Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Murder by Death: Review

Murder by Death, written by Henry (H. R. F.) Keating, is based on the original screenplay by Neil Simon. For those who have seen this mystery comedy film which stars Eileen Brennan, Truman Capote, James Coco, Peter Falk, Alec Guinness, Elsa Lanchester, David Niven, Maggie Smith, Nancy Walker, and Estelle Winwood, there are a few surprises in store.



I'm not sure if Keating was working with an earlier draft of the screenplay or if there were changes made on the spot when filming was done, but there is a definite difference in the ending as filmed and as it appears in the book And when checking a few things on Wikipedia, I was reminded that the televised version (but apparently not the theatrical release) used to have an added scene with Holmes and Watson arriving as the other Great Detectives are leaving. I had forgotten all about that...but do remember that ending from the very first time I saw it. There are also some added exchanges between Twain and his butler to enhance the fun.



Just as a reminder (or a teaser for those who have never seen this campy spoof of the country house murder mystery), Lionel Twain, mystery story aficionado and the 17th richest man in the world, has become disgusted with the tricks and cheats and unbelievable solutions that he has found in the stories based on the "real" cases of the Greatest Detectives on earth. He invites five of them--with their spouses, sidekicks, what-have-yous--to a "dinner and murder" where he challenges them to solve a murder of his own devising. If any of them reach the correct conclusion, he will give that detective a million dollars. If none of them solve the murder, then Twain will, by default, take his (ahem) rightful place as the Greatest Detective. What follows is a fun send-up of a number of familiar sleuths and some of their most famous plots, from Poirot and Miss Marple to Charlie Chan and Sam Spade, as well as Nick and Nora Charles.

The book is a quick read and makes for a nice jaunt down memory lane for those who either saw the movie in the theater or (like me) who grew up watching it on television. Clearly intended as parody, there is no effort on the part of Simon and/or Keating to make this a fair play mystery, but it's pretty obvious who culprit is meant to be. Read it for the humor and to recognize the various standard mystery tropes. Watch the film for some good in-your-face comedy. ★★

This counts as my first entry for Rich's Crimes of the Century feature for September. This month is focused on crime fiction from 1976. Got mysteries from 1976 that you can read and review? Come join us!

10 comments:

Peggy Ann said...

Bev, I LOVED this movie! Will look for the book too.

pastoffences said...

Thanks Bev, first 1976 review to arrive. I dimly remember seeing this film as a kid.

fredamans said...

I've seen the film, But not read the book. Sounds just as good. Great review!

Bev Hankins said...

Peggy, Rich, and Freda...found this book in the Mule Trading Post antique store along Route 66 in Missouri. Having loved the film, I just had to grab the book and see if there were any differences.

John said...

I saw the movie in the theater with my brother and our friends back in the 1970s. I enjoyed it for the most part. Nancy Walker as the mute maid who silently screams her head off each time she finds a dead body was one of the better running gags. But man oh man the one thing I couldn't stand about it: Truman Capote! He may have been genius casting for the megalomaniac Lionel Twain but he can't act his way out of a paper bag.

Bev Hankins said...

Well, yes, John, Capote is no actor. But I do think he works as Twain.

DesLily said...

absolutely one of my all time favorite movies!!!

Bev Hankins said...

DesLily: Yes! this one is so much fun.

Masanobu said...

I had never heard of this movie, but I'll try to find it and watch it because it sounds awesome!

Bev Hankins said...

Masanobu: It is a wonderful comedy!