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Murder by Death (1976)

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Five famous literary detective characters and their sidekicks are invited to a bizarre mansion to solve an even stranger mystery.

Director:

Robert Moore

Writer:

Neil Simon
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4,085 ( 1,667)
Nominated for 1 Golden Globe. Another 1 nomination. See more awards »

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Cast

Complete credited cast:
Eileen Brennan ... Tess Skeffington
Truman Capote ... Lionel Twain
James Coco ... Milo Perrier
Peter Falk ... Sam Diamond
Alec Guinness ... Bensonmum
Elsa Lanchester ... Jessica Marbles
David Niven ... Dick Charleston
Peter Sellers ... Sidney Wang
Maggie Smith ... Dora Charleston
Nancy Walker ... Maid
Estelle Winwood ... Nurse
James Cromwell ... Marcel
Richard Narita ... Willie Wang
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Storyline

Despite not knowing him, the world's most famous detectives can't pass up the offer of a "dinner and murder" invitation from wealthy Lionel Twain. Each has no idea until their arrival at Two Two Twain who else will be in attendance. Those detectives are: amateur sleuths and New York City socialites Dick and Dora Charleston, accompanied by their pet terrier, Myron; Belgian detective Monsieur Milo Perrier, accompanied by his chauffeur, Marcel; Shanghainese Inspector Sidney Wang, accompanied by his Japanese adopted son, Willie Wang; frumpish Brit Miss Jessica Marbles, accompanied by her invalid nurse, Miss Withers; and San Francisco gumshoe Sam Diamond, accompanied by his femme fatale sidekick, Tess Skeffington. The dinner part of the invitation runs into problems due to the non-communication between Twain's blind butler, Jamesir Bensonmum, and Twain's new deaf-mute and non-Anglophone cook, Yetta. On the murder side, the guests initially believe Twain will try to kill each of them. ... Written by Huggo

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Taglines:

By the time the world's greatest detectives figure out whodunnit... you could die laughing! See more »


Certificate:

PG | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

23 June 1976 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Neil Simon's Murder by Death See more »

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Box Office

Gross USA:

$32,511,047, 31 December 1976

Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

$33,453,202
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Mono

Color:

Color (Metrocolor)

Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Phil Silvers had a small role, but his scenes were deleted in the final release print. See more »

Goofs

At one point in the dining room Milo Perrier is referred to as Marcel Perrier. Marcel is Milo Perrier's chauffer. See more »

Quotes

Sidney Wang: Answer simple, but question very hard.
See more »

Crazy Credits

As the opening credits begin, a pair of black-gloved hands come into frame to unlock and open a footlocker containing the cardboard cutouts of the characters. These characters are displayed with their respective name credit. As the closing credits end, the same pair of black-gloved hands come into frame to close and lock the footlocker. See more »

Alternate Versions

The original ABC Network broadcast of the film contained four additional scenes not found in the theatrical or DVD version. 1. Jessica Marbles' taxi driver (played by Peter Sellers) requests a large fare. 2. Dick and Dora Charleston narrowly avoid running over Tess Skeffington, who is walking back to Sam Diamond's car from a service station because she and Sam ran out of gas. Satisfied that Tess is all right, the Charlestons simply drive off, leaving her there. 3. When Willie Wang covers up the body of Twain, he finds a note in Twain's hand and smugly announces this to the others. 4. As the detectives drive away from Twain's house at the end of the film Inspector Wang and Willie pass another car carrying Sherlock Holmes (Keith McConnell) and Dr. Watson (Richard Peel) heading towards the Twain home. When Willie asks his father "Why didn't you warn them?" Wang replies "Let idiots find out for themselves." See more »

Connections

Spoofs To Have and Have Not (1944) See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

 
What A Hoot
19 August 2006 | by LechuguillaSee all my reviews

An all-star cast, superb dialogue, effective lighting and editing, great production design, and interesting costumes rev up the technical quality of this cinematic spoof of literary whodunits. An eccentric genius named Lionel Twain (Truman Capote) invites the world's five greatest fictional detectives to a dinner party, at which time someone will be murdered. The detective who solves the crime first gets $1 million.

Everything in this film, from the acting to the sound effects to the plot ... is deliciously exaggerated ... hence the humor. For example, mystery readers accept that Hercule Poirot and Charlie Chan are so observant as to spot the most obscure clue, which conveniently points to the solution of the puzzle. In "Murder By Death" writer Neil Simon exaggerates that gambit. A guest detective draws the most outlandish conclusion from the most irrelevant fact, which in turn is shot down by another guest detective who points out the flaws, and then proceeds to do exactly the same thing.

The dialogue is marvelous. In one scene the blind butler serves non-existent soup from an empty bowl, to which Miss Marbles (Elsa Lanchester) protests: "Murder by starvation, maybe that's his game". In another scene, Inspector Perrier (James Coco) reads from a list, and then concludes: "Everything here has been rented for tonight". Miss Marbles responds in a melodramatic voice: "You mean?" "Yes", answers Perrier momentously: "this entire murder has been -- catered".

And then there's the scene wherein Sam Diamond (Peter Falk) ruminates: "I don't get it; first they steal the body and leave the clothes; then they steal the clothes and bring the body back. Who would do a thing like that?" To which Dick Charleston (David Niven) responds in a serious tone: "Possibly some deranged dry cleaner".

The film's casting is wonderful. Truman Capote may not be much of an actor, but he brings to the film a personality that is appropriately eccentric. My only problem is that the amount of screen time for the cast is uneven ... too much for Peter Falk and Peter Sellers, and not enough for Elsa Lanchester, who arrives late.

"Murder By Death" is a wonderful film classic that still holds up thirty years after it was made. The film conveys no heavy-duty political or social "message", no great insight into the human condition. But when you're in the mood for lighthearted, escapist entertainment that provides some laughs, this film is a great choice.


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