Murder by Death is a frenetic combination of mystery-comedy and parody of detective books and movies in the whodunit genre. It can also be said that it is a nonsense with a strong theatrical tone and to this day a cult film.
The film invites us to solve a mystery alongside recognizable detective figures based on other characters. We will see Hercule Poirot, Sam Spade, Nick and Nora Charles, Miss Marple and Charlie Chan, but this time their names are different.
They travel at night, in pairs, in the middle of the fog, and make verbal exchanges with their respective companions, which helps to know them a little better, and relate them to their literary and cinematic references. Just arriving at the mansion a gargoyle trap almost crushes them, the doorbell plays human screams.
David Niven and Maggie Smith play Dick and Dora Charleston (Nick and Nora Charles who appear for the first time on screen in 1934 in the film The Thin Man played by William Powell and Mirna Loy), Peter Sellers plays Inspector Sidney Wang (Charlie Chan whose first film appearance dates back to 1926 in the now disappeared film The House Without a Key), Peter Falk is Sam Diamond (Sam Spade whose first film appearance dates back to 1931 in the first version of The Maltese Falcon), James Coco is Inspector Milo Perrier (Hercule Poirot first appears in 1931 in the English film Alibi) and Elsa Lanchester is Jessica Marbles (Miss Marple who first appears in 1961 in the film Murder She Said).
Dashiell Hammett (famous American writer of crime novels) is the literary creator of Nick and Nora Charles and Sam Spade. Agatha Christie, a writer specialized in the detective genre, is the creator of Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. Earl Derr Biggers was the author of detective and detective novels and the creator of Charlie Chan.
With this background, it goes without saying that the film is a permanent homage to the genre with first-rate artists.
There is a blind butler named Jamesieur Bensondame played masterfully by Alec Guinness, a deaf-mute cook named Yetta (played by Nancy Walker).
Among the companions of the group of detectives are: Marcel Casette assistant to Milo Perrier (a young James Cromwell), Tess Skeffington the secretary and lover of Sam Diamond (played by Eileen Brennan), Mademoiselle Withers (Stelle Winwood) and Willie Wang the adopted Japanese son of Sidney Wang (Richard Narita).
These detectives are invited by Lionel Twain, (an eccentric rich man played by the writer Truman Capote), who proposes a mystery to these fantastic detectives: after dinner, someone at the table will be murdered by a person who is in the dining room at that very moment. Twain wants to highlight the talent and ingenuity of the sleuths. In addition, the one who is able to solve it will win a prize of one million dollars, the film rights and those of the novel.
The dialogues of the film are impressive, crazy and very witty, and the events happen very quickly. The setting of the film is very well done with gloomy decorative elements.
The protagonists show frivolous lives, hidden adulteries, homosexuality concealed with the tough guy pose, loneliness, eccentricity, repressed desires, stinginess.
Neil Simon writes an amusing play, directed by Robert Moore and released in 1976, here the stereotypes and clichés of the detective genre are multiplied. fog, a bridge that could collapse, the telephone line cut, rain, the creaking door, wind, lightning and thunder storms, very suspicious accidents, a butler, the reputation of the host, coupled with the mysterious death of his wife years ago and his room that has not been touched since, poison, spying from another room, a reindeer that looks from the wall to the guests, interchangeable rooms, among other things.
There are not one, but two corpses, that of the host and that of the butler, this triggers each detective to begin to enhance their investigations, to discover that each of them has a reason to murder the host.
Failing to reach an agreement, they go to sleep and are victims of various assassination attempts: with scorpions, poisonous gases, snakes and bombs. They escape unharmed from these attacks.
At the same time, the butler, who was not dead and is not blind, eliminates them from a list. Subsequently, each one claims the million dollars, believing that they have found the true solution to the murder, but they are all mistaken, since the butler is really Lionel Twain. When none of them solve the case, they are invited to leave the mansion. But the deaf and dumb cook has a surprise in store for us at the end of the film.
Murder by Death is a highly recommended film if we want to have a good time of comedy accompanied by several mysteries. We attend an eventful dinner full of amazing incidents, in which practically no bite to eat in a long night full of hypotheses, strange revelations and manifestations of all kinds, an intriguing evening, with more than one surprise.
Alec Guinnes' scenes as the blind butler are very funny:
In my opinion, the 1985 film Clue and the 2019 film Knives Out took elements from Murder by Death:
The illustrations in the opening credits of the movie belong to Charles Addams, the creator of The Addams Family. Dave Grusin composed the soundtrack for the film.
This is my entry in the initiative Cine TV Contest #24 - Favorite Mystery Movie Link Here.
Thank you for appreciating the publication and good luck to all participants.