The so-called Great Train Robbery has occured, and Scotland Yard are at a loss to solve it, believing that the crime was an international one with a view to pulling off a greater heist using the stolen funds. The Police Commissioner (Patrick Cargill) reluctantly bows to the pressure fom the Prime Minister and calls in assistance from Europe, specifically the French Inspector Jacques Clouseau (Alan Arkin), who arrives in London by plane, forgets that he has taken off his shoes as he leaves the plane and has to go through a rigmarole of activity to retrieve them. Not to mention making the mistake of insisting on going through Customs with a gun and a grenade in his jacket...
When Steve Martin adopted the mantle of Clouseau with his Pink Panther remake, fans of Peter Sellers were up in arms that there was nobody who could have filled the great comedian's shoes quite as well as Sellers did, and even though there were two movies with Martin in that famous role, few truly accepted him in it. But there had been another American actor who had played the part back in the sixties, and he was Alan Arkin, and had suffered the same type of dismay at another performer trying to adopt the character in spite of Sellers making him his own, or so it was popularly believed.
Yet in 1968, the British funnyman had not wanted anything to do with recreating Clouseau for the third time, and it was only when the mid-seventies had arrived and he was lacking in recent hits that he returned to the Pink Panther series. Arkin, meanwhile, only essayed the role once, but watching it now his take on it was not half as bad as was made out, indeed if you can forget about Sellers for a while then you can see that he's perfectly adequate, and even gains some decent comic mileage out of the bumbling lawman. For many it will be impossible to separate the most famous star from his most famous incarnation, but seeing as how none of the regular Panther cast were present, there's nothing wrong with regarding this as a harmless curio.
The plot revolves around a gang making a monkey out of Clouseau, not something that you'd imagine would take too much effort, but they wish to use him as a fall guy for their schemes. Or rather, use his image, as after a series of various sketch-like scenes where Clouseau grows increasingly paranoid, the villains copy his likeness to make convincing masks, all the better to pose as him and get their hands on a Swiss bank's moolah. There's a really very good cast backing Arkin up here, with some reliable faces contributing solid work, such as Frank Finlay as the Superintendent who tries to coach the Frenchman in espionage techniques, Beryl Reid as his Scottish wife who escorts him to a Highland Games (in London?!) and the splendid Patrick Cargill making a fine stand-in for Herbert Lom.
The smaller roles are filled with familiar actors too, but Italian actress Delia Boccardo, playing the undercover agent who follows Clouseau around might have wished she had made her English language debut in something more auspicious, as not only was this not widely seen, but she was obviously dubbed with a British accent. Still, she proved an attractive presence, but in spite of all these celebrities of various star wattage, Arkin was the man this film belonged to. He gets some good lines, a handful of nice bits of comedy business, and does not try to do an impersonation of Sellers, which for some may be the reason they can't handle this, though presumably it would have been worse if he had made a mockery of the original with a straight facsimile. It's never going to be anybody's favourite comedy - it gets too sidetracked with its fashionable international thriller elements for a start - but it's pleasant enough. Music by Ken Thorne.