Down From the Shelf ~ Murder By Death

The Facts:

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

Stars: Peter Falk, Alec Guinness, Maggie Smith, Truman Capote, Eileen Brennan, Nancy Walker, Peter Sellers

Director: Robert Moore

Rated: PG

Running Length: 94 minutes

TMMM Score: (8.5/10)

Review:   A totally delightful comedy/murder-mystery penned by Neil Simon , Murder By Death is one of those films you just know is going to be a good ride from the credits sequence onward.  In 1976 the stars of the film were top of the line comedic actors perfectly cast as send ups of popular detectives throughout the history of the printed word.  It’s not too hard to figure out who they are all supposed to represent but hard to forget their performances when you are watching the characters that they were inspired by.

To single any of them out is difficult as each star has their moment to shine.  If I have to call out any performances I would have to say that Sellers has both the riskiest and funniest role.  Playing a variation on Charlie Chan, Sellers was probably the only actor alive at the time that could pull off playing an Asian character without being run out of Tinsel Town.  That he plays it without veering into racist territory is a marvel to behold.  Guinness and Walker are a riot as a blind butler and deaf/mute maid as are Niven and Smith as a sleuthing couple ala Nick and Nora (with their names being Dick and Dora). Capote was an inspired and gleefully bizarre choice to play the gleefully bizarre millionaire that calls all of these sleuths together to solve the ultimate game of Who Dun It?

Simon’s brilliant script deserved at least an Oscar nod (as did Sellers) for the way he blended so many genres and juggled so many plot points without ever losing focus.  The ending explanation alone just builds and builds to a head shaker of an ending.   The best part about the movie is that it holds up the more you think about it.  It’s a twisted web that Simon has weaved but you’ll enjoy getting caught by these spiders.