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.... 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.