Starring: Peter Sellers, Alec Guinness, David Niven
Director: Robert Moore
Running Time: 94 mins
Murder By Death is a British film about a bizarre weekend where the world’s greatest detectives are brought together, and end up having to work together to solve a strange case.
Well, as idiotic and nonsensical as this film is, it’s a great laugh right the way through. With a stunning cast of British acting legends, along with some great comedic writing and directing from Neil Simon and Robert Moore respectively, I had a great time watching Murder By Death, even if it doesn’t always hold up its excellent comedy as it moves towards its final act.
The film revolves around various famous fictional characters all being mysteriously invited to a mansion, and then having to solve a murder. In that, therefore, it’s exactly the same as Clue, which came out 8 years later in 1985.
In comparison to Clue, which I absolutely loved, this is on a very similar level when it comes to comedic value. Thanks to some brilliantly funny performances from legends like Peter Sellers, David Niven, Alec Guinness and more, I was laughing pretty consistently at the farcical madness on screen. As a slapstick comedy, Murder By Death works just as well as, if not better than, Clue, and that’s why I had such an enjoyable watch throughout.
What’s more is that the directing is very good. Robert Moore may not succeed in telling the greatest story ever told, but he gives the film a very clear goal for the majority of its duration to be simply idiotic, and not focussed on the plot. As a result, the first two acts of the film are completely off the chain, but will give a seriously fun time no matter what.
The only issue with Murder By Death is when it does decide to focus on the murder case rather than keep making you laugh. This is the biggest difference between the film and Clue, as Clue managed to weave its murder mystery in with the zany comedy, making for laughs right the way through, and still keep you interested by the case at hand.
Here, however, once the first two acts of silliness are over and done with, there’s very little comedy to keep you engaged. The writing for the murder mystery isn’t really that good, and it’s neither unpredictable nor exciting enough to substitute for the loss of all the comedy, and that makes the final act a bit of a dull slog to the end that doesn’t live up at all to the film’s best moments.
Overall, I really enjoyed Murder By Death, at least for the most part. Its slapstick comedy is excellent, the performances are hugely entertaining, and when it’s going for total and utter silliness, it succeeds in every way. However, its attempts to get you genuinely interested in a murder mystery as the film draws to a close aren’t such a success, and make for a far less entertaining conclusion than the first two acts warrant, and that’s why I’m giving this a 7.4.