ON A CERTAIN TENDENCY IN THE
BOND AND CLOUSEAU FRANCHISES
(This piece was published as “BOND REVISITED, CLOUSEAU OBSERVED”, in FILM/PSYCHOLOGY REVIEW, Volume 4, #1, 1980, pp. 140-51.
My remarks then were prompted by the latest Inspector Clouseau film, THE REVENGE OF THE PINK PANTHER , released in 1979, and sixth in the Clouseau series. The latter began in 1963 with THE PINK PANTHER, a routine caper movie in which David Niven took the main role of a notorious international jewel thief. Clouseau played second banana to Niven. His maladroit character, portrayed by the inimitable Peter Sellers, quickly became popular with audiences, and a lucrative franchise followed.
The Bond oeuvre commenced in 1962 with DR. NO. Unlike the Clouseau films, the Bond franchise hit the ground running, its instant popularity stemming from Sean Connery’s witty impersonation and a caravanserai of special effects, exotic locales, and perennially nubile beauties. The latest, tenth Bond movie, THE SPY WHO LOVED ME was also released in 1979..
The following version has been edited slightly, but remains very much of its time, which embraced (inter alia) the Watergate cock-up, Richard Nixon’s malodorous presidency, and the seemingly endless Viet Nam conflict.)
At the end of Diamonds Are Forever, the pair of yobbos, who’ve tried unsuccessfully to kill James Bond throughout the film, are masquerading as waiters on a luxury liner. They are about to serve Bond and his latest pneumatic companion a lethal supper, when Bond sniffes out one of the assassins’ cologne. In a single fluid motion he douses him with cognac, sets him ablaze, trusses the partner to a ticking time-bomb between his legs, and pitches him overboard. All of this, detonation included, takes place in about ten seconds. Bond emerges without a scratch, his haberdashery dazzlingly intact.
In Revenge of the Pink Panther, Inspector Jacques Clouseau is being fitted for his latest egregiously obvious disguise. Comes a knock at the door; someone hands him a comic-strip anarchist’s bomb, sparking merrily away. Clouseau pitches it to the tailors with a mad howl. It detonates, destroying the entire store. Clouseau emerges with not a scratch, his wardrobe in smoking rags.
Autre temps, autre moers. Different times call forth different heroes. Conceive that Bond’s star rose throughout the Sixties. Although the sun continued setting over the British empire, the dollar was doing just fine, thank you very much, and all things seemed possible for the American imperium. One submits that Bond was essentially a Hollywood creation, Lalaland’s version of the omnipotential adolescent* – the kid who thinks he knows everything and can do anything.
Bond’s intellect and memory were prodigious for a man of mayhem. In a flash he could digest arcana about heraldry, the gold market, or laser weaponry. His reflexes were razor sharp, his courage unfaltering as he faced man-eating sharks or megalomanic madmen. He also shared the adolescent’s loopy blend of lofty idealism and rank narcissism, shifting dizzily between service to Queen and Country, and shameless self-indulgence with luscious babes, choice wines and baccarat.
Then came a cascando of assaults upon our nation’s most precious givens, including cheap gas: the Watergate scandal, the Viet Nam debacle, Nixon’s resignation and the downfall of the Holy Buck. It becomes more difficult to sustain belief in an sexy, omnipotent secret agent when E. Howard Hunt, supposedly one of the CIA’s best and brightest, is discovered skulking about the Watergate, disguised in a crimson fright wig. Bring on the clowns!
Et voila, Clouseau, the reverse of Bond’s medal. Clouseau, who affects a Bondish image, but whose omnipotent fantasies are consistently undone. Clouseau – who genuinely believes he knows everything – or the unrevealed will soon be illuminated by his consummate sleuthing. Yet it’s hilariously obvious that the man has the deductive powers of a gnat.
Like Bond, Clouseau is never at a loss for action. Bond grasps danger instantly and always does exactly the right thing with whatever means at hand to get out of a deadly jam. However, Clouseu is an impulse ridden flailer, an Harpo-like addict to the large muscle groups, strewing wreckage and ruin about him for the innocent and culpable alike.
Clouseau doesn’t lack courage, but it’s the foolhardy bravado of the two-year old who steps into a bustling thoroughfare, absolutely confident that his reality takes precedence over the traffic. Clouseau, too, usually prevails in the end, not through the exercise of intellect or karate; rather dumb luck, fate, karma, whatever.
Bond, who masters every hostile environment with consummate sang-froid, gives over to this stumbling boob, totally at the mercy of whatever perils he stumbles into – until dumb luck, fate, karma, whatever – prevails. However, Clouseau’s continuing survival is predicated on external caprice, sheer whims of fate, .Yet, in an ancient and great comic tradition he remains God’s fool, absurdly confident in the grandiose delusion of his omnipotence.
A note on Oedipal intimations. The potent, gentlemanly Bond betrays little personal competitiveness or will to power within Her Majesty’s Secret Service. He affects a rebellious posture, but in the crunch he remains absolutely obedient to the directives of his acerb chief, “M”. The applied analyst speculates that this “M” worship – which is quite clear in the novel – is founded on an Oedipal compromise. One notes that Bond is content to flirt, but never bed, Moneypenny, M’s gal Friday.**
Clouseau, on the other hand, is insatiably ambitious and fiercely competitive. His desire to supplant his boss, Dreyfus, as head of the Surete, has escalated with each Pink Panther movie. Meanwhile Dreyfus has mutated into an archetypal mad scientist like Dr. No, engaged in ever weirder schemes of world destruction in aid of eliminating his idiot ‘son’.)
Clouseau is utterly without Bond’s gentlemanly graces, a parvenu supreme. He fancies himself suave, magnetically attractive, while women regard him as a risible, gullible jackass.
T.S. Eliot wrote that:
Ambition comes when early force is spent
When all things are no longer possible…
The ever loyal, patriotic Bond, rather than act out Oedipal rivalry with M, projects unconscious patricidal intentions towards his surrogate father, “M”, upon the malignant foreign adversaries he dispatches so handily. Clouseau, on the other hand, is no devotee of Gallic gloire, and just as eager to dispatch Dreyfus as the latter is bent on slaughtering him.
In sum: Bond, a paragon of gentlemanly graces and selfless patriotism, a hero of unerring skill and exuberant sexiness, yields pride of place to Clouseau, hero manque/maudit – an inelegant Nixonian bumbler, well befitting this age of narcissistic entitlement and gross mismanagement in the halls of power.
*In the ‘omnipotential stage’ of late adolescence described by Eugene Pumpian-Mindlin in 1966, the youngster believes all doors are open vis-a-vis career, romance, so forth. Under this rubric, adolescence is deemed completed when the omnipotential stage is replaced by an appreciation of ordinary reality’s homely pleasures.
Which is yet another reason why we envious oldsters, having closed the door on our own omnipotential possibilities, are so easily irritated by the presumptuousness of youth.
** Of course my Oedipal spin on the ambivalent father-son relationship between Bond and M is utterly fanciful. While Moneypenny remained a given in the Bond universe, M was replaced by an acerb Judy Dench after Bernard Miles died; she herself has been superceded by yet another male M, played by Ralph Fiennes, in mar (2012).