Ato review “Murder by Death”

MURDER, DEATH, COMEDY, and I did mention MURDER.  Does any of that wet your appetite?  I know mine does, every time I watch this movie.  And it so happens to be the magic ingredients for this film review.  A great film written by the legendary Neil Simon is 1976’s “Murder by Death.”  Isn’t that a great title, I love that title.

“Murder by Death” is about five brilliant private eyes who are invited to a remote mansion for dinner and a murder.  Simple plot, very simple.  So what can possibly go wrong?  Well first off, you need an all-star cast.  So let’s put one together.  Peter Sellers who plays Sidney Wang, David Niven as Dick Charleston and a young Maggie Smith who plays his wife, Peter Falk who’s Det. Sam Diamond, James Coco who is Milo Perrier, Sir Alec Guinness who plays the blind butler Bensonmom, and James Cromwell in one of his first roles as Marcel, Milo Perrier’s Driver.

Wow, that is a lot of stars and there are few others in this mysteries of a comedy, but what makes the film even better is to have a true storyteller in it.  Truman Capote as Lionel Twain.  Lionel is the host of the evening and has one hell on an entrance.  Best entrance in the whole film.  Now, this is one of his only two film roles ever.  But he really does a great job playing this mysterious character.

Now what normally happens when you get great talent together and a great script?  Someone after watching it will say “I loved this movie but such-N-such stole the show.”  What I thought, which was great to me, I didn’t get that feeling from this movie.  You could say, Peter Sellers, or Alec Guinness, or even Peter Falk, but I truly felt that no one stole the show.  Everyone was brilliant, but I can say that Truman Capote’s entrance stole the scene, but then I’d be missing out on the excellence of the ending scene or the “naked butler” scene.

Whenever I watch this movie, I really feel like I was watching a play and not a movie.  It’s mainly shot wide and rarely uses close ups, except for those special occasions.  But due to the fact that they mainly use wide shots and you can see all the characters, it really questions you, “Well then who is the murderer, if I can see everyone.”

Neil Simon wrote a great script, which really pokes fun at literary detectives.  It goes from the obvious to the bizarre to funny and so on.  With peepholes in pictures, a talking moose head and funny dialog what’s there not to like.  What I also really liked was the conclusion of this film.  The way he pokes fun at how these detectives arrive at the solution.  But what I think Neil really has done is to say murder can be funny, if it’s done right.

Most of the movie takes place before the murder even happens.  A good potion of the film takes place in the dinning room.  A one room picture, what are we recreating “12 Angry Men,” but with a cast like this I guess you need to save money somewhere. So anyways, one thing that really pissed me off was that after the murder has taken place, we almost immediately go to the “who done it?” scene.  Now, I would have loved to see how these characters get to these conclusions, but the genius behind this movie is to poke fun at mystery novels and this movie very much does just that.

If you love a good, funny, who done it movie, I say “Murder by Death” is your ticket.  And even if it’s not your cup of tea, check out this movie for just the brilliance of the actors, the writing and clichés.

Here is the trailer for “Murder by Death”:

The following is an interview with Neil Simon, but just a warning, there may be some minor spoilers that could ruin some of the experience from watching the movie:

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