To physical-comedy purists who sniff at subtlety, the ”Pink Panther” series is the Periodic Table of Slapstick. Peter Sellers’ archetypal Inspector Jacques Clouseau personifies clumsiness stripped to its elements: His pratfalls, accidental fires, and tumbles from windows are the oxygen, carbon, and hydrogen of the banana-peel genre.
Writer-director Blake Edwards’ films, compiled in MGM’s 40th-anniversary set The Pink Panther Film Collection, gained frantic momentum with each installment. In 1964’s ”Pink Panther” and ”A Shot in the Dark,” Clouseau evinced faint frustration when his klutziness undermined his (self-declared) brilliance. But when Sellers, in need of cash, returned to the character in the ’70s (”The Pink Panther Strikes Again,” ”Revenge of the Pink Panther”), he reemerged as undiluted boob. (Or, in Clouseau-ese, ”bib.”) The buffoonery can grow migraine-inducing in its sheer destructiveness: Must he crash through every wall? Yet there is something so heartfelt about Edwards and Sellers’ love of slapstick that the overkill becomes forgivable, often sublime.
If only one could forgive the lacking DVD set. Because of rights issues, 1975’s hilarious ”Return of the Pink Panther” isn’t here but cheaply substituted by ”Trail of the Pink Panther” (1982). Released two years after Sellers’ death, ”Trail” is no more than a flimsy plot wrapped around greatest-hits clips and unused footage. And while a choppy documentary and peppy trivia pop-ups mention Sellers and Edwards’ fractious relationship, the director reveals little in his gossip-free commentary. Perhaps he thought slapstick purists would hate emotion getting in the way of a marathon of head-bonking.