Thursday, June 28, 2007

Murder by Death

Murder by Death; crime comedy, USA, 1976; D: Robert Moore, S: David Niven, Peter Sellers, Peter Falk, James Coco, Eileen Brennan, Alec Guinness, Truman Capote, James Cromwell, Maggie Smith

Millionaire Twain makes an unusual offer to five most famous detectives in the world - Sam Diamond, old Miss Marbles, fat Belgian gourmet Milo Perrier, Dick and Dora Charleston and inspector Wong - to come to his castle and solve a murder that is going to happen. The one who solves the case will get a million $. When they all arrive in the middle of the storm, actually two murders occur: the victims are Twain himself and his butler. Little by little, it is discovered all of the detectives were in some kind of a connection to him and that they had a motive, and when they all survive assassination attempts they all have a different explanation when they find Twin - alive. But none of them was right so they leave without the reward. Later on, Twain takes his mask off - he was actually the cook.

This fresh comedy from the first time director Robert Moore, otherwise an actor, shines with almost a friendly tone of comradeship. All of the 5 detectives from the story - Sam Diamond, Miss Marbles, Inspector Wong, Milo Perrier and Dick and Dora Charleston - are actually parodies of famous fictional detectives from movies or literature - Sam Spade, Miss Marple, Charlie Chan, Hercule Poirot and Nick and Nora Charles from the "Thin Man" series - and that fantastic premise where the crime solvers meet where they are and are not at the same time themselves, acting in their charismatic persona, is very fun and the film gains most of its energy from those interactions. Especially good is Peter Falk as the cynical Sam Spade, but Peter Sellers is also in great shape as Inspector Wong. The whole film is childishly bung up, excellently intervened, perfectly set in an isolated castle in the middle of the storm and rarely unfunny, but towards the end also slightly illogical, silly, trashy and unnecessary in plot points and some underdeveloped characters. Among the golden scenes is the one where Wong feels the pulse of the corpse and says: "This man doesn't have a pulse. If his state doesn't change, he is dead!"; when Sam Spade reveals he is actually actor Peter Falk; when the whole room rotates and towards the end where Wong's totally confused adoptive son asks: "I don't understand. Was somebody killed in the end or not?" upon which Wong replies: "Yes. A nice weekend. Now shut up and drive!" For some reason, "Murder by Death" was never regarded as significant, but it's nostalgic spoof of Agatha Christie's cliches is a little treat.


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