Friday, July 17, 2020

20 Years of Dealing with Death, The Quiet Man, and Visiting Camp Crystal Lake

            Later tonight on July 17, 2020, it will be 20 years exactly since my mother, Anita Wink, passed away after an over two-year ordeal with cancer. 

            Wow.  Just to write that.  20 years ago.  Two decades ago.  If I wanted to be highfalutin and such, I would call it one score ago, but I will refrain from doing that.  Yes, I know it is too late to refrain from that, as you’ve already read this, but at least I mentioned that I will not frain again.  Hopefully, that is some solace.

            I can remember that night from so long ago like it was yesterday.  She had been home having hospice care for about two months after being told she was terminal.  Each day, she got a little bit weaker, a little bit closer to the inevitable.  I know that one day I will die, but I can’t imagine knowing an approximate total of days that I would have left.

            It is so incredibly hard now to go back to a time when she wasn’t sick.  I hate remembering those last two years.  Yet supersede so many other prior memories because of the dramatic stakes, the emotional roller coaster, the recoveries, the regressions.  That she and my father didn’t end up complete gibbering and blubbering wrecks over the course of that time is remarkable in itself. 
Yes folks, I always had that dopey look.  My mother was quite patient.
            20 years ago.  Hard to believe that I’m remembering backwards to the year 2000.  Once upon a time, 2000 seemed so futuristic and now, it is old hat.  In 2000, I would have been working at the Oshkosh Mail Processing Plant on 2nd shift for the summer before going back to New Ulm for college.  Sweating away on a truck dock, the smell of humidity affected cardboard everywhere. 

Not that I could focus on work, mind you.  Given the circumstances, I was just waiting for the call from home that I needed to get back ASAP.  Each day was another day on tinder hooks, on egg shells.  Every time a supervisor called me over, I anticipated the worst.  While relieved that most of the time it was just direction for me to go over to another area of the dock that needed help or being told that I should go take my lunch, it just delayed the inevitable. 

My mother for the most part was in good humor, despite the circumstance.  My dad was home from work during that time.  Her folks, my grandparents, came over to stay at the house through the course of this.  The hospice nurses were aces.  The pastoral visits were treasured.  Even the church choir showed up at the house to sing hymns of comfort to her.  My brother and I were working for the summer, but we were always hanging around the house when home.  Family surrounded us.  Her co-workers visited often.

She even asked about seeing some movies that I liked, that she had never thought about seeing before.  My mother started my love of films, her favorites are my favorites to this day.  I could watch The Bishop’s Wife, The Quiet Man, and Bringing up Baby every single day if I was ever given the choice.  I never tire of any of those movies.  I remember us watching Nosferatu on a crappy transferred cheapjack VHS I had, just because I was in a silent horror phase and wouldn’t shut up about it.  I don’t know if she liked it, but at least she humored me.

My mother had humored me before about films.  I remember that after a two week high school trip to Germany, she had gotten me a welcome home gift.  I said that I was only gone for two weeks, but that didn’t stop her.  She had gotten me a brand new tape of Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter.  I was stunned.  She said she asked my brother what I would have liked, he said that movie, and even though she was never going to watch it, she found the VHS for me.  What other kid had a mom that encouraged their interest in Jason Voorhees, I ask you!

That reminds me: she once acquiesced to seeing the first Friday the 13th.  She did have one stipulation: I had to tell her everyone that got killed.  I tried to argue that ruined the suspense and surprise of the kills, but she had to know or no go.  So I listed everyone.  And we watched the movie which, given several rather naughty scenes of canoodling, is rather awkward with your mom.  But she did like the effects, Kevin Bacon’s demise especially was given high marks.  Oh, but I didn’t tell her about Jason coming out of the water at the end and she wonderfully jumped!  She was ticked I didn’t say anything, but I said, “You only wanted to know about the deaths!  Jason didn’t kill anyone in that scene!”  It didn’t placate her but it was worth it! 
A mother's love is powerful indeed.

Back to the matter at hand, it is actually amazing when you are told that more than likely this is the day that someone you love is going to die.  It was so matter-of-fact.  She was not doing well over the past week or so.  She was mostly unresponsive, slowly more and more comatose.  Just hearing the measured breathing that became more and more labored.  Also there were random unconscious moans at times.  Only she and the Lord knows what she was thinking about while in that state.

I couldn’t stay in the living room where she had been for the past few months.  I did have a brief laugh when I realized she was dying in a living room.  A room for living.  As Shatner in Airplane II said, “Irony can be pretty ironic.”  (Sorry, I had to break the mood a tad.  I digress.)

My grandparents couldn’t and wouldn’t leave the bedside though.  My father either.  But I had to get upstairs to my room.  I had to go outside on the front porch.  I had to get out.  Frankly, I didn’t want seeing her take her last breath in that state to be my final memory of her.  There had been too many dark memories that have wedged into my brain already, I didn’t want that one too.

I’ve often wondered if that was selfish on my part.  Perhaps.  But as she was unresponsive over the past few days, no lucidity whatsoever, I could reconcile that.  I did reconcile that.  I had been home saying good bye over the past months.  At that time she was responsive, talkative, interactive.  Now it was different.  I didn’t need to be there right at that specific moment.  I would just be one more person in a crowded room.  I sat in my rocking chair upstairs and tried to finish the book that I was reading over the past few weeks.  It was a Barnes & Noble collection of the complete Arthur Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes stories.

I had only a few adventures to go and the book would be done.  Something in me wanted to finish that book that night.  I don’t know why.  I had never read Holmes before starting in with that complete volume.  I had enjoyed it thoroughly as a pleasant distraction over those weeks.  But the minutes kept on ticking and I kept on reading.

Then I finished the book.  And not that much longer after that, I was told to come downstairs because it was all over.  I didn’t need to.  I didn’t want to.  I didn’t want my final view of her to be just this empty shell of what she once had been.  However my grandparents persisted and even suggested I give her a kiss on her head.  I did it.  I really didn’t want to, but I could see how affected my grandmother was, so I did it. 

But she was not here to receive that kiss.  She was gone to be with the Lord.  I went over and saw that at least she was no longer suffering.  My brother wanted nothing to do with seeing her at that moment, retreating to the front room and then the porch outside.  I don’t blame him, I envy him for being able to miss that.

20 years later and I’m still standing in that living room.  Not physically, but I’m there.  I’m always there, remembering that moment.  Every July since, that moment gives me pause.  Hell, every time I think about her grandkids that she never saw, that moment gives me pause.  Every time I know that she never met my wife.  Or saw me or my brother graduate from college, which was her dream for her kids.  She never saw me out in South Dakota or Michigan when I lived there or when I came back to Wisconsin.  She never helped me move into or out of my apartments or my house.  She never babysat or answered the myriad of questions I had about parenting.

One thing I know is that she could never see or appreciate when I was fortunate enough to receive Maureen O’Hara’s autograph after sending her a still from The Quiet Man.  I remember sending Ms. O’Hara that still, which I procured from eBay.  I even wrote her a personal letter to go along with the picture, telling her all about my mother and how much she loved that film.  And knowing that a then-surviving honest-to-goodness star from that movie actually read that letter over in Ireland still makes me smile.

20 years.  They go fast, apparently.  It has been almost half of my entire lifetime ago.  When I take a step back, it is just incredible to conceive of that much time being gone.  All I can do is be thankful for the time we had, thankful for the better memories that still linger, thankful for every opportunity that I can tell my wife and kids about the grandma they never knew.

And maybe, just maybe, one day I can share a mother’s love by giving my children their own copies of Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter.  (Yes, it is that good!)
Thy Will Be Done Indeed!  And an artsy B&W shot too!

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

28 Routes in the Midst of Hatred and Violence

           28 routes at the Minnehaha Station.  Each with a regular carrier.  Probably at least 8 city carrier assistants as well.  Perhaps 10 clerks, some distribution, some retail.  Probably 2-3 supervisors.  One manager.  And thousands of customers, people who depend on the mail.  Businesses of all shapes and description, churches, clinics, assisted living centers.  People who rent or own houses or live in apartments.  Families, grandparents, mothers, brothers, fathers, sisters, cousins.


28 routes for delivery with about 17,000 total stops.  Now, that’s not to ignore the thousands of people who walk in the door to purchase stamps, to send packages, to pick up their PO Box mail, to track packages that haven’t arrived yet, to bring up delivery concerns, to change their address.  People from every single background, every culture, every orientation.  Everyone equally gets mail.  Everyone equally gets delivery.

28 routes in that building.  The same goes for those working behind the scenes, bringing that mail to your doors each and every day.  You’d be hard pressed to find a more diverse workforce.  From retail clerks to carriers, from mailhandlers to maintenance, from distribution clerks to supervisors, from postmasters to managers.  People of every race, color, creed, background, culture, orientation all working together to bring a common goal: to bring the people of the United States their mail.

28 routes came out of a building that constantly brings other cultures to the national social consciousness via the people, images, and historically important events that are acknowledged by being placed on US postage.  For instance, previous African-American individuals who have been honored on US postage include Booker T. Washington, Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Oscar Micheaux, Duke Ellington, Jesse Owens, Rosa Parks, Nat ‘King’ Cole, Mahalia Jackson, and Maya Angelou.  This year alone had a Black Heritage series release honoring Gwen Ifill and the Voices of the Harlem Renaissance tribute stamp sheet came out recently in May.  And this is just one of the cultures and events so honored by US postage.  The contributions of these individuals, the importance of the historical events, the terrific influence felt by so many lives touched cannot be understated.

            28 routes of delivery where even a worldwide pandemic didn’t stop the mail.  While other businesses closed, the post office didn’t.  While others went to curbside service or pick-up only, postal delivery still went out.  Every single person in the United States with an address continued to receive their mail.  The carriers took extra precautions, the clerks took extra precautions, the management took extra precautions.  The lobbies, the plants, the retail counters all took extra precautions to provide the continuity of service for the American public.  Some semblance of normalcy was gained from seeing that carrier in that truck coming to your home or going to that office to buy stamps.  Despite the face masks or plastic shielding, it still was a touchpoint back to what everything was prior to this virus taking hold.

28 routes.  Probably close to 50 employees bringing thousands of people their mail during the week from that office.  Until this week.  This week the mail actually stopped coming from there.  Now it takes quite an amazing event to prohibit delivery.  Wildfires or a flood for instance.  A bridge collapsing or an epic dangerous blizzard or a polar vortex.  Hurricanes and tornadoes.  Usually, the mail goes back out the next day or a week later depending on the veracity of the event, but it goes back out.

28 routes where thousands of people depended on that lifeline of mail.  Especially in Minnesota, where the COVID restrictions were tight, people relied more and more on the mail as they were under stay at home orders.  It was a way to receive items needed for daily life, a way to receive medicine, a way to send a letter or a gift card or just some way to connect in a far more personal way than the internet could ever provide. 

28 routes went up in smoke this week.  Righteous outrage and peaceful protest disintegrated into mob rule, chaos, and violent rioting.  One hears a lot about collateral damage as an excuse for this violence.  Yet this certainly wasn’t collateral, this was deliberate damage.  It was done on purpose.  And now the original protest message has been distorted and molded into destroying lives from all walks of life, all backgrounds, all cultures, all races.  When you attack the mail, you attack everyone.  Everyone suffers equally.

28 routes in a town where just weeks before these same carriers and clerks and thousands like them nationwide were lauded as heroes for working during the pandemic.  And now?  A burned out shell.  The PO Box section where their neighbors would get their mail looks like a bomb hit it.  The mail, which in some cases was a literal lifeline where people could get medicine and checks, was destroyed.  The packages that people ordered, trying to obey stay at home orders the best they could, were reduced to a cinder in the blink of an eye.

28 routes that were serviced, like routes across the country, by people from all backgrounds.  One of the most amazing sights I ever saw from the postal service was when we were working nights in Milwaukee at the plant.  It was incredible to see people from every single background working together.  We were the definition of a melting pot.  Black and white, Hispanic and Asian, men and women, young and old, gay and straight, all different religious or non-religious backgrounds.  Being on 3rd shift, we were all tired, yet we all had a job to do.  Together.  All equals, no privilege other than being able to work where we all did. 

28 routes from an organization where anyone from any background could apply and get hired.  And in spreading ignorant hatred, that station was incinerated by a rioting mob that hijacked a worthwhile cause, directly damaging that cause through their violence.  This was an outrageous punch in the face to a non-discriminating workplace and organization.  And even despite all this destruction, the postal service is going to get the mail to people safely. 

28 routes.  And how many of those routes were now closed by blind, seething rage and hatred?  Will they ever all fully come back?  Can they?  As far as the postal service’s side of it is concerned, it is certainly stronger than the angry mobs that not only destroyed the Minnehaha Station and damaged other Minneapolis offices as well but also vandalized other offices across the nation.  And once again, this hopefully provides an opportunity to show others by example how the postal service works together.  All of us.  All backgrounds.  All races. 

Perhaps the rest of the nation could take a page from the postal service book and learn a lesson together from these 28 routes.


Thursday, April 23, 2020

Seven Scientifically Proven Ways Science has Scienced Hard against COVID-19

Yes, dear readers, I have scoured the globe looking to bring you the most accurate and overbearing science information available today.  These findings are as up to date as humanly!  No, now!  Now!  Better start reading as this research is ever-evolving.

The assembled scientists give plasma to plants!  Amazing!

1)     Binging copious amounts of Full House. 
Research has shown that forcing oneself to watch Full House is an 85% effective way to halt the spread of the virus by 48% and in some cases 49%.  The science behind and just to the left of this says that when consuming Full House in higher than acceptable levels, a person actually makes themselves preventatively ill.  The virus then never has a chance to gain a foothold.  Your immune system has been triggered and is on the defense, your white blood cells are concerned for your well-being, and your brain is becoming numb by the influx of chemicals you naturally produce when pressed to imbibe that much Jodie Sweetin at once.

To clarify, the research was for Full House, not Fuller House.  The investigative team only concentrated on the original show, so the data only reflects that program.  Fuller House’s lack of the Olsen Quotient to shore up immunity was also devastating.  By throwing in the variable of an Incredibly Late Sequel Series (ILSS), the baseline becomes skewed and safety cannot be guaranteed.  In some cases, the trauma received was worse than not only having the virus, but was worse than even thinking about it as well.
Here a scientist experiments by touching skulls!  Fascinating!

2)     Do not leave a forwarding address when moving. 

The Guy Gadbois Institute of Lower Manitoba has proven that the virus will follow you around wherever you go.  By moving from your home and not leaving a change of address, it will confuse the virus, stalling it as you make your getaway.  Yes, some virus strains have been known to pay upwards of $49.95 to have 3rd party platforms dig up your court and legal records, but these viruses are the outliers. 

More often than not, the virus will be frustrated and won’t seek out your location information beyond surreptitiously asking a few shared friends on Messenger as to your whereabouts.  Stymied, it will then move on, a bit wiser, acknowledging that you have bested it by using a cunning plan.

The test tube & beaker budget line item was astronomical!  Astounding!

3)     Read and believe everything you see on social media.
Dr. Rex Flostram and his wife, Drs. Marcy Linflendahl in their pioneering volume Engorged: Why Every Post & Link Matters, make the argument that since human beings typically only use half of an eighth of a percent of their brains, there is quite a lot of absorbent space.  This means that humans can take in voluminous volumes of social media links, posts, comments, tweetlings, stories, pictures, and little emoting faces.  By trusting every single one of them, virus preventative endorphins are released.  (In some rare cases, endolphins were released as well.  However, they were kind to their human hosts and performed various feats for buckets of fish as a reward.)

Per Dr. Flostram and Drs. Linflendahl, “Sharing these posts without verifying a single character contained within them can only create a combination of satisfaction and an ever-exploding expanse of knowledge.  After all, the internet is where we first heard about this phenomenon and look at us now: we published a book.  This conclusively means that the study is validated.”

Safety first with eye protection in science!  Breathtaking!

4)     The human eye/virus connection.
The Cortvard University Experimental League headed by Professor Volvo Zinnia, has ascertained that the answer might just be found in the human eye.  Realizing that the eye consists of the iris, pupil, corona, and retina, Professor Zinnia went right to work.  Using various mirrors, lasers, and ophthalmology experts, it was discovered that not only do people have different eye colors but remarkably they also have varying levels of vision abilities. 

Plunging further into the depths of what the League termed the Eyeball Sciences, more astounding facts were found.  However, further analysis had to be halted somewhat due to someone pointing out that the eye has a cornea and not a corona.  After this setback, which what the League finally called the “smartyfartypants butting in”, there is now a reevaluation of the project.

Goatees make for more accurate sciencey results!  Astonishing!

5)     Preventative breathing exercises.
Since the virus has been discovered to adhere to people’s breath much like onions, perhaps breathing prevention could hold the key.  Dr. Dok Docteaur, most recently of Vienna, decided to find out for himself.  Wanting to test his theory, he took a group of ten people.  Dr. Docteaur then returned the ten people and sought out ten people who voluntarily wanted to go with him.  After dividing this group into two groups of five (one set with the virus, one set without it), he then placed airtight plastic bowls over each of the volunteers’ heads. 

Recording vitals, blood pressure, and horrific facial reactions, Dr. Docteaur came to a remarkable conclusion.  Not only did breathing prevention eliminate the virus symptoms in those that were infected, but it also ensured that any healthy person would certainly be able to avoid getting the virus.  Unfortunately, Dr. Docteaur has been rather reluctant and in fact quite elusive in sharing his findings with the authorities.

Here a volunteer helps science get ahead!  Stupefying!

6)     Political party affiliation = virus avoidance
One’s political beliefs might be the lynchpin in the arch of prevention.  From the most socialist pig blindly following their cult of government to the point of betraying one’s neighbors to the state for the “common good” to the most capitalist swine wanting to greedily pluck the last dollar out of the pockets of the corpses they leave behind in the name of the almighty economy, the Reverend Dr. Noreen Chortled knew that it was worth investigating.  Realizing that one can only have a predetermined political affiliation where one is considered “Left” or “Right” and that no one can ever have a belief that might contain varying shades of multiple political concepts in their makeup, Rev. Dr. Chortled went to work.

After the better part of a week and four days, she concluded that yes, the virus recognizes political parties and your registered voter status is a valuable bellwether that decides infection rates.  Of course this is also contingent on the available rhetoric one hears spittled out on many platforms.  Rev. Dr. Chortled also assured everyone that calling people protesting that the state governments are stomping on their rights through the lack of due process “domestic terrorists” and calling the people that are staying at home due to governor orders “communist lapdogs” is certainly effective.  She went on to say that “adding an emotional level of forced guilt topped with a dense layer of holier-than-thou smug will stop the virus completely!”
Funding approved to research in color?  Finally!

7)     Eliminating certain words can cancel virus.
Northern West Virginia Verbosity Research Analysts Amanda Hirschenbluger and Hiram Ventriss noticed a bizarre spike in confirmed virus cases when in the presence of certain phrase usages.  Whenever the sentence “We’re all in this together” was uttered, infection rates noticeably increased.  Hirschenbluger and Ventriss postulated that there must be a connection between infection rates and the use of certain phrases and words.    After using a microscope and a dictionary, their findings were incredible.

They determined that each time the virus heard the phrase “We’re all in this together”, it felt wonderful being included as part of the “all” and “together”.  Wanting to maintain this inclusivity, the virus enthusiastically decided to do its part by infecting even more people.  Other similar damaging viral effects were detected whenever the following words were used: “unprecedented”, “unusual”, “uncertain”, “difficult”, “trying”, and “we will get through this”. 

Drastically reducing the use of these words to the point of being entirely silent could make the difference between life and not life. Hirschenbluger concluded, “Given what we know now and now know, do the easiest thing you can do to save a life: shut up.” 

The scientist we need!  I feel much better now.  What could go wrong?

Friday, April 10, 2020

Almost Equal Sequels: A Shot In The Dark

This sometimes updated, always indifferent series has been a tremendous success!  So because there’s precious little else to do in-between facing earth-shattering poverty or death by breathing or maybe both, I thought I’d upchuck another entry!  Perhaps I can generate even more enthusiasm by ending my third straight sentence with an exclamation point!  Yeah! 

Actually, all the thanks in the world for those of you out there in the Interwebnets who have continued to read this fantastical blog despite horribly late to the point of nonexistent updates.  But due to my recent diagnosis by a team of doctors who only played doctors on TV, it appears that yes, sadly, my ennui is terminal.  But I’m lackadaisically shoving back with mediocrity.  It is all that I can do.  No, seriously, it is all I can do as my severe apathy also flares up despite the almost obscene lack of medication. 

And despite knowing what I know, I’m going to press on anyway.  But first a reminder rules recap for these sequel articles:

First off, some key ground rules that I set for myself:

1.    I will only be looking at the immediate sequels to the originals.  So at this point going forward there will be no jumping on Friday the 13th Part 3, A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 4, Halloween 5, Leonard Part 6, The Magnificent Seven, etc.  Maybe one day, but not right now.  Only Part 2s and Part 2s only.
2.    Prequels are also out, unless there’s an immediate Part 2 to the prequel, then game on.  And yes, I consider Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom to be a prequel to Raiders.  Because it is.  Yes, it is.  No, you’re wrong because it is.  So I’m not looking at that one.  Besides, Crystal Skull did more to bring awareness to the greatness of Temple of Doom than I ever could.

3.    I am not going to look at Part 2s that have a more-or-less universal acclaim.  We all know that The Godfather Part II and The Empire Strikes Back don’t suck, right?  It’s a given that Aliens and Terminator 2: Judgment Day are great.  I waste your time in so many other ways, so I think I can relieve you of this one at present.

4.    I am not in any way saying these Part 2s are better than the originals, unless I do say such a thing.  I don’t admit they are flawless films however.  They have deficiencies like any movie.  But these will come on their own demerits, not just because of a general “they aren’t the first movie”-type attitude.

5.    Other rules will be made up haphazardly along the way.  Be prepared. 

I think that’s just enough adieu for one day.  Here we go!


The Sequel:  A Shot In the Dark (1964)

Original Movie: The Pink Panther (1963)

Key Cast/Production Staff Returning from 1st Installment:

Peter Sellers           as Inspector Jacques Clouseau

Blake Edwards        Director

Henry Mancini         Composer
Here's Clouseau, right on cue.
(Well, all the jokes can't be good, you have to expect that once in a while!)

To Start With:

 I believe everything and I believe nothing. I suspect everyone and I suspect no one.

          What can one say about the Pink Panther film series?  At one time, it rivalled the James Bond series for longevity and popularity.  It bore a reliable range of comedy from visual gags to verbal exchanges to interesting reactive characters to flat-out slapstick.  The scores by Henry Mancini were great.  Blake Edwards cemented his status as an A-list director.  Jacques Clouseau became an international icon and Peter Sellers continued on his way to superstar status.

          Sometimes A Shot in the Dark gets forgotten when thinking about the Pink Panther series.  (This is untrue, but I have to make a point and so I’m going to continue anyway.)  Primarily this is because it is the only film title in the series that doesn’t have “Pink Panther” in it.  (This is also untrue, but how many of you really remember 1968’s Inspector Clouseau with Alan Arkin in the title role?  Thought so.  Anyway…)

          A Shot in the Dark started out as a non-Panther film but Sellers didn’t like the original script.  The producers sought out Blake Edwards, the director of The Pink Panther, to see what he could do.  Perhaps he could replicate some of the magic from when he worked with Sellers before.  Crucially, Edwards wondered what would happen if you took the story’s main police officer and made him Clouseau instead.  Now that had possibilities…  The resulting film was one that I consider to be the best sequel if not the very best overall entry of the entire Pink Panther series.
"It is obvious to my trained eye that there is much more going on here than meets the ear."   
          By transporting Clouseau into the story, it shifted the entire focus of the film.  Remember, Clouseau was not the focus in The Pink Panther.  David Niven, Claudia Cardinale, Robert Wagner, Capucine, and the ensuing thieving hijinks took precedence over Clouseau.  But Sellers kept on keeping on and Clouseau ended up stealing the show, becoming the lynchpin of the series going forward.  Nothing against Niven and company, but if you watched the latter Panthers first as I did and then went back to see the original, you’re rather disappointed in that there simply isn’t enough Sellers.   

          Yes, I love A Shot in the Dark more than the first movie.  Compared to the other Panthers, which definitely are favorites of mine, it always ranks just slightly above them.  In the latter entries, Clouseau becomes a cartoon character at times, but here he is at his most human and it certainly translates.  It certainly translates better than his French accent, but I digress.     


Anything Done Better than the Original?

If someone has been murdered here, please let it be Clouseau.

           Can you imagine a Pink Panther movie without Dreyfus and Cato?  Can you imagine there are entries in the series without these characters?  Seems crazy and yet without A Shot In the Dark, we wouldn’t have them around, both consistently attacking Clouseau over the years.

          Seeing Burt Kwouk as Cato and hearing Clouseau enter a room saying, “Catoooouu…” is like having a wonderful snuggly blanket that brings about warmth and joy and a piping hot cup of warm peppermint cocoa with marshmallows.  So thank you, A Shot in the Dark for introducing the character of Cato Fong.  We would have been robbed of so much without him showing up here.  (As a bonus, on our first time seeing Cato, we don’t even know who he is.  We just think that Clouseau is being attacked by someone, possibly an assassin!  Action!  Suspense!)   
Butler, surprise self-defense partner, incredible telephone skills...Cato could do it all.

          And what kind of series would this be without Commissioner/Chief Inspector/Chief Lunatic Charles Dreyfus?  Herbert Lom’s characterization is a fantastic pleasure here and throughout the series.  Just seeing him go from balanced to understandably completely off his nut is wonderful.  And the chemistry he had with Sellers was so on the mark.  You can tell these are two actors that just enjoy working together onscreen.

          I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the introduction of François, another mainstay of the series.  Dreyfus needed a sympathetic sidekick and André Maranne as François filled the bill.  Even later as an assistant to Clouseau, one felt that François would never have a mentally well-balanced boss as long as he stayed in the police force.  

Oh the by way, Henry Mancini’s musical score is an absolute treasure.  Since there weren’t really any of the Panther trappings here aside from the presence of Clouseau, there is no familiar Pink Panther theme anywhere to be found.  However, Mancini spreads his wings, composing a terrific soundtrack with a great opening credits theme for the film.  Like John Barry’s scores for James Bond, Henry Mancini’s music was a crucial part of the Panther series.  And here Mancini delightfully shines indeed.   

Anything as Good as the Original?

And I submit, Inspector Ballon, that you arrived home, found Miguel with Maria Gambrelli, and killed him in a rit of fealous jage!

          Sellers.  Plain and simple: Sellers.  Sellers is as good here as he’ll ever be with the character of Clouseau.  He showed bits and flashes with what he could do in the first movie.  But here he is allowed to expand.  Again, he doesn’t overreach as he had a tendency to do at times with the future Panther movies.  Here he is a human character through and through for Sellers.  He shows embarrassment, humility, love, pride, and actually…solves the crime!  Oh, sorry.  Spoiler alert for this almost 60 year film, you feuls!    

Elke Sommer as main suspect Maria Gambrelli is quite nice throughout, coming across as very natural as a housemaid that is somewhat in over her head.  Her chemistry with Sellers isn’t forced either.  I can positively accept Sommer getting together with Clouseau compared to having to believe that the elegant Capucine ever married Clouseau in the first place in The Pink Panther.  (Granted Capucine did that in order to get police information from Clouseau so she could keep David Niven in the loop, but I ramble on like a chimpanzee minkey, monsieur…)
I forgot to mention that Elke Sommer is very attractive.  What a feul I am!

Like The Pink Panther, a respectable ensemble was gathered for A Shot In the Dark.  One standout cast member is George Sanders.  Sanders made a career of being the aristocratic bastard with the sharp tongue and with that background, he is earning his keep here.  His interactions with Sellers are some of the best in the film.

Graham Stark, a longtime friend of Sellers, is marvelous as Clouseau’s assistant Hercule LaJoy.  Stark would be in other Panthers as well, sometimes under heavy makeup, but always welcome.  And there were plenty of great British character actors throughout: Douglas Wilmer, Martin Benson, David Lodge to name a few.  All solid, all good, all with long careers, and all with “Ohhhh!  That guy!” status.  


Anything Not-So-Good as the Original?

 “Give me ten men like Clouseau and I could destroy the world.”

          While I appreciate putting Clouseau in a different setting, a murder mystery is a great idea overall, sometimes it gets a bit much.  By having so many suspects and so many corpses pile up, it ends up to be literal and figurative overkill.  I get what they were going for, I truly do, but the body count starts to resemble a Friday the 13th at times.  (Although Clouseau Vs. Jason?  Hmmm…  “Yes, monsieur, I was aware of the old “machete through the head” ploy.  Now please take off that heucky mask!”)

          This film tends to have some overlong scenes as well.  Now granted, some of that could be because I’ve grown more accustomed to a faster editing style because of my modern day shortened attention span.  Then again, no.  There are some overlong scenes.  They aren’t bad, but could do with some trimming.  This seems odd since the runtime is actually shorter than the first Pink Panther. 
No Academy Award for this man?  Really?  After all he's been through?
          Let me give you an example and hopefully you’ve seen the movie: what would happen to the film overall if you just took out the entire nudist camp sequence?  Yes, have Dudu the maid (Who?  Again, too many characters…) still end up dead if you must, but have the body discovered elsewhere.  The nudist camp doesn’t even play into anything plot wise other than having Clouseau and Maria in an awkward position.  While I do enjoy aspects of the entire scene, the ultimate payoff is just okay and not that great.  Besides, there is no real nudity depicted whatsoever.  So, skip! 


Anything Far Worse than the Original?

But it's all part of life's rich pageant, you know.

For a film that I consider to be better than the original, anything I choose might be considered picking nits, but here goes.  As I said before, I like Clouseau in this murder mystery plot.  Why couldn’t it have been an Old Dark House/Ten Little Indians kind of murder mystery?  Have a huge house, plenty of suspects, plenty of motives, plenty of murderers.  Granted it is a fine line between your film ending up like the brilliant Clue on one end of the spectrum or ending up like a Shemp-centric, latter day, half-hearted Three Stooges short on the other, but it is something to consider.
At least we know that Larry can display a half-arsed dignity in similar proceedings.

The only other criticism is one I brought up earlier in regards to having so many characters.  Since you’re not giving them a chance to really breathe and develop, it is hard to keep track of them.  Admittedly, I think part of that is by story design, especially in the climax when everyone left alive starts accusing each other and Clouseau, stuck in the middle, has a memorable and funny take directly at the camera. 

Again, this is rather ticky-tack stuff I’m bringing up, but I don’t think the film would suffer from some tightening up in places.

Follow-up installments?

“Careful, Monsieur, with me! Do not tangle with me! I'm a trained expert in karate! My hands are lethal weapons!”

          Oh you bet!  This was a franchise indeed.  After A Shot in the Dark, there was the follow-up Inspector Clouseau in 1968.  When everyone forgot about that, Sellers and Edwards reunited for 1975’s The Return of the Pink Panther, 1976’s The Pink Panther Strikes Again, and 1978’s Revenge of the Pink Panther until the two men couldn’t stand each other.  Sellers was going to make his own entry called Romance of the Pink Panther but he died before it got past the initial scripts.

          Not allowing for his main star’s death to get in the way, Blake Edwards by cobbling together outtakes, filming some new scenes, and adding flashbacks to the previous movies made the dismal Trail of the Pink Panther in 1982.  Still thinking that a Sellers-less Panther movie was a good idea, Edwards next had Curse of the Pink Panther in 1983.  The film’s lone good point is the great Roger Moore in a rather funny cameo.  Ten years later, Edwards tried and failed yet again with Son of the Pink Panther in 1993.  Other than providing Herbert Lom and Burt Kwouk a paycheck and hearing some more good scores from Henry Mancini, I cannot attest that there are many redeeming qualities otherwise in these three films.
God bless the late Sir Roger Moore.  And his bucket too.

          Of course throughout this entire timeframe The Pink Panther and The Inspector cartoons were made and were quite beloved.  More importantly, they kept the Panther name alive in-between the main franchise entries.  In many cases, they were at least better than the last three Edwards-helmed movies.

          Not willing to let a good thing die, Steve Martin decided to revive Clouseau in 2006’s The Pink Panther and 2009’s The Pink Panther 2.  The first one had moments, but not a good Dreyfus in Kevin Kline and no Cato.  The second one had fewer moments, but had a good Dreyfus in John Cleese and still no Cato.  One presumes if they made a third one, there would have been a different cast member from A Fish Called Wanda to play Dreyfus this time.

And Finally:

“You idiot! You fool! It's a good job I was able to check my reflexes, as I might have killed you with a karate chop!”

          A Shot in the Dark solidified Peter Sellers’ star power, although he swore he’d never work with Blake Edwards again.  Until he did.  While 1968’s The Party is a very funny and enjoyable film, coming out the same year as Inspector Clouseau makes it seem like a lost Panther opportunity.

          But in A Shot in the Dark, Sellers shines as Clouseau.  As the lead of the movie, he is allowed to be onscreen quite a bit and doesn’t fail to entertain.  He so envelopes the character that when I see him in other films sporting a non-French accent, it throws me off a bit.

          Edwards also had tremendous skill with the track record to prove it.  He knows what to show, when to show it, and what gets the maximum reaction.  Yes, there are some pacing issues, but overall this film illustrates why he and Sellers were a good team.  Yet with these talents in play, there was often conflict over which of those two men contributed more to make the Panther films successful. 

But here’s the truth: both needed each other to make this work as well as it did.  The Panther movies Edwards made after Sellers’ death prove that.  They were a combative collaborative team and on the whole, the films came out surprisingly well given the animosity the two men shared at times.  And A Shot In the Dark is arguably the best of their films together. 
At least this relationship was healthy. 
Well, until Dreyfus starts biting Clouseau's leg.
Hopefully everyone has learned their lesson by now: Without Peter Sellers, you don’t have a Pink Panther movie.  This isn’t like James Bond or Batman where you can rotate new faces in and out as you go.  Peter Sellers is Jacques Clouseau and we should just be thankful for the five films he gave us when he was still here. 

And the outtakes in Trail of the Pink Panther are okay too. 

Oh, and his appearance as Clouseau on The Muppet Show that one time was good.  But that’s it! 

          Finally and more importantly, this film and the entire Panther series lovingly reminds me of my father.  He first showed the Panthers to me when I was at a very young age.  (I was probably the only 2nd grader at Gethsemane Lutheran School that would break into a Clouseau accent in-between reciting huge chunks of Groucho dialogue.)  I can still remember our tape of The Return of the Pink Panther having an interruption after about 10 minutes because of a tornado warning.  Yes folks, nothing, not even the threat of the windy finger of God, would get in my dad’s way when he finally managed to set up the VCR to record something.


"Dreyfus: What about the maid?

Clouseau: The maid?

Dreyfus: Was he jealous of her too? He strangled her!

Clouseau: It is possible that his intended victim was a man and that he made a mistake.

Dreyfus: A mistake?  In a nudist camp?!

Clouseau: Nobody's perfect.”
No, this isn't from this movie, but I would be remiss by not showing
this marvelous example of a boss encouraging his subordinate.