A Shot in the Dark is a 1964 comedy film directed by Blake Edwards. It is the second installment in The Pink Panther series. Peter Sellers is featured again as Inspector Jacques Clouseau of the French Sûreté.
Clouseau's bungling personality is unchanged, but it was in this film that Sellers began to give him the idiosyncratically exaggerated French accent that was to later become a hallmark of the character. The film also introduces Herbert Lom as his long-suffering boss, Commissioner Dreyfus, Burt Kwouk as his stalwart man servant Cato and Andre Maranne as Francois, all of whom would become series regulars. Elke Sommer plays Maria Gambrelli. Gambrelli would return in Son of the Pink Panther, this time played by Claudia Cardinale, who played Princess Dala in The Pink Panther. Graham Stark reprised his Hercule Lajoy role in Trail of the Pink Panther.
The film was not originally written to include Clouseau, but was an adaptation of a stage play by Harry Kurnitz adapted from the French play L'Idiote by Marcel Achard. The film was released only a few months after the first Clouseau film, The Pink Panther.
Inspector Clouseau (Peter Sellers) is called to the country home of millionaire Benjamin Ballon (George Sanders) to investigate the murder of his chauffeur, Miguel Ostos. The chauffeur was having an affair with one of the maids, Maria Gambrelli (Elke Sommer), and attacked her in her bedroom after she broke off with him. Miguel was shot and killed in her bedroom and Maria was found with the smoking gun in her hand, but claims no knowledge of how it got there as she maintains she was knocked unconscious. All evidence points to Maria as the killer, but Clouseau is convinced of her innocence because he has developed an immediate attraction to her. Realizing Clouseau has been inadvertently assigned to a high-profile case, Commissioner Dreyfus (Herbert Lom) has him removed and personally takes charge of the investigation.
Dejected, Clouseau returns home. He is awakened in the early hours of the morning by an apparent attempt on his life by a Chinese assassin. When the phone rings, the life or death struggle ceases and it becomes apparent that his assailant is his valet, Cato (Burt Kwouk), to whom Clouseau has given instructions to attack him when he least expects it to keep his senses sharp. The Inspector is reinstated to the Ballon case and immediately orders Maria Gambrelli's release from prison, as he is convinced she is shielding the real killer, who Clouseau suspects is Ballon himself.
A series of additional murders of the Ballon staff follows. Each time the evidence points to Maria, who is continually arrested, only to have Clouseau release her again despite the growing number of murder charges laid at her feet. Clouseau's actions embarrass the Sûreté (his employer, the French national police) in the press, but Commissioner Dreyfus is unable to remove him from the case because Ballon has exerted political influence to keep the unorthodox and seemingly incompetent detective assigned to the investigation. As Clouseau continues to bungle the case, Commissioner Dreyfus becomes increasingly unhinged and suffers a nervous breakdown that reduces him to a delusional psychotic. He stalks Clouseau in order to assassinate him, but accidentally kills a series of innocent bystanders instead and adds further notoriety to the case.
When Clouseau confronts the Ballon household in an attempt to trick the murderer into unmasking him or herself, it is revealed that Ballon, his wife (Tracy Reed), and three members of the staff are all guilty; each of them has killed at least one of the earlier victims due to crimes of passion and/or subsequent blackmail attempts. Only Maria is innocent of any crime. As a massive row breaks out between employers and staff, the lights are cut (an arrangement Clouseau had made with his assistant), and the guilty take the opportunity to pile into Clouseau's car and escape. They are all killed when the car is destroyed by a bomb that had been planted by Commissioner Dreyfus. Having witnessed the explosion, and realizing that he has failed again to kill Clouseau, Dreyfus is reduced to an animalistic fury and is taken away. Clouseau and Maria celebrate the clearing of her name with a long and passionate kiss—which is swiftly interrupted by another sneak attack by Cato.
Sellers was attached to star in the adaptation of Harry Kurnitz's Broadway hit before the release and success of The Pink Panther, but was not pleased with the script by Alec Coppel and Norman Krasna. Walter Mirisch approached Blake Edwards and asked him to take over as director of A Shot in the Dark from Anatole Litvak. Edwards declined initially, but eventually relented under pressure on the condition he could rewrite the script and substitute Inspector Clouseau for the lead character and choreograph comic scenes on the fly as he and Sellers had successfully done for their previous film. The relationship between Edwards and Sellers deteriorated to such a point that at the conclusion of the film they vowed never to work together again. They eventually reconciled to collaborate successfully four years later on The Party, and on three more "Pink Panther" films in the 1970s.
As with most of the other Clouseau films, A Shot in the Dark featured an animated opening titles sequence produced by DePatie-Freleng Enterprises featuring an animated version of Inspector Clouseau. This film and Inspector Clouseau are the only Clouseau films not to feature the Pink Panther character in the opening titles. Henry Mancini's theme for this film serves as opening theme and incidental music in The Inspector cartoon shorts made by DePatie-Freleng from 1965 to 1969.
Fran Jeffries sang the song "Shadows of Paris" (lyrics by Robert Wells). She also sang the song called "Meglio Stasera (It Had Better Be Tonight)" in the film The Pink Panther.
The movie was one of the 13 most popular films in the UK in 1965.
The film was well received by critics. As of September 2012, it has 93% favourable reviews on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes out of 29 reviews counted. The average rating given by critics is 8 out of 10. The film is generally regarded as the best of the Sellers/Pink Panther films.
In 2006, the film was voted the 38th greatest comedy film of all time in Channel 4's 50 Greatest Comedy Films
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:2000: AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs – #48
2008: AFI's 10 Top 10:
Nominated Mystery Film