Classic Intel: Murder By Death - Online Review

'Giving Sidney Wang (Peter Sellers) an American son called Willie (Richard Narita) is a particular stroke of base level comic genius.'

Collecting together thinly disguised versions of the world's most famous literary sleuths for the purpose of a parody piss take, Robert Moore's 1976 Murder By Death still feels as playful as it did when I first watched it during my childhood. The success of Moore's film is something to do with tone: whilst destroying a raft of creations through their prominent clich├ęs, Moore manages to still be reverent. There's a respect to Murder By Death that today's parody farces - Scary Movie and similar ilk - could barely comprehend, let alone hope to attain.

Now present on Netflix, you do wonder if Murder By Death might be a little too gentle for its own good, in amongst more vicious parodies and sharper-tongued Comedies. The most cutting thing this has is a general sneer at the upper class nature of many of those present, delivered through working class hero Sam Diamond (Peter Falk) and some self-mockery by Dick Charleston (David Niven). 'Saved... only by the fact that I am extraordinarily well bred', Charleston claims at one point.

Whilst certainly not the most fun, there is an argument that Charleston and his wife Dora (Maggie Smith), both permanently with a spirit of some sort in hand, are the most successfully spearing portrayals here, though really you could create a winning diktat in favour of any of the assembled hand of detective Top Trumps. It is difficult to look past the casual racism of Peter Sellers' Sidney Wang - an extremely broad send-up of Charlie Chan - and the similar Gallic mocking of James Coco's Milo Perrier, but both do get the best laughs and lines from Neil Simon's script. Giving Wang an American son called Willie (Richard Narita) is a particular stroke of base level comic genius.

Simon's laughs though do not come quite as regularly as the Abrahams, Zucker and Zucker films of the 1980s but mentioning Murder By Death in the same breath as things like Airplane! should be enough to demonstrate to late comers that this is a Comedy of some repute, worth investigating. Its dip in jokes late on does let it down and there are some odd choices, as Simon goes a few steps too far in explaining a plot that didn't really need explaining. Watch too for a crazy bit of casting, the equivalent of which today would surely be someone like Aaron Sorkin turning up in the aforementioned Scary franchise. None other than the Truman Capote crops up here, in a prominent supporting role as the group's host Lionel Twain, looking every inch the non-actor his five credited film and TV roles suggest him to be.




Murder By Death was available to watch on Netflix.


By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.

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