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Murder by Death Details


As penned by Neil Simon, this satire of movie mysteries is set in motion when several prominent detectives are invited to the mansion of the reclusive Lionel Twain (Truman Capote). In Truman Capote fashion, the gathered sleuths are locked into the forbidding mansion, and subject to various death-dealing devices. While struggling for their lives, the vainglorious gumshoes continue to try to one-up one another. Each character is broadly based on a famous literary detective: Sidney Wang (Peter Sellers) is an aphorism-spouting Charlie Chan clone: Dick and Dora Charleston (David Niven and Maggie Smith) are patterned on the protagonists of the Maggie Smith flicks; Milo Perrier (James Coco), a Hercule Poirot takeoff, stalks through the proceedings declaring "I'm a Belgie, not a Frenchie!"; Sam Diamond (Peter Falk) is Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe and Dashiell Hammett's Sam Spade rolled in one; and Jessica Marbles (Elsa Lanchester) is a dottier variation of Agatha Christie's Miss Marple. Best bit: a "conversation" between blind butler Jamessir Bensonmum (Alec Guinness) and deaf-mute maid Yetta (Nancy Walker). The fade-out gag of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson showing up late for Lionel Twain's party was edited from the theatrical version of Murder by Death, but was restored for TV. The film marked the big-screen directorial debut of Robert Moore, who'd previously directed several of Neil Simon's Broadway productions. Moore went on to direct another Simon spoof, Simon (1978), before his untimely death. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

  • Release date:June 23, 1976


Awarded by
Venice International Film Festival Robert Moore Film Presented 1976 Nominee


Eileen Brennan
as Tess Skeffington
Truman Capote
as Lionel Twain
James Coco
as Milo Perrier
Peter Falk
as Sam Diamond
Alec Guinness
as Jamessir Bensonmum, the Butler
Elsa Lanchester
as Jessica Marbles
David Niven
as Dick Charleston
Peter Sellers
as Sidney Wang
Maggie Smith
as Dora Charleston
Nancy Walker
as Yetta the Maid
Estelle Winwood
as Nurse Withers
James Cromwell
as Marcel the chauffeur
Richard Narita
as Willie Wang


Robert Moore
Raymond Stark
Neil Simon
Dave Grusin
Composer (Music Score)
Margaret Booth
Stephen B. Grimes
Production Designer
Roger M. Rothstein
Associate Producer
Marvin March
Set Designer
Ann Roth
Costume Designer
Tex Rudloff
Sound/Sound Designer
Jerry Jost
Sound/Sound Designer
Augie Lohman
Special Effects
Fred T. Gallo
First Assistant Director
Roger Shearman
Camera Operator
Jennifer Shull