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HTF REVIEW: "Murder By Death"


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#1 of 21 OFFLINE   Ronald Epstein

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Posted December 06 2001 - 06:17 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 OFFLINE   SteveGon

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Posted December 06 2001 - 06:40 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 OFFLINE   Mark Booth

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Posted December 06 2001 - 07:14 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 OFFLINE   Douglas R

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Posted December 06 2001 - 07:37 AM

[quote]

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

[quote]



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 OFFLINE   george kaplan

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Posted December 06 2001 - 10:00 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.

[quote]


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
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#6 of 21 OFFLINE   David Williams

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Posted December 06 2001 - 11:00 AM

[quote]

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

[quote]


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 OFFLINE   Jeff Swindoll

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Posted December 06 2001 - 11:29 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 OFFLINE   Rich P

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Posted December 06 2001 - 12:27 PM

Umm:



[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.


[quote] Or is the name change part of the turns and twists in the plot?

#9 of 21 OFFLINE   Ronald Epstein

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Posted December 06 2001 - 01:40 PM

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 OFFLINE   MikeM

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Posted December 06 2001 - 05:46 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 OFFLINE   Scott Weinberg

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Posted December 06 2001 - 07:13 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 OFFLINE   Colin Jacobson

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Posted December 06 2001 - 08:04 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?)
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#13 of 21 OFFLINE   Jovan J

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Posted December 06 2001 - 08:05 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 OFFLINE   Robert Saccone

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Posted December 07 2001 - 01:24 AM

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 OFFLINE   Ronald Epstein

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Posted December 07 2001 - 01:58 AM

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 OFFLINE   TonyD

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Posted December 07 2001 - 10:45 AM

[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".




[quote]
facebook.com/whotony

#17 of 21 OFFLINE   Matt Krapf

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Posted December 08 2001 - 10:27 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
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#18 of 21 OFFLINE   TonyD

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Posted December 08 2001 - 10:40 PM

midnight madness
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#19 of 21 OFFLINE   David Lambert

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Posted December 09 2001 - 06:10 AM

God! I would LOVE Scavenger Hunt on DVD!!! A forlorn hope...
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#20 of 21 OFFLINE   Matt Krapf

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Posted December 10 2001 - 09:52 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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