Murder by Death (1976)
Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.
As penned by Neil Simon, this satire of movie mysteries is set in motion when several prominent detectives are invited to the mansion of the reclusive Lionel Twain (Truman Capote). In Ten Little Indians fashion, the gathered sleuths are locked into the forbidding mansion, and subject to various death-dealing devices. While struggling for their lives, the vainglorious gumshoes continue to try to one-up one another. Each character is broadly based on a famous literary detective: Sidney Wang (Peter Sellers) is an aphorism-spouting Charlie Chan clone: Dick and Dora Charleston (David Niven and Maggie Smith) are patterned on the protagonists of the Thin Man flicks; Milo Perrier (James Coco), a Hercule Poirot takeoff, stalks through the proceedings declaring "I'm a Belgie, not a Frenchie!"; Sam Diamond (Peter Falk) is Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe and Dashiell Hammett's Sam Spade rolled in one; and Jessica Marbles (Elsa Lanchester) is a dottier variation of Agatha Christie's Miss Marple. Best bit: a "conversation" between blind butler Jamessir Bensonmum (Alec Guinness) and deaf-mute maid Yetta (Nancy Walker). The fade-out gag of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson showing up late for Lionel Twain's party was edited from the theatrical version of Murder by Death, but was restored for TV. The film marked the big-screen directorial debut of Robert Moore, who'd previously directed several of Neil Simon's Broadway productions. Moore went on to direct another Simon spoof, The Cheap Detective (1978), before his untimely death. … More
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as Sam Diamond
as Tess Skeffington
as Dick Charleston
as Dora Charleston
as Lionel Twain
as Insp. Milo Perrier
as Insp. Sidney Wang
as Miss Jessica Marbles
as Yetta the Maid
as Miss Withers
as Marcel the chauffeur
as Willie Wang
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Critic Reviews for Murder by Death
Murder by Death is a very good silly-funny Neil Simon satirical comedy, with a super all-star cast cavorting as recognizable pulp fiction detectives gathered at the home of Truman Capote, wealthy hedonist fed up with contrived gumshoe plots.
Director Moore and writer Neil Simon seem to have no real affection for either the characters they plunder mercilessly for laughs, or the locked room puzzle they turn on its head. Introductions over, the film slides downhill.
This spoof of the great fictional-film detectives offers consistently funny scenes.
Audience Reviews for Murder by Death
If you know the historical touchstones from early 20th century crime fiction, this is a fantasticly funny film. Any how can you not LOVE Truman Capote?! Q: How do you stay looking so young? Answer: "A pure vegitable diet, 10 hours of sleep at night, and LOTS and LOTS of makeup."
Really really enjoyable. Perfect Sunday afternoon faire. And Maggie Smith is smokin hot. Oh Minerva McGonagall!
Sidney Wang: No pulse, no heartbeat. If condition does not change, this man is dead.
"You are cordially invited to dinner... and a murder!"
I really loved this stupid spoof of the murder mystery genre. Murder by Death is hilarious film that is pure fun from start to finish. All of the characters were funny, but the two I loved the most were Wang and Diamond. Wang is an Asian played by Peter Sellers. How is that not going to be hilarious? Diamond is played by Columbo himself, Peter Falk. Both of these actors and a great supporting cast featuring Maggie Smith, Truman Capote and James Cromwell make for one hell of an entertaining comedy.
The five best detectives are invited to a mansion where the owner, Lionel Twain promises them dinner and a murder. Each detective and their second are greeted by someone trying to kill them by making a piece of the building fall. Then they are shown to their rooms by a blind butler. And their meal will be cooked by a woman who can't speak or hear, and the butler doesn't know this because he can't see he note cards saying she can't speak. This is the type of humor you should be expecting throughout the whole film.
Murder by Death is perfectly paced and also has a perfect runtime. It knows, like all the good spoofs do, not to overstay its welcome. Comedy like this can only be funny for so long, and when Murder by Death ends it is still funny. This film combines slapstick humor and stereotype humor into the murder mystery plot with great results. There is very little that the characters say that isn't at least mildly amusing, and a great deal of the time, hilarious.
This is kind of a forgotten and under appreciated comedy from the 1970's. I would give it a recommendation on Seller's alone, but everything else about it is great too. The ending wasn't as funny as it should have been or as funny as Neil Simon probably thought it was, but overall I can't say enough about the film.
Sidney Wang: And you Mr. Charleston, did not approve of Mrs. Charleston dying her hair blonde?
Dick Charleston: What do you mean?
Sidney Wang: Mrs. Charleston's hair red. You have blond hairs on shoulder. This means she has dyed red hair blonde, then back again to red, or else you have been... So sorry, Wang is wrong.
Murder by Death Quotes
|Miss Jessica Marbles:||Hello, where is everyone?|
|Insp. Sidney Wang:||Room filled with empty people|
|Sam Diamond:||Stop that. Stop that, I said.|
|Dick Charleston:||What is it, Diamond?|
|Sam Diamond:||The nurse is giving my palm the finger, the dirty old broad.|
|Dora Charleston:||That's probably the cook...come in!|
|Dick Charleston:||Darling, the poor woman is stone deaf.|
|Dora Charleston:||I'm sorry, I forgot...COME IN!|
|Sam Diamond:||You're good, Charleston. You're not my kind of cop, but you're smart and you smell good.|
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