Good God, only my SECOND film review!
And this one’s a whole universe away from the beautiful fantasy of Spirited Away. Instead, this is possibly the silliest film in the whole world, and certainly the silliest film I’ve ever seen.
But I use the phrase ‘silly’ in endearing terms, because I really do hold this film close to my heart. For starters, its not groundbreaking, not a masterpiece, not a defining piece of cult cinema, or any cinema in general. Its a spoof murder-mystery, as if you hadn’t already guessed from the title.
It follows the antics of five famous detectives as they are invited to ‘a dinner and a murder’. They must solve the crime placed before them by Lionel Twain or else Twain will have managed to outsmart them all, coupled with a million dollars thrown into the bargain for the winning detective.
Throughout the film, bad puns, implausible traps, self-conflicting clues and an overall head-achingly confusing story make for compelling viewing. Indeed, the mystery itself is so mind-bendingly odd that the penultimate line of the film is ‘was there a murder or wasn’t there?’ I myself am getting a thumping feeling in my head just trying to explain the film without spoiling it for anyone who hasn’t seen it.
But its still such a lovely little film. Directed by the little-known Robert Moore and written by playwright-wizard Neil Simon, the film boasts a superbly chosen cast who play out their parodies to the full, whilst retaining a feeling of heart-warming homage. Actors include Peter Sellers, Maggie Smith, Peter Faulk, David Niven, author Truman Caopte, and Alex Guinness. Forget Lawrence of Arabia and Star Wars, the butler in Murder by Death is his greatest role.
Many people have that particular film that they watch when they are stuck in bed with a cold, or have nothing to do on a rainy day, or choose to stay in on a chilly winter evening, or are feeling homesick, or missing a loved one and need something to ease their discomfort. For me, Murder by Death is this film. Its billed as a parody, but its equally a homage to both engaging detective fiction and the cast-driven feature length epic.
Very rarely do so many elements come together so well and yet so stupidly as in Murder by Death. And very rarely does a film like Murder by Death sooth that cold, wash away that rain, warm that evening up, bring that home back to you, or make you snuggle up on the sofa as if your loved one were there with you.