Murder By Death (1976)
Directed by Robert Moore & Written by Neil Simon
Starring: Truman Capote, Alec Guinness, Peter Falk, David Niven, Peter Sellers, Maggie Smith, James Coco, Eileen Brennan, Elsa Lanchester, Nancy Walker, Estelle Winwood
Plot Synopsis: (via IMDB)
Five famous literary detective characters and their sidekicks are invited to a bizarre mansion to solve an even stranger mystery.
Is this the first Neil Simon movie I’ve ever seen in my life?? I think it is! First of all, can I just say that I have no idea when I watched this & it’s stressing me out? Whenever I finish watching a movie, I immediately add it to my current year’s page on here. I forgot to add this one! I just realized when I decided it was time to review it. I’ve added it to my 2015 page but I’m thinking it may have been late 2014. Oh, the drama!! 😉 Now that I’ve murdered you all by boredom, I’ll talk about what I remember of this movie all these days?, months?, years? later. I’m catching up now as I don’t really get to go to any current films over the summers. I need to go to a movie soon!!!
I’d never even heard of this movie until several years ago when someone mentioned it was a favorite of theirs. I kept that in mind so was happy when it appeared on UK Netflix. I’m funny about “comedy” – there are very few that I like. I’d rather watch a “proper” movie like sci-fi, fantasy, action, drama… I mean, no movie will ever be as funny as The Princess Bride so I kind of can’t be bothered to watch many comedies. Oh yeah – Billy Crystal! HE’S funny! City Slickers! Monsters, Inc! Billy makes me laugh! Why do we have to suffer with shit like We’re The Millers nowadays? And why did I even watch that? Maybe I need to explore some older stuff like Murder By Death. Because Murder By Death is… funny! It’s not “Billy Crystal funny” & Peter Sellers is a somewhat annoying distraction but it’s pretty damn funny overall. The surprising thing was that the most serious acTOR, Alec Guinness, was hilarious as the blind butler! I think Guinness & Peter Falk (Princess Bride connection!) were my favorite things about this. Oh! And tiny Nancy Walker as the deaf-mute cook! She was awesome. Her scenes with Guinness’ blind butler were a riot. Is that politically incorrect? Well, if you think it is you’ll want to fast-forward through every scene with Peter Sellers as an Asian detective based on Charlie Chan. Oh boy! More about that later…
So, this movie is a spoof on famous detective novels/movies. Most of the characters are obvious but I did have to look them up. I’ve never read a murder mystery but I’ve always thought about checking out some of Agatha Christie’s novels. I wish I had a little experience with this genre as I probably would have appreciated the comedy a bit more. Well, I did love Murder She Wrote – Angela Lansbury kicks ass! 😉 From Wikipedia, these are the characters who those in Murder By Death are based on:
- Inspector Sidney Wang (Peter Sellers) is based on Earl Derr Biggers’ Chinese police detective Charlie Chan.
- Dick and Dora Charleston (David Niven and Maggie Smith) are polished, sophisticated society types modeled on Dashiell Hammett’s characters Nick and Nora Charles from the Thin Man film series.
- Milo Perrier (James Coco) is a take on Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot.
- Sam Diamond (Peter Falk) parodies another Dashiell Hammett character, The Maltese Falcon’s hard boiled Sam Spade.
- Jessica Marbles (Elsa Lanchester) parodies Christie’s Miss Marple.
These famous characters are invited for the weekend to the mansion of a mysterious millionaire, played by the intriguing Truman Capote. He claims that there will be a murder to be solved and that the winner will receive one million dollars.
Blah blah blah, hijinks ensue! Some of the jokes were totally silly but that’s the kind of thing I like. I liked Guinness being named Jamesir Bensonmum just so there could be a silly exchange with a couple of guests (David Niven & Maggie Smith if I remember correctly). Speaking of Niven, he’s been in tons but the only other thing I’ve seen him in is The Pink Panther with Sellers. I like him – I’d have to say that I prefer him to Sellers with his over-the-top comedy. Anyway, as I mentioned, Sellers plays an Asian detective here based on Charlie Chan. I don’t know anything about the character of Chan so had to look into this but it does appear that this performance is a send-up of the fact that Chan was so often played by white actors. In this context it makes sense & makes it not as bad as Mickey Rooney in Breakfast At Tiffany’s (Truman Capote connection!) but his character may not sit right with some people who watch this movie today. Which is kind of a shame as it’s otherwise quite an enjoyable film.
I enjoyed Murder By Death quite a bit but, like the movie, I’m from an older generation. The comedy probably won’t work on a younger audience and may be seen as too politically incorrect at times. If it sounds like your kind of comedy & you’re a fan of the very impressive cast, I’d definitely recommend this if you’ve not seen it.
My Rating: 7/10