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  • Widescreen 1.85:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
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  • English: Dolby Digital Mono
  • French: Dolby Digital Mono
  • Spanish: Dolby Digital Mono
  • German: Dolby Digital Mono
  • Italian: Dolby Digital Mono
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Murder By Death

Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment . R4 . COLOR . 91 mins . PG . PAL


Neil Simon wrote this screenplay in 1976 and although there are some way dated gags, including the politically incorrect, most of the film works due to the gags being about mystery novels and films. With a stable of great actors in the leading roles, the characters bounce well off each other, feeding open-enders and setting each other up well for the inevitable one liners.

The great mystery writers and detectives of the world are all called together by a mysterious fellow to spend a weekend in his mansion - the prize; one million dollars to whomever can solve the mystery he sets out for them on the Friday evening. Hilarity and hijinks ensue as each guest is tested to the best of their abilities to solve the crime and win the money. Being a Neil Simon play before it was a film, there is a surreality to events as well as plot holes miles wide, but all are forgiven within the spirit of the piece.

"I’m going down the hall to find the can. I talk so much sometimes I forget to go."

The cast is simply perfect. Some seasoned veterans, others rookies and some who haven’t made a film before or since add up to an intelligent comedy that runs smoothly until the very end. When the wheels come off in the closing minutes, leaving the viewer feeling more than a little cheated, we’re led to wonder if this is what Simon wants us to feel? Given the storyline and the carefully worded ending, this may appear to be the case, but inevitably there isn’t enough to the subtlety to keep us thinking on it for too long.

My particular highlight of the film was Maggie Smith’s character, playing wife to David Niven’s. She’s absolutely incredible in her role, playing supportive wife, amateur sleuth and sexy partner all in one. She is also a bit of a hottie in this, giving the kids of today who may only know her as Professor McGonagall a sneak peak at her in her glorious youth. Secondary highlights I should mention are the clever caricatures of the cast in the opening titles by none other than Charles Addams. To the kids of today (again) he’s the decidedly uncreepy fella who invented The Addams Family.


The transfer is super for a film of 27 years age, and it looks just great on DVD. A delicious clarity of vision brings all the detail of the stately manner to life, and while we know it’s all shot on a set, it still looks good. It serves the purpose for which it is intended, and is even an homage to murder mysteries being shot on thin budgets and carried by storyline. Flesh tones are almost too good; particularly evident on Peter Sellers’ politically incorrect Chinaman character in which his makeup is just a leetle too obvious. The shadows are mostly okay, although in some dark shots the blacks get a little dark grey at times. The colours also get a little washed out, but this is alright, because there aren’t a great deal of bright colours at any rate. Being a musty old mansion, there are tons of browns and blacks with a dying red carpet and little else colourwise. The 16:9 transfer makes the film look great in its original aspect of 1.85:1 as well, creating that old school cinema feel.


Being a mostly talking film, the sound has been treated quite well, although it is only mono. The dialogue is crisp and easily understood and screams and such aren’t overly glass-shattering. Sound effects are a little hammy, and include ‘stock footage’, but this too seems to work toward the homage feel. Some of the music is a little low in points when it could have been a tad louder, but for the most part it’s fine. It even manages to find its way into being used as a sound effect or two occasionally. All up, the sound works perfectly for the film and has been transferred very nicely, although I say again, it's only mono.


There are quite a few bits and pieces here, which I didn’t expect. There is a recent (1999) Interview with Neil Simon regarding the film and it's quite interesting as he discusses writing for the screen and how it compares to writing for a play (this movie was performed as both). The interview runs for ten minutes and is interspersed with footage from the film and how it relates to what he is saying. There are Filmographies of leading cast members which are current to the late '90s and trailers for three films Simon wrote. These are Murder By Death, Cheap Detective and Manhattan Murder Mystery.


Murder By Death is not a bad old film really, and it's been transferred well to DVD. An impressive cast brings Simon’s play to the screen successfully and captures our attention for the 91 minute duration. Fans of his work will find a gem in this DVD, particularly with the ‘recent’ interview and insight into his work. Mystery lovers will also find a nice (mostly) subtle parody here that is sure to raise a laugh or two. A great cast and intelligent (to a degree) script make an all round entertaining piece, but not one that’s going to break any records. A well produced film and a nice history in that several of the stars are now deceased, whilst others have gone on to greater heights today.

  • LINK: http://www.dvd.net.au/review.cgi?review_id=2733
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      And I quote...
    "It's a mystery all the way through... including the ending."
    - Jules Faber
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