Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, June 29, 2017


Truman Capote
MURDER BY DEATH (aka Neil Simon's Murder By Death/1976). Director: Robert Moore.

"As a man you are barely passable, but as a woman you are a dog." -- Milo Perrier summing up the situation. 

A mysterious man invites variations of Sam Spade, Charlie Chan, Nick and Nora Charles, Miss Marple. and Hercule Poirot to his home where he challenges them to solve a murder that will occur at midnight. The host is played by Truman Capote, and the detectives by James Coco (Milo Perrier); Peter Sellers (Sidney Wang); Elsa Lanchester (Jessica Marbles); David Niven and Maggie Smith (Dick and Dora Charleston); and Peter Falk (Sam Diamond). If there's one problem with this rather cute movie is that it's a complete farce, with no real plot (just a premise) and nothing much to hang the jokes on. As for the jokes, for every one that garners a laugh there's two that land with a thud. However, the performances are all wonderful, and there's expert support from Estelle Winwood (Miss Marbel's nurse, who now needs looking after herself); Richard Narita as Wang's son; Nancy Walker as the deaf-mute maid; James Cromwell [American Horror Story: Asylum] as Perrier's chauffeur; Eileen Brennan as Diamond's girlfriend; and especially Alec Guinness [The Swan] as the blind butler, Bensonmum. Truman Capote is no actor, but on an amateur level he isn't too terrible as Lionel Twain. On the other hand, Peter Sellers [The Wrong Box] is simply wonderful. Don't expect any coherency (even for a comedy) and you may have fun.

Verdict: Silly, hardly for all tastes, but beautifully-acted and zany. ***.


angelman66 said...

Ok, it's indeed very silly, but I think it's brilliantly done, and I love that Neil Simon steps out fo his usual New York/Jewish milieu to pay comic tribute to the great detective stories. I think it's funny as hell, and I love the roundup of actors, a motley crew that seem to have great chemistry together. Standouts--Maggie Smith as "Dora" and Peter Sellers as "Sidney Wang"--Alec Guiness and Nancy Walker...of course, Peter Falk and Eileen Brennan...oh, the hell with it, they're all great.
I have this on DVD and now am going to watch it again this weekend, thanks to you, Bill!!

William said...

Have fun with it! And consider the follow up "The Cheap Detective,"also by Simon and starring Falk) -- and Steve Martin's "Dead Men Wear No Plaid"