Murder By Death (1976).
Great performances sometimes turn up in the strangest places. They are the diamonds in the rough of cinema. They come from talented actors who rise above and beyond the simple requirements of the genre picture (where most of them occur) and create something memorable. Such is Alec Guinness’ performance in Neil Simon’s “Murder By Death.”
The film is a slapstick spoof of dectective movies, featuring caricatures of such familiar screen gumshoes as Sam Spade and Miss Marple. And just look at the rest of the cast: Peter Sellers, David Niven, Maggie Smith, James Coco, Peter Falk, Elsa Lanchester, James Cromwell, Eileen Brennan, Nancy Walker, Estelle Winwood, and even author Truman Capote (who earned a Golden Globe nomination). They all do a great job, and the material is hilarious.
Guinness is the blind butler who (naturally) isn’t all that he seems. While the other actors are content just to hit their marks and keep a straight face during the jokes, Guinness takes it to another level. This is particularly true in the end, when he is confronted by all the detectives and acts out their theories on his motive. More than just running through a variety of silly voices, he creates a series of fully-realized flesh-and-blood characters, flowing effortlessly from one to the other. The movie is pretty funny on its own, but definitely worth seeing just to get to Guinness’ big scene.
There are tons, but here’s one at random — “Conversation like television set on honeymoon: unnecessary.”
Among the actors who turned down the chance to be in the film are Orson Welles, Myrna Loy and Katharine Hepburn.
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