Classic Cars on Film: A Shot in the Dark

You know the theme song and you know the character – but did you know about the Radford de Ville Mini? We delve into 1964 Pink Panther classic 'A Shot in the Dark'

There is a challenge faced by many of us when viewing The Pink Panther series – that of the law of diminishing returns.

Leaving asides 1963’s The Pink Panther, in which Peter Sellers’ Inspector Jacques Clouseau steals the film from the nominal lead David Niven, The Return of the Pink Panther, The Pink Panther Strikes Again and The Revenge of the Pink Panther showcase an actor who was increasingly prone to self-indulgence. Even if the last named does contain a rather jolly car chase through Hong Kong with police Ford Cortina MkIIIs.

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That leaves A Shot in the Dark, which entered production at Borehamwood in late 1963 and introduced Herbert Lom, Burt Kwouk and André Maranne to the world of Clouseau. It also has no connection with the Pink Panther and features one of Britain’s finest star character actors in one of the silver screen’s most desirable Minis.

It is only after watching A Shot in the Dark that many viewers begin to think that a Mini with Radford de Ville coachwork is fairly unlikely transport for an Inspector of the Sûreté nationale as opposed to a sober looking Peugeot 403. But by that point the film has worked its magic; the Henry Mancini score, the colour cinematography, and a beatnik nudist played by the newcomer Turk Thrust (who bears a remarkable resemblance to Bryan Forbes):

And then there is the Mini. HR Owen famously commissioned Hooper to create possibly the ultimate Cooper S for Peter Sellers. For A Shot in the Dark Harold Radford duplicated the look of the actor’s car on a left-hand drive Morris Mini. In a strange way, it works for the Inspector as it further sets him apart from the remainder of the force.

Sellers’ most effective performances are often as characters that are adrift in a world they do not comprehend. They often attempt to mask their confusion with attempts at sartorial accuracy, such as Clouseau’s rather dapper trench coat, and the Mini is yet another effective prop. With such a splendid set of wheels, who could possibly question the Inspector’s competence?

As for the other on-screen vehicles, Commissioner Dreyfus has a Citroën DS19 as his staff car and the uniformed police favour a black and white Renault Dauphine 'Pie'. There are also enough Peugeot 403s and Simca Arondes to gladden the hearts of any devotee of post-war French cars plus a Jaguar E-type coupé.

The sharp-eyed viewer will also notice that the Mini used in the second unit shots of Paris is clearly not the car driven by Sellers as much of A Shot in the Dark was filmed in the UK: the mansion of George Sanders’ millionaire Benjamin Ballon is Luton Hoo.

The Radford de Ville was taken back to the USA by the film’s director Blake Edwards, although by that point he and his leading actor had stopped speaking to each other. As for the favourite aspects of A Shot in the Dark, they invoke an unlade Sellers and Elke Sommer in a Paris traffic jam plus such gems of dialogue as ‘killed him in a rit of fealous jage!’ and this priceless moment:

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