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"Murder by Death"


RMeingast
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Surprised no comments about this Neil Simon flick that aired Sunday night.

Watched it because I'm a Peter Sellers fan and because of the rest of the cast, especially Peter Falk.

Suppose TCM airing this film makes up for missing Falk's birthday recently.

 

One of Sellers' last films before his death in 1980, and a curiousity considering he did it between "Pink Panther" films. His character doesn't do much in "Murder by Death" but he does have a few funny one-liners...

One of final films of David Niven too...

Nice to see Elsa Lanchester in one of her last screen appreances and also nice to see Eileen Brennan, before her subsequent big success in "Private Benjamin."

And who remembers James Coco today? Nevermind talk about Fabian in the 1965 "Ten Little Indians" ('tho Coco was much more talented) in another thread.

BTW, film is a spoof of the Christie novel.

 

Peter Falk starred in a sequel, also by Neil Simon, in 1978 titled "The Cheap Detective":

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Cheap_Detective

 

If TCM ever has a day devoted to Peter Falk, "Murder by Death" and "The Cheap Detective" would be two great choices to include.

 

Murder_by_death_movie_poster.jpg

 

"New York Times" review by Vincent Canby below:

 

h1. Murder By Death (1976)

h1. Simon's Breezy 'Murder by Death'

By VINCENT CANBY

Published: June 24, 1976

The dinner party takes place far from any point of reliable reference, on a foggy night, inside a vast, gloomy old house where one shouldn't trust the wine, the chandeliers, the thunder outside, or the oil portraits, whose eyes tend to follow the action below. The butler is blind and the cook is not only deaf and unable to speak, she also cannot read, which makes the food scarce and communication with and between the domestic help impossible.

 

What's worse is that the host, an eccentric millionaire named Lionel Twain, is some kind of fiend. In the 1930's he was arrested for attempting to smuggle a truckload of rich white Americans into Mexico to pick melons.

 

 

The guests look familiar, Strangely. They include Sidney Wang, the famous Chinese detective and a member of the Catalina police, who starts sentences saying something on the order of "Treacherous fog, like mushrooms. . . ." There are also Sam Diamond, the tough Frisco private eye and his secretary-mistress, Tess; the famous Belgian detective, Milo Perrier, and his chauffeur-companion, Marcel; the tweedy English amateur sleuth, Miss Marbles, and Dick and Nora Charleston, who are elegant, tall and very thin, and who act as if they invented the dry martini.

 

 

The occasion is a murder, and the movie, "Murder by Death," is for people who never quite remember who killed Roger Ackroyd. Neil Simon remembers enough to have written one of his nicest, breeziest screenplays, a parody murder mystery that appears to be the cheerful confession of a man who, more often than he should, has sat up until all hours of the night reading to find out who did it, and who has then promptly forgotten.

 

 

"Murder by Death," which opened yesterday at the Baronet and other theaters, is Mr. Simon's fond send-up of the work of Agatha Christie, Dashiell Hammett and Earl Derr Biggers. By bringing Sam Spade into the comparatively genteel worlds of Hercule Poirot, Charlie Chan, Miss Marple and Nick and Nora Charles, Mr. Simon might appear to have mixed his genres with unforgivable lack of respect. Yet his creation, Sam Diamond, hilariously mugged by Peter Falk, is one of the principal joys of the film; he's the rude noise that shakes up the drawing room.

 

 

All of the performances are good, and if some seem better than others, it may simply be the material. James Coco is very, very funny as the somewhat prissy take-off on Hercule Poirot, his toupee and his eating habits. David Niven and Maggie Smith are marvelous as Dick and Dora Charleston, though they haven't enough to do, and Eileen Brennan is an inspired hybrid of Joan Blondell and Lauren Bacall as Sam Diamond's secretary-mistress. If Peter Sellers is not quite as funny as we expect, it may be because we've seen him do his Oriental bit before. It no longer surprises.

 

 

Alec Guinness is most welcome as the blind butler, but Nancy Walker isn't around long enough as the disadvantaged maid, though she almost brings down the house with one magnificent absolutely silent scream. Which leaves Truman Capote, which I suppose I can't because he plays the diabolical Lionel Twain. Mr. Capote possibly is acting, but it looks more as if he's giving us an over-rehearsed impersonation of himself as people see him on unrehearsed TV talk shows.

 

 

Considering the tone and manner of "Murder by Death," it would seem to be very much a Neil Simon work, but that may be to underestimate the contributions of Robert Moore, a talented theater director ("The Boys in the Band," "Promises, Promises") who is making his debut as a film director here. Whoever should get the credit, "Murder by Death" is as light and insubstantial as one could wish.

 

 

The film has been rated PG. Naughty language did it.

 

 

*MURDER BY DEATH,* directed by Robert Moore; screenplay by Neil Simon; produced by Ray Stark; music, David Grusin; director of photography, David M. Walsh; supervising film editor, Margaret Booth; editor, John F. Burnett; a Rastar production, distributed by Columbia Pictures. Running time: 94 minutes. At the Baronet Theater, Third Avenue near 59th Street; Little Carnegie Theater, 57th Street near Seventh Avenue; Art Theater, Eighth Street east of Fifth Avenue, and other Theaters. This film has been rated PG.

Tess Skeffington . . . . . Eileen Brannan

Lionel Twain . . . . . Truman Capote

Milo Perrier . . . . . James Coco

Sam Diamond . . . . . Peter Falk

Bensonmum . . . . . Alec Guinness

Jessica Marbles . . . . . Elsa Lanchester

Dick Charleston . . . . . David Niven

Sidney Wang . . . . . Peter Sellers

Dora Charleston . . . . . Maggie Smith

Yetta . . . . . Nancy Walker

Miss Withers . . . . . Estelle Winwood

Marcel . . . . . James Cromwell

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> {quote:title=SonOfUniversalHorror wrote:}{quote}Sort of...the movie and a deleted scene was mentioned here:

>

> http://forums.tcm.com/thread.jspa?threadID=166477&tstart=0

 

 

Yes, thanks, SOUH...

 

Wiki article on film states about deleted final scene that it was taken out due to actors feeling they'd be "upstaged" by Holmes and Watson characters... Wonder how much truth there is to that??

 

"An additional scene shows [sherlock Holmes|http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sherlock_Holmes|Sherlock Holmes] (Keith McConnell) and [Doctor Watson|http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doctor_Watson|Doctor Watson] (Richard Peel) arriving as the other guests are leaving.^[[4]|http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder_by_Death#cite_note-3]^ Author [Ron Haydock|http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ron_Haydock|Ron Haydock] states that an early draft of Neil Simon's script featured Holmes and Watson actually solving the mystery, but their roles were reduced to a [cameo appearance|http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cameo_appearance|Cameo appearance] and finally deleted as the lead actors felt they were being 'upstaged'.^[[5]|http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder_by_Death#cite_note-4]^"

 

Clore posted a YT link to the deleted final scene here:

 

 

*[Willie Wang|http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0621458/]*: [as they are about to leave Twain Manor] ... I don't get something, Pop: WAS there a murder, or WASN'T there?

*[sidney Wang|http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000634/]*: Yes: Killed good weekend. Drive, please.

 

Silly...

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Same here...there's definitely some "political incorrectness" in the film, but some of those moments are meant more to make fun of the bigotry and/or incorrectness rather than the stereotype itself. Like the scene where Sam Diamond makes a comment about the blind Bensonmum being able to "smell the Chinese guy" and Dick Charleston responds back with something like "that was pretty tacky, Diamond".

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> {quote:title=Filmgoddess wrote:}{quote}It's so "1970s." I love it. Cracks me up everytime. Some of it is tedious and I suppose some will find it politically incorrect (something I don't give a fudge about) but I think there are enough funny bits that it leaves you laughing. Plus it is great fun.

Yes, more silly than belly-laugh-out-loud funny and also politically incorrect with Sellers' portrayal of the Charlie Chan-like character.

But what classic film ISN'T politically incorrect today?? (Staying away from argument about what is a classic film. For this purpose I'll include it as a classic film.)

The portrayal of smoking, drinking, women, minorities, you name it, is antiquated and very unmodern in general. But that's the way she goes.

Sellers was getting toward the end of his career and life when this film was made, and what was acceptable when he was starting out in the late 1940s and achieving success by the 1950s and 60s was already passe by the time this film was made in 1976. In the "New York Times" review by Vincent Canby, the reviewer is none too impressed by Sellers in this film.

But it is what it is.

I sorta winced while watching Sellers but what can you do?

The film was interesting to me in that you saw so many older actors near the end of their careers:

Peter Sellers, David Niven, Elsa Lanchester, Estelle Winwood, and Alec Guinness (last comic role?)...

As a matter of fact, most of the cast was dead within ten years or so of the making of this film.

Anyway, I regard it as a curiousity and as a silly bit of fun...

 

Check out this view of Seller's performance in the book "Hollywood Goes Oriental: CaucAsian Performance in American Film" (Karla Rae Fuller, Wayne State Univ Press, September 30, 2010) on page 227:

 

"Even when restricted to comedic farce, yellowface performances such as Peter Sellers (as Charlie Chan) in "Murder by Death" (1976) and "The Fiendish Plot of Fu Manchu" (1980) as well as Jerry Lewis in "Hardly Working" (1980) provide a troubling means of ridicule through stock Oriental archetypes."

 

http://books.google.ca/books?id=incu8kvbRGIC&pg=PA87&lpg=PA87&dq=petersellersmurderbydeathhollywoodcaucasians&source=bl&ots=FfvIThxH8f&sig=h6WsmkRlrhxOvCIcU27_-GngOzI&hl=en&sa=X&ei=XJtgUMz4OcWK0QHIr4DYDw&ved=0CCQQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=peter%20sellers%20murder%20by%20death%20hollywood%20caucasians&f=false

 

Another review here:

 

http://www.the-filmreel.com/2011/01/27/murder-by-death-1976-film-reel-reviews/

 

Edited by: RMeingast on Sep 24, 2012 2:08 PM

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I like Truman Capote getting ticked off at how Charlie Chan talks. ....

 

Not my favorite comedy, but comedy is very much in the eye or ears of the beholder. Different strokes for different folks.....as far as a take off on legendary detectives of various kinds, it has a good cast of actors and hold its own. .....I can easily watch it, and if not side splitting funny to me, it is a nice movie escape for a few hours.

 

Edited by: WhyaDuck on Sep 24, 2012 2:19 PM

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> {quote:title=WhyaDuck wrote:}{quote}I like Truman Capote getting ticked off at how Charlie Chan talks. ....

Sidney Wang is the character.

 

Sidney Wang: What meaning of this, Mr. Twain?

Lionel Twain: I will tell you, Mr. Wang, if YOU can tell ME why a man who possesses one of the most brilliant minds of this century can't say his *prepositions *or *articles! *"What IS THE," Mr. Wang! "What IS THE meaning of this?"

Sidney Wang: That what I said! "What meaning of this?"

 

murder-by-death-capote.JPG

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> {quote:title=WhyaDuck wrote:}{quote}I like Truman Capote getting ticked off at how Charlie Chan talks. ....

>

> Not my favorite comedy, but comedy is very much in the eye or ears of the beholder. Different strokes for different folks.....as far as a take off on legendary detectives of various kinds, it has a good cast of actors and hold its own. .....I can easily watch it, and if not side splitting funny to me, it is a nice movie escape for a few hours.

>

>

> Edited by: WhyaDuck on Sep 24, 2012 2:19 PM

>

Yes, it`s fun to see Truman Capote in action...

 

 

 

and here correcting Sellers`grammar (naughty language alert):

 

 

 

Silly...

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For me, I don't think Sellers' work has aged particularly well. Like Danny Kaye, his humor is very much of the period and has dated very badly. Much of it is no longer watchable. The Panther movies are awful and all his ethnic stuff. Egads. Even make my skin crawl and I don't give too hoots about that stuff.

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Sellers himself detested the Panther sequels. Blake Edwards said in an interview years ago that when Sellers needed money, the two of them would make another Panther movie. Personally, I only like a couple of them...overall, I'm not a particular fan of those movies. The Sellers I like are his pre-70's movies...he's brilliant in DR STRANGELOVE, and his next-to-last role in BEING THERE is one he should have won an Oscar for.

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> {quote:title=Hibi wrote:}{quote}I only liked the first two (Panthers).......

I assume you mean *The Pink Panther* and *A Shot In The Dark* and not the sequels?

 

The one sequel which stands out is (I think) *The Pink Panther Strikes Again* ...that's where Clouseau has driven his superior, Dreyfus, insane, and Dreyfus becomes a villain and plots to destroy the world (and Clouseau along with it). Herbert Lom (Dreyfus) gets to spoof his Hammer film *Phantom of The Opera* ....it's hysterical.

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