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HTF REVIEW: "Murder By Death"


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20 replies to this topic

#1 of 21 Ronald Epstein

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Posted December 06 2001 - 01:17 AM

Posted Image

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....

Posted Image

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.

Ronald J Epstein
Home Theater Forum co-owner

 

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#2 of 21 SteveGon

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Posted December 06 2001 - 01:40 AM

Ron, thanks for the review! I've been trying to cut back on the spending lately, but this is one disc I gotta have. Posted Image

#3 of 21 Mark Booth

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Posted December 06 2001 - 02:14 AM

Ron,

Don't worry, be happy! HT Forum member MikeM (Thank You Mike!) has created a replacement keep case cover for Murder by Death. See this thread:

http://www.hometheat....urder by death

I've already got mine printed and it looks GREAT!

Mark

#4 of 21 Douglas R

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Posted December 06 2001 - 02:37 AM

Quote:
The studio ought to be ashamed of themselves for the horrid artwork on this box


You can just picture some marketing "expert" who looked at the stars of this film and said "David Niven, Elsa Lancaster, Peter Sellers, Alec Guinness - who's ever heard of all these dead people? At least we can use Peter Falk on the cover and make it look like a Colombo film".

#5 of 21 george kaplan

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Posted December 06 2001 - 05:00 AM

Quote:
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.

I think the detective parallels are

Sidney Wang - Charlie Chan
Sam Diamond - Sam Spade
Dick Charleston - Nick Charles (the Thin Man)
Milo Perrier - Hercule Poirot (not sure of this one)
Jessica Marbles - Miss Marple
"Movies should be like amusement parks. People should go to them to have fun." - Billy Wilder

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#6 of 21 David Williams

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Posted December 06 2001 - 06:00 AM

Quote:
Milo Perrier - Hercule Poirot (not sure of this one)

Yuppers. He even makes the comment in the film that "I'm not a frenchy, I'm a belgie" or something like that to a remark made by Sam.
"Only two things are infinite––the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not so sure about the universe." ––Albert Einstein

#7 of 21 Jeff Swindoll

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Posted December 06 2001 - 06:29 AM

Ron,

I guess the Sherlock Holmes epilogue was nowhere to be found. Posted Image Neil Simon didnt mention it did he? Cheers.
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#8 of 21 Rich P

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Posted December 06 2001 - 07:27 AM

Umm:

Quote:
Lionel Wang (Truman Capote)has invited the five
greatest detectives to a "dinner and murder."
Shouldn't that be Lionel Train Twain as you mention later in the review? :b

Quote:
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.
Or is the name change part of the turns and twists in the plot?

#9 of 21 Ronald Epstein

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Posted December 06 2001 - 08:40 AM

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.

Ronald J Epstein
Home Theater Forum co-owner

 

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#10 of 21 MikeM

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Posted December 06 2001 - 12:46 PM

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:

Posted Image

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!Posted Image

Hope you enjoy my cover.

#11 of 21 Scott Weinberg

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Posted December 06 2001 - 02:13 PM

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 of 21 Colin Jacobson

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Posted December 06 2001 - 03:04 PM

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?)
Colin Jacobson
http://www.dvdmg.com

#13 of 21 Jovan J

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Posted December 06 2001 - 03:05 PM

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! Posted Image Posted Image

#14 of 21 Robert Saccone

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Posted December 06 2001 - 08:24 PM

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 of 21 Ronald Epstein

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Posted December 06 2001 - 08:58 PM

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.

Ronald J Epstein
Home Theater Forum co-owner

 

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#16 of 21 TonyD

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Posted December 07 2001 - 05:45 AM

Quote:
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."

yes i have seen this also but i cant remember if on tv or other. but was this from this movie or another movie?

well just checked imdb.com and found this....







Quote:
Murder by Death (1976)

Page 16 of 23


There appears to be two versions to the ending of this flim. In the video tape and normal broadcast version the various cast members are driving from the Twain home. But in one version Inspector Wang's car passes a car with Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson heading towards the Twain home. When Willie Wang asks his father "Isn't that?" "Shouldn't we warn them?", to which Inspector Wang says "Be quiet, let them find out for themselves".


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#17 of 21 Matt Krapf

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Posted December 08 2001 - 05:27 PM

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
Regards,
Matt

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Feel free to AIM/PM me.

#18 of 21 TonyD

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Posted December 08 2001 - 05:40 PM

midnight madness

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#19 of 21 David Lambert

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Posted December 09 2001 - 01:10 AM

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


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#20 of 21 Matt Krapf

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Posted December 10 2001 - 04:52 AM

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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