The whodunnit crime story has endured for as long as anyone can remember. There is something about the challenge of figuring out a mystery, as well as the morbid fascination with murder, that has a wide appeal.
As these became more commonplace, certain cliches and conventions began to emerge. One movie in particular combined many of these along with facsimiles of some familiar crime-solvers. This movie was 'Murder By Death.'
The eccentric Lionel Twain (Truman Capote) invites the greatest detectives to his mansion with the promise of one million dollars to whoever can solve a murder that is set to take place at midnight. This collection includes Sidney Wang (Peter Sellers), Dick and Dora (David Niven and Maggie Smith), Milo Perrier (James Coco), Sam Diamond (Peter Falk) and Jessica Marbles (Elsa Lanchester). These characters are meant to parody Charlie Chan, Nick and Nora Charles, Hercule Poirot, Sam Spade, and Miss Marple, respectively.
When the butler and Twain are both found dead, everybody springs into action, bringing their own set of skills to the table.
You can expect some sight gags and broad humor, but you should also expect a rapid-fire procession of one-liners. It was written by famed writer for the stage, Neil Simon, so a rare amount of proven talent went into that portion of the story. Even with this fact, some of the jokes are more low-brow and silly than you might expect. It is on a similar level to Seller's 'Pink Panther' movies crossed with 'Clue' in terms of tone.
With the exception of a few sight gags and effects, the production really does seem as though it could have come from the stage. Most of it takes place inside a creepy old house and the humor leans heavily on the actors' delivery.
The grand finale is intentionally convoluted and complicated. This was meant to prove a point but it drags on entirely too long. The twists might also might also make you wonder why you watched the first 80 minutes.
The performances are strong across the board (well, maybe Capote isn't a great actor...) but what is best is the characters themselves. If you recognize the figures being spoofed, it makes this even better.
Special features include: none.
'Murder By Death' is one of those comedies that is often forgotten despite an unbelievable pool of talent both on and off camera.
If you like classic cinematic and literary mysteries, then you should be able to appreciate this, as long as you don't mind your parodies being silly.
Rated PG 94 minutes 1976