Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Murder by Death (1976)

You won’t see many comedic entries here at the coffin, although many of the movies I love are pretty funny in one way or another…mostly by accident, but Murder by Death is certainly a film that deserves to be shared at the ole blog.

I first saw this on television back when I was a kid. I was five years old when it debuted in the theaters so I was probably around seven or eight when this hit the t.v. screen. Even then at my young age I appreciated the humor that was certainly geared at adults. Between Peter Sellers brilliant portrayal of Asian crime sleuth Sidney Wang and Peter Falk’s Sam Diamond (a rendering of his own Columbo character), I was in stiches to say the least. Still to this day these two characters keep me howling throughout the 90-some minute run time. 
Sellers....totally sells the role.

Now let me back up a moment. For those who haven’t seen this film, Murder by Death is a 70’s send up of mystery/old dark house films. The film boasts an incredible ensemble of actors who were well into their careers and played their roles with their tongues firmly planted in their cheeks. How can you pass up a cast that includes Truman Capote, David Niven, Peter Sellers, Estelle Winwood, Alec Guinness(pre Obi Wan), Peter Faulk, James Coco, Maggie Smith, Nancy Walker and Elsa Lanchester (The Bride herself!!)? Now throw in a young James Cromwell (American Horror Story), Eileen Brennan and Richard Narita and all is right in the comedic realm.
Quite possibly my favorite line from the film.

The film centers on a gathering of famous detectives brought together by a wealthy eccentric, Lionel Twain (Truman Capote). They all arrive at a spooky mansion complete with deteriorating bridge leading to the property, a blind butler (Alec Guinness), screaming doorbell (thanks to a sample Fay Wray voice over), falling gargoyle statues and rooms that appear to rotate and move within the walls of the mansion.
Falk, Niven and Smith (pre Harry Potter Smith of course)
Their reason for being there is that there will be a dinner and a murder. Someone will die at the stroke of midnight and they are to solve the mystery.  The winner will receive 1 million dollars (insert best Dr. Evil impression here). That’s a lot of dough for 1976…..heck that’s a lot of dough for 2013 in my book!

The moose speaks!
Lionel Twain reveals himself as the host of the event much to everyone’s surprise. He also reveals himself to be murdered at the stroke of midnight also much to their surprise. At this point the butler winds up dead as well and the deaf/mute/non English speaking cook goes missing. A majority of the film takes place in the dining room and the kitchen as the sleuths go back and forth in groups trying to figure out just what is going on. With each visit to the kitchen things get sillier. 
Sam Diamond...hard nose P.I... doesn't even trust a blind butler.

At first visit they find the butler dead, slumped over the kitchen table sitting in a chair. Upon the next visit he is naked and upon a third visit his clothes are present but no body inside them! As each group leaves and comes back they discover that apparently the dining room is rigged to possibly revolve and present an empty duplicate room for those trying to gain entry after leaving. So much of the comedy involves the actors reactions and psychical acting. However Lionel Twain does call out Sidney Wang on his broken English which is pretty hysterical. 
The moose has something to say about pronouns!

The detectives finally decide to retire for the evening where they are each faced with a life or death situation: A deadly snake let loose in the Wang bedroom, A deadly scorpion let loose on the bed of Dick and Dora Charleston (Niven and Smith), descending ceiling crush in the room of Milo Perrier and his chauffeur Marcel (Coco and Cromwell), a time bomb for Sam Diamond and Tess Skeffington (Falk and Brennan) and last but not least; noxious gas in the room of Jessica Marbles and her invalid nurse Mrs. Withers (Lanchester and Winwood). Do they die? Of course not that would make a sucky ending! They all survive the traps and one by one confront the murder who turns out to be the butler of all people…..or is it? Only one way to find out!

I shall skip the obligatory trailer and leave you with this collection of funny moments and lines from Murder by Death!!

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