The Pink Panther is one of the most valuable diamonds in the world, and is held in the North African nation of Lugash under tight security, though on display in a museum for visitors to view. It is heavily guarded by armed men and has light sensitive switches to set off barriers that will prevent anyone getting away with the stone, but what if someone was aware of all that and tried to steal it anyway? This is what happens under cover of darkness, a figure clad all in black breaks in with sophisticated equipment and lifts it out from under the noses of the guards, who almost catch the thief... but not quite. The authorities are outraged, and decide there's only one man who can retrieve it, the man who retrieved it last time: Inspector Jacques Clouseau (Peter Sellers).
By the mid-nineteen-seventies, both star Sellers and director Blake Edwards were in need of a big hit to sustain their careers, so the obvious choice was to make another Clouseau movie since that was what they were still best known for. Edwards had actually been attempting to get a television series with the character off the ground when Britain's Sir Lew Grade decided he would like to acquire the sequel rights for his ITC company, and the production became a film. A pretty lucrative film at that, which set the two men to collaborate again twice more before the decade was out, and in a ghoulish fashion even after Sellers had passed away when Edwards refused to let go of the franchise. Of those three seventies efforts, opinions are mixed whether this or Strikes Again was the better.
Nobody would opt for Revenge, it seems, but with Return Edwards looked to be making three movies simultaneously and editing them together in a not exactly smooth manner, so you had the Clouseau business as he went on the trail of the diamond to Switzerland, the adventures of Sir Charles Litton (not David Niven, he was now played by Christopher Plummer in a bad wig) as he tried to clear his name as a suspect of the theft, and to a lesser extent scenes of Herbert Lom's Inspector Dreyfus who was very quickly going around the bend knowing that Clouseau was still in the world. The Plummer sequences suggested the director was itching to helm an action movie, yet as comedy was becoming what he was most celebrated for he had to resort to distractions like this to keep working.
But it was Sellers audiences wanted to see, and the distinguishing features of A Shot in the Dark from ten years before were revived with the character more accident prone and obtuse than ever, really emphasising his idiocy without making him frustrating. He believes, as many do, that Litton is responsible for the crime so heads over to his country house in the South of France where he meets Lady Litton, played by Catherine Schell (who at times is visibly amused by Sellers' antics, and not always in a scripted way either). She gives him the runaround as she heads off to Gstaad with him following, though not before he crashes two vans into the same swimming pool and makes a mess of the office (in separate incidents). Much of the rest of the story sees Clouseau bumbling about in a swanky hotel.
As ever, there were a selection of reliable British thesps to support the star, often with straight faces since that made the chaos the Inspector creates all the more amusing. It was true to say not as amusing as the previous entry in this series, there were patches where the laughs dried up, but Edwards relied on some of his sturdiest concepts to ensure there were chuckles at decent intervals, most notably in the use of Burt Kwouk's violent manservant Cato who has been instructed to attack his boss when he least expects it to keep him on his toes. This was such a good gag that it must have been tempting to implement it more often, but Edwards was wise enough to use it sparingly, and besides he could simply place Sellers in an empty room and he would spin a little gold from his abilities. Plummer meanwhile remained very much the guest star, and you could have taken his scenes out without making much difference to the plot until the very end when all was revealed. Elsewhere, Richard Williams provided the animated opening titles, possibly the most imaginative of the series, and Henry Mancini's variations on his familiar theme were perfect back up.