MURDER BY DEATH
(director: Robert Moore; screenwriter: Neil Simon; cinematographer: David M. Walsh; editors: Margaret Booth, John F. Burnett; music: Dave Grusin; cast: Eileen Brennan (Tess Skeffington), Peter Sellers (Sidney Wang), Elsa Lanchester (Jessica Marbles), Maggie Smith (Dora Charleston), Truman Capote (Lionel Twain), James Coco (Milo Perrier ), Peter Falk (Sam Diamond), Alec Guinness (Bensonmum), David Niven (Dick Charleston), Nancy Walker (Yetta), Estelle Winwood (Miss Withers), James Cromwell (Marcel), Richard Narita (Willie Wang); Runtime: 94; MPAA Rating: PG; producer: Ray Stark; Sony Pictures Entertainment (Columbia); 1976)
“If it was funny, I missed it.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Robert Moore(“Cat On A Hot Tin Roof”/”The Cheap Detective”/”Chapter Two”) directs this not so clever spoof on fictional detective films. It’s written by Neil Simon. If it was funny, I missed it. It proves that even if you have an all-star ensemble cast, if your story stinks so will the film. Some of the legendary stars appearing are Truman Capote (a game-playing hedonist), Peter Falk (Sam Diamond, a Philip Marlowe-like detective), David Niven and Maggie Smiths (are the lead husband and wife characters from the Thin Man series), Peter Sellers (a Charlie Chan clone), Eileen Brennan (Falk’s secretary and mistress), James Coco (Hercule Poirot), Elsa Lanchester (Miss Marples-like detective), Nancy Walker (deaf-mute maid) and Alec Guiness (blind butler).
Truman Capote, in his acting debut, plays the eccentric wealthy electronics wizard Lionel Twain. He gathers together in his castle home for the weekend, the world’s greatest fictional sleuths and tests them to see who among them can solve a murder scheduled for midnight. When the invited guests are all in the dark castle, Twain imprisons them in a room he turns into a jail cell, with prison bars, and warns that one of them will be the murderer. It thereby follows a Ten Little Indians format.
The slight film is meant to be enjoyed as nonsensical entertainment. But the director and writer show no affection for the private detective genre, which in turn make it a tiresome comical film. Also detrimental, it seems more like a play than a movie.
REVIEWED ON 12/24/2015 GRADE: C+