HTF REVIEW: "Murder By Death"

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Ronald Epstein, Dec 6, 2001.

  1. Ronald Epstein

    Ronald Epstein Administrator
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    [​IMG]

    Murder By Death

    He has succeeded in gathering the world's five
    greatest detectives to investigate a crime that has
    not yet been committed

    It's about time!
    It took Columbia nearly five years to release
    perhaps one of the most memorable comedies of
    the seventies. Not that this is particularly
    the funniest film of the 70's, but certainly boasts
    one of the most finely assembled casts of comics
    and personalities from that era.
    Written by Neil Simon and released in 1976,
    Murder By Death is a cleverly written comedy "whodunit"
    with many twists and turns that will keep you
    guessing right up until the very end.
    Lionel Twain (Truman Capote)has invited the five
    greatest detectives to a "dinner and murder."
    Sidney Wang (Peter Sellers) is the Oriental who
    speaks without prepositions. Sam Diamond (Peter Falk)
    is the mysterious detective who imitates Bogart's
    style. Dick Charleston (David Niven) is the more
    refined English detective. Milo Perrier (James Coco)
    is the sloppy French detective with bad hair, and
    Jessica Marbles (Elsa Lanchester) is the infamous
    female detective.
    Arriving at Lionel Twain's castle (the in-joke is
    that his address is 2-2-Twain), the detectives are
    met with the most unwelcome circumstances. If being
    set up for the kill is not bad enough, perhaps its
    being in the company of a blind Butler (Alec Guiness)
    or a deaf and mute cook (Nancy Walker).
    A murder is going to take place at the stroke of
    midnight. The payoff is $1 million to whichever
    detective solves the murder -- or lives through
    the night to tell about it.
    Columbia Pictures has done a brand new digitally
    mastered WIDESCREEN anamorphic transfer (with
    FULL SCREEN on the opposite side). As expected
    with all the catalog titles I have recently viewed,
    the transfer looks great. The last time I saw
    Murder By Death, was on VHS. I distinctly
    remember how bad the video transfer looked on that
    format. Columbia has done a terrific job cleaning
    up the print and presenting a transfer that is
    generally clear and clean. The only slight grain
    that is evident in the print looks mostly due to
    the fact that this was filmed in soft focus. This
    is the best that the film has ever looked. It was
    even cool to see Columbia use its original 70's logo
    that I have missed seeing all these years.
    The audio has been remastered as well, although
    in its original MONO form. The film sounds very
    good with no apparent hiss in the soundtrack.
    I have to applaud Columbia for putting some real
    effort into this disc by including an interview
    with Neil Simon in the Supplemental Features.
    Filmed especially for this DVD, Neil Simon explains
    the difference between writing a Stage Play versus
    writing for the screen. He also talks about how he
    based Murder By Death on all the Agatha
    Christie novels and Bogart movies he read and saw
    as a kid. This was a parody of the things he grew
    up with.
    One very interesting note that Neil Simon brings
    up is that between takes, he would see Alec Guiness
    reading a script. When asking Guiness what script
    he was reading, Guiness replied, "Star Wars". Simon
    asks, "What is it about?". "The Future -- we'll see",
    replied Guiness.
    There are talent files included as well as the
    original theatrical trailer, and, a trailer for
    Neil Simon's The Cheap Detective.
    Now, let me talk about what I am highly disgusted
    with about this DVD release....
    [​IMG]
    This is the original poster art for the film.
    This was the artwork that was used as the cover
    art for the initial VHS release in the early 80's.
    I have always felt that the DVD format has a
    responsibility to not only present films as they
    were originally intended to be seen, but to also
    preserve the original artwork of the film. Since
    DVD is a format that is more archival than any other
    format before it, we should be very concerned about
    the way a film is packaged.
    I don't know who at Columbia got the bright idea
    to try and modernize their recent slew of catalog
    releases by butchering the original artwork and
    replacing it with the most god-awful images ever
    imaginable. The studio ought to be ashamed of
    themselves for the horrid artwork on this box and
    the fact that the film is being preserved in this
    manner.
    Final Thoughts
    If you were like me, growing up in the 70's,
    you will undoubtably have fond memories of
    Murder By Death and probably already have
    it on your preorder list.
    Those of you younger folk who have never seen
    this film may wish to rent it first. I think it's
    the opportunity to see the great masters of our
    time (Guiness, Falk, Sellers, and Niven) as
    well as some newcomers (Eileen Brennan and James Cromwell)
    who would later make their marks in film.
    This is the best the film has ever looked, and
    after all these years I still found myself laughing
    out loud and having a great time! I am so happy
    that this film has finally been released and done
    so properly by a studio that cares about their
    catalog transfers, but unfortunately, not about
    preserving the original artwork.
     
  2. SteveGon

    SteveGon Executive Producer

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    Ron, thanks for the review! I've been trying to cut back on the spending lately, but this is one disc I gotta have. [​IMG]
     
  3. Mark Booth

    Mark Booth Screenwriter
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  4. Douglas R

    Douglas R Cinematographer

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  5. george kaplan

    george kaplan Executive Producer

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    David Williams Cinematographer

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  7. Jeff Swindoll

    Jeff Swindoll Supporting Actor

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    Ron,
    I guess the Sherlock Holmes epilogue was nowhere to be found. [​IMG] Neil Simon didnt mention it did he? Cheers.
     
  8. Rich P

    Rich P Stunt Coordinator

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    Umm:

     
  9. Ronald Epstein

    Ronald Epstein Administrator
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    A simple oversight in the character name

    has now been corrected. Thanks.

    There is no Sherlock Holmes appearance. I

    talked to the folks at Columbia about this

    a few months ago and they knew nothing about

    such an ending.
     
  10. MikeM

    MikeM Screenwriter

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    Ron, thanks for the review. I don't even have the disk yet, but when I saw the upcoming cover for this release, I just HAD to whip up a real DVD cover for this movie I love. Here's the preview image:
    [​IMG]
    Here's the direct 300dpi cover link (804k), based on the original artwork.
    Once again, I need to thank Mark McLeod donating the bandwidth to host this file. Thanks, Mark![​IMG]
    Hope you enjoy my cover.
     
  11. Scott Weinberg

    Scott Weinberg Lead Actor

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    Yeah Ron! I agree wholeheartedly with everything in your review, especially that stuff about the atrocious cover art. It's said that you can't judge a DVD by the cover, but lots of people do. Those people will be missing out on one hysterical and very underrated farce.
     
  12. Colin Jacobson

    Colin Jacobson Producer

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    Just wanted to echo Ron's praise of the movie and the DVD. I hadn't seen this one since I was a kid, and frankly, I didn't expect much. Spoofs usually don't do much for me, and while Murder could be hit or miss, a lot of it struck the mark, largely due to mostly excellent performances. (Lanchester wasn't up to the rest of the cast, but she didn't actively HARM the movie.)

    As for the DVD, I was shocked at how good it looked. Some light edge enhancement and a few small flaws knocked it down to a "B+", but I almost gave it an "A-". No way did I expect a largely-forgotten little comedy from the Seventies - with all the era's bad film stocks - to offer such a strong visual presentation. The audio was also quite solid for its age.

    Definitely a flick to give a look, even with the admittedly-ugly cover. (Normally I don't really care about such things, but it almost seemed like CTS went out of their way to create an unappealing cover. And what's with making it look like Falk is the star?)
     
  13. Jovan J

    Jovan J Extra

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    Thanks for the review Ron. This is one the best comedies of the 70's.I must agree that this new cover art is just plane ugly.
    Could one of you guys help me print Mark's new (old) cover art.When I print it, it's so huge and it takes 2 pages.
    Please help. Thanx! [​IMG] [​IMG]
     
  14. Robert Saccone

    Robert Saccone Stunt Coordinator

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    I recall seeing this movie on TV years ago (not on a pay channel) and there was a Sherlock Holmes and Watson that appeared at the very end. It was after the mystery was solved and the detectives were leaving in their cars. I think it is the Peter Sellers character that runs into them on the way out. Holmes and Watson are lost and looking for directions to the mansion. The son says something along the lines of "Shouldn't we warn them pop?" and Sellers says something along the lines of "Let them find out for themselves."
     
  15. Ronald Epstein

    Ronald Epstein Administrator
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    I printed out the above artwork on 8x11 photo

    paper on my printer.

    Though it comes up a bit short of filling out the

    sides (the spine is perfect), the box looks 100%

    better now.

    Thank You so much, Mike, for creating this

    cover art.
     
  16. TonyD

    TonyD Who do we think I am?
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  17. Matt Krapf

    Matt Krapf Stunt Coordinator

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    Ho - ly - COW!!!

    I thought I was the only guy on Earth to not only love this film, but to also own a copy.

    Obviously, and pleasantly, I was wrong. Now Ron brings me this WONDERFUL Xmas news!

    I'll look for it first thing in the morning. I haven't seen anywhere in this thread that indicates if it's still pre-release or not.

    Won't matter. This is a MUST HAVE...

    ...like It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World

    ...the Peter Ustinov Poirot movies...

    ...and so on.

    Now, if they can release this film, does anyone think they might release Scavenger Hunt, or Midnight Madness?

    Matt Krapf
     
  18. TonyD

    TonyD Who do we think I am?
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  19. David Lambert

    David Lambert Executive Producer

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    God! I would LOVE Scavenger Hunt on DVD!!!

    A forlorn hope...
     
  20. Matt Krapf

    Matt Krapf Stunt Coordinator

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    Tony D,

    THANKS! I've just added it to my Christmas List. Let's see if the family comes through. If not, I'll get it by the end of that week.

    What a great Holiday season. 2 of 3 absolute gems from my VHS collection on DVD.

    There's Obviously hope for Scavenger Hunt, if these others are out there.

    Just awesome.

    Thanks again.

    Matt
     

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