Monday 5 February 2018

Blind Spot: Murder By Death

Having lapsed pretty bad last year (still a few more to do) I've taken a different approach to how I will do these Blind Spot posts.

Murder by Death may seem like an odd choice as it may not be viewed as a typical classic. But for a murder mystery fan, this is an absolute delight right down to the hilarious DVD cover which features a very large picture of Peter Falk despite being an ensemble character film.

Neil Simon's Murder by Death features Truman Capote as a mysterious eccentric multi-millionaire who invites five of the most famous detectives to a 'murder and dinner' evening at his mansion in the middle of an eery forest. The detectives are tole that their reputatons are at stake when Twain tells them that someone will be murdered and they won't be able to solve the case. With a blind butler and a cook who is a deaf mute as the only servants in the house, as well as the distrust between the guests, strange things continue throughout the evening.

Very much like all murder mystery adaptations, the cast features a host of well known faces. Each taking on spoof version of the original characters, complete with a sidekick, exaggerations of their characteristics and how they deduce clues and observations. Peter Sellers is Sidney Wang, continuing the whitewashing of the original Charlie Chan, made famous in the 1930s-40s films. David Niven and Maggie Smith are delightfully cast as Dick and Dora Charleston, a parody of Nick and Nora Charles from Dashiell Hammet's Thin Man series. James Coco is the 'Belgie' Milo Perrier, an over the top parady of Agatha Christie's Poirot. Jessica Marbles, a parody of Christie's Miss Marples is played by Elsa Lanchester and finally, Peter Falk is Sam Diamond, paroding another Dashiell Hammett character, Sam Spade. With an added Alec Guinness as the blind butler, Jamessir Bensonmum.

The cast is superbly played straight faced and with a matter of fact attitude, the laughs are not over the top nor under sold. Sometimes the lines are so subtley brilliant, the humour very dry, that its tempting to wish this was on the stage rather than the screen, especially with all the technical jokes. Pointing out that the weather is just an effect, hinting at theatricals and the doorbell that makes a screaming sound being a quirk that is treated as something that is acceptable. These off the wall details are what make the film that extra bit amusing.

There is a deleted scene that apparently features Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watspn appear at the end and solve the case, which would have be amazing but was scrapped. Its amsuing to think that the greatest detective was cut out because the other detectives felt upstaged.

A comedy like this would be hard to come by in this age of toilet humour being more important that clever writing and actors being absorbed into their characters. A subtle comedy such as this would not be made and not just because of the Charlie Chan/Sidney Wang element. Appreciation for detective stories may seem like its at an all time boom but because there are SO many crime stories its difficult to sift through and find the gems. Thinking who would be the equivalent if this was written and made today, reimaginings of these characters would jump to mind.

An overlooked and not talked about enough gem of a comedy with witty and amsuing writing, I hope that others out there who appreciate detectives' stereotypical whodunnit tropes will watch or rewatch this film.

To find out how it all started, head over to The Matinee and to see what's happening now, check out Returning Videotapes who is the new host of the Blind Spot Series.