If “The Pink Panther Strikes Again” played like a daft Bond spoof, the original film was far closer to the leisurely crime capers that were all the rage in the 1950s and ’60s. Peter Sellers only received second billing to David Niven, who initially thought the film could set up a light-hearted franchise for him in the vein of “The Thin Man” movies (via Best Movies by Farr).
Niven plays Sir Charles Lytton, a suave ladies’ man by day, and a gentleman jewel thief known as “The Phantom” by night. He has become famous for leaving his calling card, a white glove embroidered with the letter “P,” at the scene of his crimes. Lytton’s next target is the world’s largest diamond, known as the Pink Panther for a flaw that resembles a leaping jungle cat. The priceless gem was given to Princess Dala (Claudia Cardinale) by her father, the Maharajah of the fictional Lugash, as a gift when she was a child. Now living in exile, the new government of her country wants to declare the stone property of the people.
Princess Dala just happens to be staying at the same luxury Italian ski resort as Sir Charles, who wastes no time trying to sweet-talk her into revealing the location of the diamond. Also on vacation is Inspector Jacques Clouseau (Peter Sellers), who has been tracking The Phantom for many years. Little does he know that his wife Simone (Capucine) is working as a fence for Sir Charles and is also having an affair with him. To complicate matters further, the jewel thief’s cocksure nephew George (Robert Wagner) arrives and sets his sights on seducing Simone. Can Clouseau crack the case before the Phantom has his wicked way and steals the diamond?