (where Clouseau gathers all the murder suspects into one room) to keep a straight face. Blake Edwards described this scene with the words:

'It was a hard scene to shoot because there were a lot of people in it, and they were cracking up at Sellers. One person would start laughing, then someone else. Sellers was the worst! Finally, I put some money in the center of the room and said, 'I don't care who it is that breaks up, they have to match the pot. I'll always remember this because George Sanders was in the scene, and he's someone who usually just did his role and went to sleep. He didn't get actively involved. But when Sellers started using these words, 'a meuth in the closet', 'a beump on the head,' Sanders fell down and wept like a cocker spaniel. When he lost it, I lost it. I had to match the pot and there was a fortune in it.'

By the end of production Peter Sellers wanted the film to be left unreleased, writing a letter to the Mirisches that the film was a disaster. Both he and Blake Edwards swore they would never work together again. They went their separate ways, though curiously in their common love of slapstick, both went on to have custard-pie fights10. Blake Edwards said:

'To be honest, I thought I'd never work with [Sellers] again. During A Shot in the Dark we were quite incompatible.
...When the picture was finished... [Peter Sellers] went crazy and sent word to the Mirisches that it was a disaster, which was very typical of him on the films he would do.

A Shot in the Dark was released just four months after The Pink Panther in 1964 to tremendous public popularity. In fact, The Pink Panther was still in cinemas when the sequel came out, an entirely new phenomenon which allowed audiences to see both films back-to-back. In 2000, A Shot in the Dark was rated at number 48 in the American Film Institute's 100 Funniest American Films of All Time11.


This is the only film in the series directed by Blake Edwards not to have the Pink Panther theme. Instead, a new theme was written for this film. It would later be used in the Inspector cartoon series. Another song heavily featured in this film is 'Shadows of Paris'. The music was by Henry Mancini, the lyrics by Robert Wells, who had also written 'The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)'. They would later co-write 'It's Easy to Say' for the Blake Edwards film 10, for which they were nominated for an Oscar.


Less a 'who-dunnit' than a 'who didn't do it', for many this is the quintessential Inspector Clouseau film. It introduces many of the characters that would return for subsequent films, whose antics would later become a mainstay but in this film were fresh and unexpected. Here we see Dreyfus' first journey to insanity, and Cato's attacks are unexpected. Subsequent films attempt to recapture these events and go to extremes to make them seem novel again. Other scenes, such as the interrogation of the household staff scene would later appear almost verbatim in later films such as The Pink Panther Strikes Again.

As we never see enough of the suspects to learn what their motives might be before the very end of the film, A Shot In The Dark isn't a classic 'who-dunnit'. Instead it subverts the genre. The audience is kept as much 'in the dark' as Clouseau, and when illumination does come, like a shot it arrives quickly and loudly, leaving the audience unable to keep up. At the end of the film we are lured into a false sense of security, expecting Clouseau to work out the case when all the suspects are gathered in the same room. Indeed, he has successfully deduced how Maria received a beump12 on her head. However he is in the dark as much as everyone else, and his plan is to hope that darkness itself will illuminate the guilty one, although the truth is not what he expected it to be.

The first time we see Dreyfus we learn that already he lives a duplicitous life, having both a mistress and a wife. While Clouseau is determined to save Maria from the guillotine, Dreyfus wishes the case to be quickly resolved and also plots murder. Dreyfus is thus symbolically punished by his own model guillotine, which cuts open his thumb.

Of course, it is the acting which makes the film. Peter Sellers acts perfectly as the inspector who becomes a nervous, clumsy school boy around Maria.

Animated Credit Sequence

This is the only Blake Edwards directed Pink Panther film not to feature the Pink Panther character in the credits, although the character of the 'Inspector' and the triple-headed Mirisch Corporation figures would feature in the Inspector  cartoon shorts made by Depatie-Freleng, starting with The Great DeGaulle Stone Operation.

Villainous Mirisch villains plant bombs and are chased by the Inspector character, who is repeatedly shot at by telephones, given bombs and shot by a giant hand. Featuring can-canning girls, a stretching car, a poster stealing his trousers, a gorilla, and a knocking door that moves, the Inspector is shot while wearing a barrel, and a giant bird lays an exploding egg.

Connections with other films

  • Disguises
    All films in the series feature disguises:
    • Balloon seller
    • Street artist
    • Hunter
    • Nudist - possibly the only costume we know for a fact that Clouseau did not get from Balls.
  • Clouseau Clumsiness:
    • Inspector Clouseau has difficulty when spinning a globe in his office. A similar problem befell him in The Pink Panther.
    • Clouseau has difficulty opening a hotel room door, running through it and falling in the Seine.
    • Clouseau accidentally sets fire to his coat with his cigarette lighter. He would later frequently set fire to things, such as his hand in The Pink Panther Strikes Again and an office in Revenge of the Pink Panther.
    • Clouseau twice falls out a high window.
    • Clouseau karate chops himself.
    • Clouseau's trousers rip twice, once with keys on a belt when opening Maria's dossier, and during a dance. His trousers would rip in a similar fashion in The Pink Panther Strikes Again.
  • Dreadful Dreyfus:
    • Dreyfus stabs himself with a letter opener.
    • Dreyfus chops his finger off with a model cigar guillotine. He would have a smoking-related injury with a model gun in The Return of the Pink Panther.
  • Clouseau sells balloons, paints and hunts without a licence. He would later attempt to arrest someone in The Return of the Pink Panther for having a 'minkey' collect money without a license.
  • Near the end of the film, all the lights go out. A similar sequence had occurred near the end of The Pink Panther.
  • Inspector Clouseau fails to consummate his passion in bed due to being interrupted by Cato. This is something he would frequently experience.
  • Inspector Clouseau and his lover, Maria Gambrellia, are pushed into a fountain by Cato. This is similar to the ending to 'The Pink Panther Strikes Again'.
  • Inspector Clouseau is frequently arrested. He was also arrested in The Pink Panther, The Return of the Pink Panther and The Pink Panther Strikes Again.
  • This is the first film where Dreyfus tries to murder Clouseau.
  • This is the first film in which Clouseau is given a beum13.
  • Clouseau is attacked in a bath by Cato in A Shot In The Dark. Baths appear in The Pink Panther, The Return of the Pink Panther and The Pink Panther Strikes Again.
  • Clouseau is defecated upon by his first bird, a crow. He would be defecated on by parrot in The Return of the Pink Panther, a macaw in The Pink Panther Strikes Again and by a bird in Revenge of the Pink Panther, as well as at the end of Trail of the Pink Panther.
  • Clouseau faints when he discovers Dudu's body, saying 'Dead Dudu'. He had fainted in a similar way when he found the Pink Panther in his pocket in The Pink Panther.
  • Clouseau would later have a discussion regarding catching pneumonia in both The Return of the Pink Panther and Revenge of the Pink Panther.
  • Clouseau tells a police car 'Back to town', which drives off in a similar fashion to taxis would in The Return of the Pink Panther.
  • Clouseau is chased by a dog. He would have trouble with biting dogs in The Pink Panther Strikes Again.
  • We hear the noise of a guitar string breaking when Maria shows Clouseau her dimples in the nudist colony. Clouseau would break musical instruments in both The Pink Panther and The Pink Panther Strikes Again.
  • When Sellers rips his trousers, Elke Sommers covers up a laugh. Sellers would make actress Schell laugh in The Return of the Pink Panther.
  • Monsieur Ballons hides in the closet. George had hidden in a bathroom closet in The Pink Panther, Cato would later hide in a closet in The Return of the Pink Panther and Clouseau would walk into a closet by mistake in The Pink Panther Strikes Again.

Musical Influence

'Yes, I probably will [catch pneumonia], but it's all part of life's rich pageant, you know?'
- Inspector Clouseau

The above line from A Shot In The Dark inspired the title of REM's fourth album, Lifes Rich Pageant [sic], released in 1986.

The Pink Panther Films
The Pink Panther (1964) | A Shot In The Dark | Inspector Clouseau
The Return of the Pink Panther | The Pink Panther Strikes Again | Revenge of the Pink Panther
Trail of the Pink Panther | Curse of the Pink Panther | Son of the Pink Panther

1In all other films, he is called 'Cato'.2He later receives two surnames, 'Duvall' and 'Chevalier'3Pseudonym for Bryan Forbes as a Peter Sellers in-joke. Peter Sellers enjoyed parodying The Beatles by wearing a mop-top wig and claiming to be the lead singer of fictitious group Turk Thrust and the Y-Fronts whilst playing the ukulele.4In 1961 Bryan Forbes had cast Peter Sellers in Only Two Can Play, which Forbes had written. This led to Sellers getting a Best Actor BAFTA nomination.5William Shatner would not return to Broadway for fifty years after this role, when he appeared in Shatner's World: We Just Live in It a one man show in February 2012.6Perhaps inspired by Peter Sellers' spoken version of 'A Hard Day's Night', William Shatner would later release a similar version of another Beatles song, 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds' on his The Transformed Man album.7A writer with whom Blake Edwards would frequently collaborate with in the 1960s, and would later write The Exorcist.8Famous for appearing in Get Carter, the Bond film The Man with the Golden Gun as Miss Goodnight, and The Wicker Man.9Many have speculated that in fact it would be director Blake Edwards that he had this successful, lasting relationship with. Others, more realistically, have said that this was a coincidence.10Peter Sellers in an excised scene in Dr Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, Blake Edwards in the conclusion of The Great Race.11Peter Sellers' Dr Strangelove: Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb was at number 3, Being There was at number 26 and Blake Edwards' Victor/Victoria was at number 76.12Bump.13Bomb.

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