Friday, September 10, 2010
"Someone just put deadly snake in room. Wake me when it come near bed."
1976's Murder By Death is a goofy, straightforward farce of some of the more notable detective characters from the 30s & 40s. Hardboiled private eye Sam Diamond (Peter Falk) and his assistant (Eileen Brennan), boozy socialites Dick & Dora Charleston (David Niven and Maggie smith), Chinese sleuth Sidney Wang (Peter Sellers), gluttonous Belgian Milo Perrier (James Coco) and his assistant Marcel (a young James Cromwell), and English governess Jessica Marbles (Elsa Lanchester from RMWC favorite The Bride Of Frankenstein) are all invited to a remote mansion for a dinner party hosted by blind butler Bensonmum (masterfully played by Alec Guinness) and hosted by the always eccentric Lionel Twain/Truman Capote (yes, THAT Truman Capote). Twain's challenge to them is to solve a dastardly murder mystery that he has come up with and he'll reward them with a hefty sum.
Beyond that, the plot just spirals further and further into absurdity and rapid fire dialogue that works well. Not all the jokes work (some end up being pretty juvenile considering the source material) but the cast is great and the jokes that DO work outnumber the duds considerably.
Directed by Robert Moore, there isn't a whole lot of fancy camera work, byt it serves the story well and allows the actors to run with their material. The script by Neil Simon is sharp, but by the end does get a little too bitter in its invective towards the characters being mocked. Additionally, you kind of have to know about (at least in broad strokes) who characters like Sam Spade, Nick & Nora Charles, Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot and Charlie Chan are for all of the jokes to work.
Still, the movie is a breezy, easygoing affair with a great cast and a lot of witty banter, which are all good things. Recommended.