‘Pink Panther’ and ‘Decoy’ Return on Disc


Casey has no partner, professional or romantic (although she does make a date with a man she meets during an investigation in which she poses as a wealthy socialite). Her back story is sketchy; she’s without a personal life. Several episodes refer to a tragic love affair with a fellow officer killed in the line of duty.

The show’s penultimate episode, “First Arrest,” flashes back to Casey’s rookie assignment — under cover in Coney Island as an exotic dancer. Her droll, perfunctory gyrations and sketchy device to bust a dealer in stolen goods are worth noting, but these are upstaged by the wealth of scenes shot in the long-gone Steeplechase Park.

Casey’s co-star is New York (though “Decoy” seems to have never been telecast in the city where it was shot). Locations are not restricted to Midtown Manhattan or Times Square, and include Greenwich Village, the Lower East Side, the South Bronx and Randalls Island. Harlem seems conspicuously absent. The show is notably (and shockingly) white; the Cuban-American actor Tomas Milian is a rare Latino. Nevertheless, “Decoy” did showcase a number of young New York actors, among them Edward Asner, Martin Balsam, Peter Falk, Zohra Lampert and Suzanne Pleshette.

Diane Ladd appears in one episode, displaying an amazing resemblance to her daughter Laura Dern. Michael Tolan, a student of Stella Adler, plays a sociopath who has seemingly made a careful study of Adler’s most famous acolyte, Marlon Brando. The combination of New York streets and local actors is irresistible. Take, as another example, “Johnny Staccato,” the 1959 series starring John Cassavetes as a jazzman private eye (brought out on DVD seven years ago by Shout! Factory/Timeless Media) and a trove of exaggerated Method-acting performances amid Manhattan locations.

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Peter Sellers as the indelible Inspector Clouseau.

Credit
Shout! Factory

Inspector Jacques Clouseau is everything Officer Jones is not: vain, bumbling, officious and hysterical. He is also less proficient at martial arts. Introduced in “The Pink Panther” (1964) with a pratfall, and a magnet for mishap thereafter (every door is his enemy), Sellers catapulted out of the ensemble of this mildly racy all-star jewel heist caper — distinguished by Friz Freleng’s classic animated credit sequence and Henry Mancini’s classy score — to become the antihero of “A Shot in the Dark” (1964).

The series’s strongest movie, “A Shot in the Dark” blends character comedy with intricately choreographed slapstick, annotated by Clouseau’s hilariously tortured logic. “I suspect everyone — I suspect no one,” he gravely informs a roomful of suspects before tripping over the furniture. Sellers employs his radio-honed facility for funny voices to invent an inimitable pseudo-French accent, and his gift for physical comedy rivals that of Jerry Lewis, who died Aug. 20.

“A Shot in the Dark” was followed in 1968 by a Clouseau film involving neither Sellers nor Edwards, even as the animated Pink Panther enjoyed stardom on TV and theatrical shorts. In 1975, presaging a flood of Hollywood remakes, Edwards and Sellers revived their creation in “The Return of the Pink Panther,” with Clouseau now older and stuffier, and his accent even more garbled.

A series of set pieces in glamorous international locations, “The Return of the Pink Panther” was followed by two diminished returns, “The Pink Panther Strikes Again” (1976) and “Revenge of the Pink Panther” (1978).

If both movies decline after the animated credits, it was in part because much of the live action feels like inferior animations. The running battle between Clouseau and his nemesis, Chief Inspector Dreyfus (Herbert Lom), suggests a third-rate Road Runner cartoon, while the racial stereotyping in Clouseau’s obligatory, increasingly tiresome martial arts bouts with his Asian manservant (Burt Kwouk) seems a step away from the animated anti-Japanese propaganda from World War II.

“Revenge of the Pink Panther” toyed with the idea of Clouseau’s demise. (Amusingly, Dreyfus is required to deliver the eulogy.) “Trail of the Pink Panther” (1982) dealt with the fact that Sellers was actually dead. Recycling outtakes from previous “Panther,” the movie, with Sellers less an actor than an exploitable property, is not nearly as tasteless as its premise. More’s the pity.

NEWLY RELEASED

BEING THERE Peter Sellers made his last great performance in this understated comedy by Hal Ashby, adapted by Jerzy Kosinski from his novel. The New York Times reviewer Janet Maslin called the film, which opened in 1979 and is now out on Blu-ray, “a stately, beautifully acted satire,” adding that “Mr. Sellers never strikes a false note, as he exhibits the kind of naïveté that the film’s other characters mistake for eccentricity.” (Criterion)

COPS VS THUGS The dean of Japanese gangster movies, Kinji Fukasaku, followed his “Battles Without Honor and Humanity” series with this violent, stylish account of yakuza warfare and political corruption in a provincial Japanese city. Made in 1975, it’s newly available in a dual Blu-ray and DVD edition, accompanied by two visual essays. (Arrow Video)

THE CRIMSON KIMONO In this two-fisted social commentary from Samuel Fuller, a pair of Los Angeles cops, one Asian and the other white, investigate a murder in Little Tokyo with explosive results: Both fall for the same woman. A new Blu-ray comes with an video appreciation of this 1959 policier by the director Curtis Hanson. (Twilight Time)

NIGHT MOVES Now available on Blu-ray, Arthur Penn’s moody neo-noir, written by Alan Sharp, stars Gene Hackman as a depressed Los Angeles private eye. Reviewing it in The Times in 1975, Vincent Canby called Mr. Hackman’s character “much more interesting and truly complex than the mystery he sets out to solve.” (Warner Archive)

NORMAN: THE MODERATE RISE AND TRAGIC FALL OF A NEW YORK FIXER Richard Gere gives a triumphantly self-effacing performance in one of the past year’s most improbable movies, the Israeli director Joseph Cedar’s Jewish fable. Mr. Gere “has never been better,” A. O. Scott wrote in his review of the film this year. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and Amazon Video. (Sony Pictures Classics)

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