Murder by Death (1976)

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Released 5-Aug-2003

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Comedy Featurette-A Conversation with Neil Simon
Filmographies-Cast & Crew
Theatrical Trailer
Trailer-Cheap Detective; Manhattan Murder Mystery
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1976
Running Time 90:47
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4,5 Directed By Robert Moore

Sony Pictures Home Entertain
Starring Alec Guinness
David Niven
Eileen Brennan
Elsa Lanchester
James Coco
James Cromwell
Maggie Smith
Nancy Walker
Peter Falk
Peter Sellers
Truman Capote
Case ?
RPI $19.95 Music Dave Grusin

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    With a cast that includes Peter Falk, Alec Guinness, David Niven, Peter Sellers, Maggie Smith, a young James Cromwell and a screenplay by Neil Simon, how can this film go wrong?

    This is a brilliant parody of the murder mystery genre, poking fun at various fictional detectives such as Charlie Chan, Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot, Sam Spade, and the "Thin Man." Neil Simon is very obviously a murder mystery fan, as many of the jokes are based on a shared familiarity with the idiosyncrasies of the various detectives on which the film's characters are based upon.

    Eccentric recluse Lionel Twain (featuring the screen debut of Truman Capote) invites five of the world's most famous detectives to a weekend at his gothic castle. He obviously also has a keen sense of humour, for he hires a blind butler, Jamesir Bensonmum (Alec Guinness), and a deaf and mute chef, Yetta (Nancy Walker). Needless to say, these two are completely incapable of communicating with each other, creating some farcical situations.

    The first to arrive is Catalina Island Police Inspector Sidney Wang (Peter Sellers) and his adopted son Willie (Richard Narita). Then, in rapid succession, arrive the "gentleman" New York detective Dick Charleston (David Niven) and his wife Dora (Maggie Smith), the Belgian Inspector Milo Perrier (James Coco) and his chauffeur Marcel (James Cromwell), hard-nosed private d*** Sam Diamond (Peter Falk) and his "dame" Tess Skeffington (Eileen Brennan), and finally amateur sleuth Miss Jessica Marbles (Elsa Lanchester) and her nurse Miss Withers (Estelle Winwood).

    Each detective successfully avoids the first "trap": being crushed by a falling gargoyle. At the dinner table, they meet Lionel who says he intends to prove that he is smarter than all of them by daring them to solve a murder - to be committed in the castle that very night at the stroke of midnight. The detective who successfully unravels the crime will earn a million dollars. However, even before the clock strikes twelve, the first death has already occurred - that of the butler. As the famous minds try to solve the mystery, they encounter many strange things ...

    As you would expect, everything is revealed at the end ... or is it?

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Transfer Quality


    The transfer is presented in widescreen 1.78:1, 16x9 enhanced, based on a 35mm film print. The widescreen transfer is slightly window-boxed, which may be an issue if you have adjusted your video display for no overscan.

    The quality of the film source is surprisingly good, with minimal film marks. Grain, although present, is not objectionable and colours are a touch under-saturated but at least reasonably balanced. Detail levels are reasonable, though the overall look of the film is probably a bit on the soft side.

    Compression artefacts are limited to a slight amount of Gibb's effect ringing around opening titles.

    There are a fair amount of subtitle tracks available (I counted 19). I turned on the English subtitle track briefly just to verify that it was there. Dialogue transcription is of about average accuracy.

    This is a single sided single layered disc.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    There are no less than five audio tracks available, in English, French, German, Italian and Spanish. All are in Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s).

    Given that the film was originally released in mono, I suspect these are mono tracks. In any case, I did not notice any significant panning of Foley effects or stereo separation of background music.

    I listened to the English audio track, which sounded somewhat mediocre, but probably consistent with that for similar vintage films.

    Dialogue quality was reasonable, and I did not notice any audio synchronization issues.

    The original music is surprisingly done by Dave Grusin. It is mainly orchestral, and in the style of other murder mystery films.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    I suppose some extras are better than nothing.


    The menus are 16x9 enhanced but static.

Featurette-A Conversation with Neil Simon (10:21)

    This is a short retrospective interview with Neil Simon, and features excerpts from the film and some production stills. It is presented in full frame and Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s). Incidentally, I learnt that Alec Guinness was reading the script of "Star Wars" and considering whether he should be playing the role of "Obi Wan Kenobi" whilst shooting this film.

Filmographies-Cast & Crew

    This provides one still for each of the following:

Theatrical Trailer (3:10)

    This is presented in full frame/open matte and Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s).

Trailer-Cheap Detective (3:02); Manhattan Murder Mystery (1:41)

    Cheap Detective is the "sequel" to Murder By Death. The trailer is presented in Pan & Scan and Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s). It looks fairly soft. The trailer for Manhattan Murder Mystery is presented in full frame/open matte and Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s). This one looks very brownish.


    There is censorship information available for this title. Click here to read it (a new window will open). WARNING: Often these entries contain MAJOR plot spoilers.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on;

    The Region 1 version of this disc misses out on;

    I would rate both versions as substantially the same, apart from the additional full frame transfer on the Region 1 version.


    Murder By Death is a clever spoof of the murder-mystery genre and famous fictional crime solvers.

    The video transfer is fairly decent given the film's age.

    The audio transfer is mediocre.

    Extras include a retrospective interview with Neil Simon, filmographies and some trailers.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Christine Tham (read my biography)
Monday, June 23, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDPanasonic DVD-RP82, using Component output
DisplaySony VPL-VW11HT LCD Projector, ScreenTechnics 16x9 matte white screen (254cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials/Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationDenon AVC-A1SE (upgraded)
SpeakersFront and surrounds: B&W CDM7NT, front centre: B&W CDMCNT, surround backs: B&W DM601S2, subwoofer: B&W ASW2500

Other Reviews
DVD Net - Jules F
Jeff K's Australian DVD Info Site - Roger L

Comments (Add)
Murder By Death - 'You are cordially invited to dinner... and a murder!' -