Cast & Crew
Milionaire Lionel Twain invites five famous private eyes to a mysterious dinner at a remote castle. The wise Sidney Wang, the urbane couple Dick and Dora Charleston, the canny Englishwoman Jessica Marbles, the clever Milo Perrier from Belgium, and tough-talking Sam Diamond all arrive wondering why they have been invited. When the private eyes and their guests sit down to dinner, they meet Mr.Twain who explains that a murder will take place at midnight, and that whoever can solve the crime will win a million dollars.
John F. Burnett
David M. Walsh
David M. Walsh
Murder by Death
Eccentric millionaire Lionel Twain (Truman Capote) invites the world's greatest detectives to his castle-like home and challenges them to solve a murder that hasn't been committed yet. The guests include Sam Diamond (Peter Falk), Dick and Dora Charleston (David Niven and Maggie Smith), Jessica Marbles (Elsa Lanchester), Milo Perrier (James Coco), and Sidney Wang (Peter Sellers). Also on hand are Twain's blind butler, Bensonmum (Alec Guinness), and his deaf and mute maid, Yetta (Nancy Walker). According to Jon Tuska in The Detective in Hollywood, Myrna Loy was offered the role of Dora Charleston but turned it down "because she felt it would ruin her image as Nora Charles to have her seventy-one-year-old bottom pinched by David Niven."
The detectives stumble across more than one apparent murder while avoiding numerous attempts on their own lives. Along the way, they also discover everyone has a motive for murder. Plot twists and rapid-fire dialogue continue right up to the final scene. The New Yorker described Murder By Death as, "sophisticatedly funny, full not only of one-liners but also of production gags; a scream, for instance, turns out to be the doorbell." Nothing is ever as it appears in the Twain mansion.
Neil Simon reportedly wrote the part of Lionel Twain with Truman Capote in mind. He wanted the author of Breakfast at Tiffany's and In Cold Blood to play a character much like himself, but Capote had something else in mind. The author told an interviewer, "The original intent may have been for me to parody myself, but that's not how it's going to work out." Capote had wanted to be in the movies since he was a boy and considered this his chance to act. Making his screen debut opposite such an experienced and acclaimed cast, however, proved very difficult. Director Robert Moore stated, " To put Capote at a table with international stars was too much of a test for any literary figure to withstand."
In spite of the impressive cast, some had their doubts about how the film would do at the box office. The company David Niven's son worked for invested in the film expecting it to be a tax loss. Instead, Murder By Death became the number eight moneymaker of 1976. Niven responded, "So much for a tax loss? But isn't it rather alarming to have a son who has absolutely no faith in his old man's pictures?" Peter Sellers also didn't realize how well the film would do. He wasn't pleased with his performance or the final film. He told producer Ray Stark the film was "the epitome of 8mm home moviemaking" and sold his percentage for about $1.3 million.
Alec Guinness, however, considered Murder By Death "a very funny film." The Academy Award winning actor rarely went to Hollywood, but he liked the script so much, he made the trip in order to play Bensonmum. Guinness said, "The script made me laugh, and not many things in recent times have done that."
Director: Robert Moore
Producer: Ray Stark
Screenplay: Neil Simon
Cinematography: David M. Walsh
Art Direction: Harry Kemm
Music: Dave Grusin
Cast: Eileen Brennan (Tess Skeffington), Truman Capote (Lionel Twain), James Coco (Milo Perrier), Peter Falk (Sam Diamond), Alec Guinness (Jamesir Bensonmum), Elsa Lanchester (Jessica Marbles), David Niven (Dick Charleston), Peter Sellers (Sidney Wang), Maggie Smith (Dora Charleston), Nancy Walker (Yetta).
C-95m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.
by Deborah Looney
Murder by Death
Ray Stark (1915-2004)
Born on October 3, 1915 in New York City, Stark was educated at Rutgers University and New York University Law School. After graduation, he started his entertainment career selling radio scripts before he became a literary agent for such notable writers as Ben Hecht, Thomas P. Costain, and Raymond Chandler. After serving in the Navy during World War II, Stark - who had show-business connections through his mother-in-law, Broadway legend Fanny Brice - eventually became a top Hollywood agent at Famous Artists, where he represented such stars as Marilyn Monroe, William Holden, Kirk Douglas, and Lana Turner.
By 1957, Stark was hungry to develop more of a taste in the film business, so he formed a partnership with fellow producer Elliott Hyman to create the independent movie firm, Seven Arts Productions. Stark's first film production credit was the popular drama The World of Suzie Wong (1960) starring William Holden and Nancy Kwan; and he followed that up with an adaptation of Tennessee Williams' superb Night of the Iguana (1964) with Richard Burton, Deborah Kerr and Ava Gardner.
Around this time, Stark had the ambition to produce a musical based on the life of his late mother-in-law, and produced his first Broadway musical - Funny Girl. The musical opened on March 24, 1964 and made Barbra Streisand the toast of the Great White Way. Eventually, Stark would make the film adaptation four years later, and Streisand would win the Academy Award for Best Actress. Stark would also arrange a contract with Streisand to do three more movies for him within the next 10 years that still prove to be the most interesting of her career: the hilarious sex farce The Owl and the Pussycat (1970) with George Segal; the romantic drama The Way We Were (1973) with Robert Redford; and the sequel to her film debut Funny Lady (1975) co-starring Omar Sharif.
Stark also delivered another Broadway luminary to the movie going masses when he brought a string of well-acted, Neil Simon comedies to the silver screen, most notably: The Goodbye Girl (1977) with Marsha Mason and Richard Dreyfuss (Oscar winner, Best Actor); The Sunshine Boys (1975) with Walter Matthau and George Burns (Oscar winner, Best Supporting Actor); California Suite (1978) with Alan Alda, Michael Caine, and Dame Maggie Smith (Oscar winner, Best Supporting Actress); the nostalgic Brighton Beach Memoirs (1986) with Blythe Danner; and Biloxi Blues (1988) with Matthew Broderick. He also produced Steel Magnolias (1989), with an ensemble cast that introduced audiences to a radiantly young Julia Roberts. In television, Stark won an Emmy award for the HBO's telefilm Barbarians at the Gate (1993). His last credit as a producer (at age 84) was the Harrison Ford picture Random Hearts (1999).
Although he never won an Academy Award, Stark earned the most prestigious Irving G. Thalberg Award in 1980 and the David O. Selznick Lifetime Achievement Award from the Producers Guild of America in 1999. He is survived by his daughter, Wendy, and granddaughter, Allison.
by Michael T. Toole
Ray Stark (1915-2004)
And you Mr. Charleston, did not approve of Mrs. Charleston dying her hair blond?- Sidney Wang
What do you mean?- Dick Charleston
Mrs. Charleston's hair red. You have blond hairs on shoulder. This means she has dyed red hair blond, then back again to red, or else you have been... So sorry, Wang is wrong.- Sidney Wang
I don't get it. First they steal the body and leave the clothes, then they take the clothes and bring the body back. Who would do a thing like that?- Sam Diamond
Possibly some deranged dry cleaner.- Dick Charleston
Be quiet everyone! I smell something!- Milo Perrier
Locked, from the inside. That can only mean one thing. And I don't know what it is.- Sam Diamond
It is late, and my eyes are getting tired.- Sidney Wang
I thought they always looked like that.- Sam Diamond
Knock it off, Sam!- Jessica Marbles
I apologize. This case is getting to me. I'm sorry, Slanty.- Sam Diamond
Um... thank you.- Sidney Wang
This movie marked the film debut of James Cromwell.
Orson Welles was originally considered for the role of Inspector Wang but was unable to accept because he was appearing in a play in Italy.
Neil Simon remained on the set to take care of re-writes, as he did with this picture's sequel, Cheap Detective, The (1978). Simon took such a shine to Alec Guinness during the picture's production that he told him if he did not like anything in the film, he'd immediately rewrite it for him, but Guinness assured him it was great fun for him.
Orson Welles had been asked to play Sidney Wang before Peter Sellers got the part.
Released in United States 1976
Released in United States 1976