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Martin on the Panther prowl

Steve Martin is to take over the trenchcoat of the hapless Inspector Jacques Clouseau, the accident-prone Parisian policeman created by Peter Sellers in the Pink Panther films.

MGM is making The Birth of the Pink Panther, a return to the original 1964 film, in which the detective embarks on the trail of a slippery jewel thief.

The studio had been working on the project for three years, with Kevin Spacey initially mentioned for the part.

Mike Myers of the Austin Powers series was then considered, along with the Rush Hour actor Chris Tucker.

Since the 1980 death of Sellers, the role has been played by Sir Roger Moore in The Curse of the Pink Panther and Alan Arkin in Inspector Clouseau, with Roberto Benigni playing the inspector’s equally inept offspring, Jacques Clouseau Jnr, in Son of the Pink Panther.

As one of Hollywood’s leading performers, Martin is seen as a perfect choice to extend the character of Clouseau, played by Sellers in so many guises, with the incomp- arable Kato (Burt Kwouk) and angst-ridden Inspector Dreyfus (Herbert Lom).

Martin, renowned for Planes, Trains and Automobiles with the late John Candy, and Roxanne, a potentially silly but ultimately compelling update of Cyrano de Bergerac, is about to return to the screen with Cheaper By The Dozen, a re-make of a 1950 comedy.

The Czech-born Ivan Reitman, who is to produce and direct the new film, made John Belushi a star in National Lampoon’s Animal House as well as elevating the career of Bill Murray in Meatballs.

His biggest box office hits include Ghostbusters with Dan Ackroyd. His script has the sleuth assigned to solve the murder of the French soccer coach, while investigating the disappearance of a gem, which, when held to the light, bears the image of a panther.

An Australian, Geoffrey Rush, is playing the title role in a new film, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, as a troubled genius unable to cope with the pressures of fame.

The actor, returning to Melbourne after shooting the movie in Britain, described the experience as the “scariest and most challenging” of his career.

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