By the time the movie came out, the movie was called 'the Pink Panther', referring to a diamond. A cartoon pink panther appeared in the opening credits portraying sexual elusiveness.
As many know, the movie was a hit. The thief character was deemed inessential, and 5 more Sellers 'Panther' movies were made (as well as a few without him). The diamond was not in all those but they all had the phrase in their title, the teasing pink creature + the vamping music in their credits1 and featured the incompetent French policeman.
The most striking feature of the Sellers' character was that he wasn't just incompetent, he was essentially a eunuch. The blatant subtext of the movie series was that France has no balls.
No male eunuch character before that or since has been such a hit in the USA, as far as I know. Supposedly this was because of Sellers' skills.
It may be no accident that the movies' prime years coincided with the Vietnam War. The original came out more or less when the French basically pulled out of the conflict leaving the USA to fight it alone.2 Personally, I believe that is why the word 'Pink' ended up in all those titles. It just worked at an unconscious level, in my opinion [reading pink=eunuch, not pink=commie].
It is not clear that the rights holders thought this, however. The 'Panther' movies kept being made even after the Vietnam war was over. But maybe they should not have, because these were not nearly as successful at the box office.
In the nineties, apparently, another Panther script floated around (at one point the idea was floated that Chris Tucker could play Clouseau).
Then in December 2003 -doing interviews promoting another movie- Steve Martin told interviewers that he had been working on the Panther script, and was planning to play the lead.
The movie was, in fact, greenlighted and now 2½ years later is now in theaters [promo photo]. Critically panned, it is nonetheless #1 at the box office. After its opening weekend anyway.
Not to get too political but in 2003, France had ducked out of another war the USA was entering into. Rightly or wrongly. France refused to join in the new Iraq war and some people in the USA then revived the 'surrender monkey' insult, the WWII claims and so on.3
Someone could ask Martin (and everyone else involved) if -in 2003- they had cynically been thinking that anti-French sentiment would help ticket sales in the USA.
But no-one will ask.
btw, when I posted this idea on a webboard last week someone asked me if I just thought of it .. the truth is, i had never seen it anywhere.
- the theme by Henry Mancini has since become famous
- As far as some in the USA were concerned France did not do enough to fight the Nazi in WWII either. That is too political to get into here. I am just trying to analyze the movie
- in March of that year that the US Congressional cafeteria had changed the name of french fries to 'freedom fries'. Remember all that?