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Murder by Death

Posted by admin | Posted in Movies | Posted on 29-09-2010


Product Description
An eccentric millionaire invites five world famous detectives to dinner and reveals to them that at midnight, someone in the dining room will be stabbAmazon.com
Neil Simon wrote this 1976 spoof in which virtually every famous fictional detective of the 1930s and 1940s congregate at the home of a mysterious fellow (Truman Capote) to try and solve the mystery of who’s trying to kill them all. Simon’s jokes are mostly obvious, and the film’s real appeal is th… More >>

Murder by Death

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Comments (5)

Murder By Death is one of those comedies I watch about once a year, as it always makes me laugh. Five famous detectives from the literary world are spoofed when they and their partners are invited to a mysterious mansion to witness a murder and a million dollars is offered to whomever can solve the case.

Written by Neil Simon (The Odd Couple, California Suite), this film has tons of great lines and truly wonderful performances by all the actors. There’s Dick and Dora Charleston played by David Niven and Maggie Smith, Inspector Milo Perrier (I’m not a Frenchie! I’m a Belgie!) played by James Coco and his secretary/chauffeur Marcel (James Cromwell), Miss Jessica Marbles (Elsa Manchester, probably most famous for her role as the Bride of Frankenstein) and her nurse, Inspector Sidney Wang (Peter Sellers) and his number 3 adopted Japanese son Willie, and finally Sam Diamond (Peter Falk) and his secretary Tess Skeffington (Eileen Brennan). Rounding out the cast is Alec Guinness, playing the blind butler, Truman Capote as the eccentric host Lionel Twain, and Nancy Walker as the deaf and mute maid, Yetta.

Peter Sellers has always been one of my favorite comedic actors, and he certainly shines here, but, in my opinion, Peter Falk edges him out here. His comic imitation of Humphrey Bogart’s Sam Spade is dead on. All the actors perform wonderfully, but watch for Alec Guinness as Jamesir Bensonmum, Lionel Twain’s blind Butler. Alec Guinness is best know for his serious roles, but he did a number of very funny comedies earlier in his career, including such films as The Lavender Hill Mob, The Man in the White Suit, and Kind Hearts and Coronets.

As the clues present themselves, the speculation flies. The pacing of the film is kept brisk throughout, with snappy dialogue and excellent characterizations as Simon truly keeps the viewer engaged with a great script. The direction by Robert Moore is wonderful, keeping things from getting confusing and allowing all members of this ensemble cast to enjoy enough screen time for us to appreciate the characters. Credit must also be given to the creators of the sets, as they add so much to the overall feel of the movie.

Not a lot in the way of extras, but the picture looks great and is available in both wide screen and full screen formats. I am going to end this review with one of my favorite lines from the movie, spoken by Peter Falk playing Sam Diamond “My hat’s off to the man with the shiv in his back. Except for the fact that he’s dead, he was no dope.”

Rating: 5 / 5

The movie is an excellent spoof of all the mystery detectives that hold out vital bits of information until the final pages….I’m not a huge Neil Simon fan but this one is just plain fun. It helps that I grew up reading Christie, watching the Thin Man movies, etc.

Potential purchasers should be aware, though, that the DVD release isn’t remastered that well, and in fact scenes are cut that are present in the video! Scenes that, in my opinion, are among the funniest in the movie.

Buy the DVD for an archival copy of a great movie if you like; but you may want to find a used VHS copy for the full movie experience.
Rating: 4 / 5

Hilarious beyond compare. That describes “Murder by Death.” Spoofing everyone from Miss Marple to Sam Spade, Charlie Chan to The Thin Man, and everyone in between, Neil Simon’s script (outdoing such Simon classics as “The Odd Couple”) is so far out there that one can only fall in love with this movie.

Being a big fan of mysteries, parodies, and all-star casts, this was the movie for me. The whole cast has a ball and hams it up to High Heaven. I love David Niven and Maggie Smith as Dick and Dora Charleston. Smith especially soars, giving an offhanded, almost nonchalant performance that leaves you rolling in the aisles. Elsa Lanchester is great as Jessica Marbles, and Estelle Winwood, in a very small role, gets a few good lines as her senile nurse. (Watch for their entrance!) James Coco is a comic riot as the always-hungry Monsieur Perrier. Peter Sellers is classic again as Inspector Wang (with every line funnier than the last). He has more proverbs than all the fortune cookies in Chinatown: “Treacherous road like-a fresh mushroom…” Peter Falk is insane as really-not-quite-there Sam Diamond, and Truman Capote gets in a fun cameo appearance as their puckish host, Lionel Twain. Smith, Coco, Sellers, and Falk shine. But two of the best performances are in rather small roles played by a pre-“Star Wars” Sir Alec Guiness (so don’t expect to hear the Force theme on his entrance) showing his comedic talent as the blind butler, Bensonmum, and “Rhoda” alum, the great Nancy Walker, as the deaf-and-dumb cook, Yetta. These two have some of the funniest scenes in film history, each playing marvelously off the other’s shortcomings. (Watch for when Bensonmun “fires” her–even holding the door open and pointing out–while she looks on, bewildered!)

The classic lines are everywhere. Falk: “I gotta go to da can. Sometimes I talk so much, I forget ta go.” Lanchester: “Pardon my language, but it scared the ca-ca out of me!” Smith: (in response) “You know, Dicky, I like her. I really like her.” Capote: (chastising Sellers’ broken English) “IT! IT! Use your damn pronouns!” Perrier’s driver: (About a chocolate bar with almonds instead of nuts) “The man at the store had no nuts.” Coco: (responding) “He was short?” Sellers: “Look! Voice come from cow on wall!” But the best line in the whole movie is when the butler has been gone for quite some time and not returned with their meal, and starving Coco, in detective mode, says, “The most important question is: Where is the butler? And why has he not returned…(Screaming dramatically)…WITH OUR DINNER! “

I was in a murder-mystery play last year in which one character was a sendup of Truman Capote; I loaned this video to the actor who had that part. And this week, I’m playing a role in Agatha Christie’s “Ten Little Indians,” in which Estelle Winwood (Ms. Marbles’ nurse in this film) originated the stage role of Emily Brent in 1944.

This is a really fun movie to watch on a Friday night with lots of friends–for even more fun, watch it back-to-back with “Clue!”
Rating: 5 / 5

I will never forget the day a college professor of mine bad-mouthed this movie. He hated anything with Neil Simon’s name on it. Well, I must say he seriously lost credibilty with me at that very moment… This is the classic spoof on Hollywood’s murder mysteries. “Clue” pales in comparison. Just look at the casts.

The performances are outstanding (indeed these are final performances for several of the cast members). And yes, I love Neil Simon’s over-the-top one-liners and sight gags, and this talented cast can pull them off. Truly this is a showcase of lively writing and brilliant comedic acting.

OK — now here’s my grumpiness (which I did not allow to lower my rating of the overall film) — what happened to the original cover art? Is Peter Falk really the star? It makes it look like a Columbo episode.

Second, the gag ending is missing. Isn’t this what DVD is all about? It should have at least been included as a “deleted scene.” Ah well, perhaps there will be a special edition later on down the road — get a commentary out of the remaining actors before they are all gone!
Rating: 5 / 5

The last time I saw this movie during it’s original theatrical run back in 1976 (3 or 4 times actually) when I was a kid. I thought it was the funniest movie I had ever seen. I revisited it on DVD recently for the first time since then and my enthusiasm for it has waned some. It’s still a very funny picture. Most of the jokes are hit or miss, but there’s enough there to justify a recommendation. Peter Falk and Peter Sellers are the standouts in a uniformly good comic cast. I certainly like this infinitely better than the more “serious” comedies Neil Simon wrote for Marsha Mason (“Goodbye Girl”, please!).
Rating: 3 / 5

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