Murder by Death (1976)

Murder by Death (1976)

Director: Robert Moore
Starring: Peter Falk, Alec Guinness, Peter Sellers

The five greatest living detectives are invited to the mansion of an eccentric who challenges them to solve the perfect crime.

In the past few years I've taken an interest in mystery movies and I find myself supremely rewarded in this film. When done right, parody can be very funny and this is parody done right, honed to a razor edge. You take expies of famous detectives and toss them in the mix, lampshading and lampooning various tropes of the genre and there's great fun to be had. The ensemble cast is simply amazing. Sir Alec Guinness provides a lot of good straightfaced comedy as the butler Bensonmum and there's a particular scene where he shows remarkable versatility with his body language. Modern viewers might take offense at Peter Sellers' Sidney Wang, but his performance is so on point with the old Charlie Chan films that it's really remarkable. (Credit is also due to Richard Narita for a solid impersonation of Victor Sen Yung as Number Three Son.) David Niven and Maggie Smith have amusing back-and-forth as the Charlestons, Peter Falk is a treat as hardboiled parody Sam Diamond, and Truman Capote really hams it up as the campy host. Also worth noting that this is the first credited film role for James Cromwell as Marcel the chauffeur. The story is quite well-written, the dialog is great, and the performances nicely hold it all up. Even if you're not a big fan of the genre and aren't familiar with the material being parodied, you should be able to enjoy yourself. Definitely watch it and if you're a mystery fan, it belongs in your collection.

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