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Sunday, February 28, 2010

MURDER BY DEATH (1976)


Neil Simon’s pastiche Murder-Mystery has a top-flight cast to parody a gaggle of great detectives, a nifty dark old house production design, a newbie director (Robert Moore) who lets things play at their own pace, and far more laughs than these things usually generate. (See CLUE/’85, SCAVENGER HUNT/’89 or even Simon’s own follow-up THE CHEAP DETECTIVE/’78, to see how lame these things can be.) It recalls the winning silliness Simon mastered in his Sid Caesar/YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS days, churning out spoof skits week after week. Plus, it doesn’t out-stay its welcome . . . well, not by much. Stand-outs in the luxe cast include Peter Falk, David Niven, Maggie Smith, Peter Sellers, James Coco, a deliriously funny Alec Guinness doing a sort of tribute to Ralph Richardson, the great Elsa Lanchester with a worthy role for once, and a comic find in the debuting James Cromwell, only 36 at the time. They even got Charles Addams to do caricatures for the credit sequence. A class touch. Not everything hits the mark (it wouldn’t hurt if the underlying mystery actually added up), but the film is LOL funny which is all it wants to be.

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