Thursday, 17 May 2012

407: Gay Bar 8 - The Pink Panther Strikes Again

The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976) Directed by Blake Edwards
screenplay by Frank Waldman and Blake Edwards

Peter Sellers - Chief Inspector Clouseau
Michael Robbins - Jarvis
John Clive - Chuck

This fourth outing for Sellers as Inspector Clouseau has him investigating a kidnapping. Having visited the manor home of the kidnapped scientist, Clouseau follows the butler Anisley Jarvis when he leaves the manor. The butler arrives outside a Soho club - The Queen of Hearts – from the outside of which we can hear cabaret/ bar noises. The leather-jacketed butler arrives on motorcycle, parks his bike and enters.

It’s probably too brief for audiences watching at the time to make out, but on re-watching you can make out two men on the far right in overly fashionable clothes and somewhat model-like stances. This is subliminal scene-setting. As soon as Clouseau follows Jarvis in, we cut to a bar scene with men, colourfully dressed, neckerchiefs. In the foreshot one man lights a coloured cigarette (not very butch) for his younger companion, which in its chicken connations is either daring, provocative or thoughtless.

As Clouseau walks further into the club, a tall man walks past with a parrot on his shoulder, and the parrot says to Clouseau “Hello sailor”. As Clouseau as he walks around, men eye him up, preening, simpering, and making fluttering/gesturing towards him.

By this time we’ve seen enough of the club to see that its flamboyant décor is more appropriate to a tart’s boudoir décor, very heavy on the pink. Clouseau is then greeted by Chuck, the maitre’d who wears a fuschia velour suit with open nipple who directs him to table as the cabaret act is about to begin.

Chuck, who has only a couple of line, is played by John Clive, an English character actor who had a line in fey, camp, fussy, even prissy roles. He plays an explicitly gay character in “Carry On Abroad” (1972) and has an appearance in the comic satire of fashionable London “Smashing Time” (19767), films which I may or not got around to at some point.

Then to our and Clouseau’s surprise the cabaret singer appears – Jarvis in drag. Jarvis is a drag act in the Danny La rue style, in blazing evening gown, an appearance in stark contrast to his earlier professional brusque manner. Apparently according to the internet, and who should know better, the song he sings is actually performed by Julie Andrews, the director’s wife. The song starts with some heavy emphasises on the word “queen” (ha-ha-ha).

While he performs we get several shots of the attentive audience. At certain time they touch each other’s shoulders, but there are definitely no kisses. (The two burly men in the middle are assassins and not clientele).

At first Clouseau is puzzled trying to figure out what’s happening. The performance ends with Jarvis singing his torch song to Clouseau, to his barely masked discomfort.

While Clouseau interrogates Jarvis the tall man from earlier appears. However he is now revealed to in fact be a woman dressed as a man, Bruno who has a dubbed masculine voice. So some further gender-bending there.

Meanwhile there several middle-aged couples dancing in background, their hands held highly, prissily about each other. Because men dancing is automatically funny because it’s abnormal. Just wait until we get to the Police Academy films. Then Jervis drags Clouseau into dancing with him to Clouseau’s further embarrassment. A fight breaks out when kidnappers approach. It is at least a proper fight, - there are no sissy flapping hands beating ineffectually. These two guys get knocked on top of each other.

So a gay club, eh? Pink, lots and lots of pink. Drag queen too, yep. Fashions which although 70sish – collars and colours - are stereotypically flamboyant, okay.

When you think as to what the gay bar scene was turning into in the mid-70s, this is very much a straight person’s idea of a gay bar, denatured and sexless, yet still creepily flirtatious. In its weird way this is a rerun of the unexpected drag queen in a flamboyant bar scenario in Walter Huston’s 1970 “The Kremlin Letter”. This isn’t offensive, but it isn’t realistically typical at all, and at a time when gay men were looking for positive representations this fell far short, earning some criticism in the gay press.

It’s in contrast to this sort of representation, that you get the ostentatiously normal gay bar in the 1997 episode of “Maude”

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