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Sunday, 29 May 2016

Vale Burt Kwouk - A reminder that we need a Blake Edwards retrospective somewhere soon

Sellers and the late Burt Kwouk in Trail of the Pink Panther
The most accomplished directors of comedy. That's just a handful really. Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd from the silents and beyond, Lubitsch and Hawks, Capra, Billy Wilder - and then the mysterious and smooth Blake Edwards. Just about all that would fit in my Pantheon and nothing and nobody for half a century. Not that there haven't been triers - Jacques Tati, Richard Lester... This is all off the top of the head as I learn of the death five days ago of Burt Kwouk, legendary Kato, one of two great foils to Peter Sellers in that string of Pink Panther movies that Blake Edwards (mostly) made over a thirty year stretch from 1963 to 1993.

The anticipation was always electric. Sellers' Clouseau would return to his Paris flat where Kato would be lying in wait. Sometimes Clouseau anticipated the attack, sometimes he screamed that he wanted to call it off. Sometimes he would be surprised. Edwards had one of those uncanny knacks for being able to do endless variations on robust physical comedy. Those films were hilarious and part of the reason for the hilarity was Burt Kwouk's work.

I'm sure he was in other stuff but his memory will be long served by his Kato going up against Clouseau on maybe fifty occasions. A compilation of the encounters would not be out of place to honour the memory of some great comedy directed by a largely unsung master. It could form a nice intro to a long overdue retrospective of a fine body of work that ranged across the genres but kept returning, possibly for the economics of it all, to those Pink Panthers  and that rich menage-a-trois between Sellers, Kwouk and Herbert Lom that will live long in the memory. 


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