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The Bickering Critics – Anita and George

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Jonny Lee Miller is Sherlock Holmes in “Elementary”: Season Two, Episodes 13, 14, and 15 (2014) – reviewed by George

Episode 13: All in the Family
Detective Marcus Bell (Jon Michael Hill) has been transferred to his first field work job since his injury. He has a desk in Demographics, under Deputy Commissioner Frank Da Silva (Peter Gerety). Demographics is the city’s Counter-Terrorism Unit. On his first call (a man was seen wheeling a drum into a recycling site late last night) he spots the drum quickly because, he says, it’s an older type with a poor paint job, trying to make it match the others, which contain used fluids which cannot be recycled, and so will be trucked upstate to be dumped.
Bell opens the drum and finds a body, minus head and hands, so DNA is the only hope for identification. But when Watson (Lucy Liu) takes a look she knows who it is: Handsome Bobby Pardillo, who walked 21 years ago after an acquittal. The body is fresh, and Captain Gregson (Aidan Quinn) tells Holmes, “He was missing, but he was never presumed dead.” Watson explains her observations and how they pertain: Bobby was knee-capped by Big Teddy Ferrara (Vincent Curatola) over gambling debts.
Holmes goes to Deputy Commissioner Da Silva to ask about that phone call and is told that vocal recognition showed the caller was old and from the area, and he gives Holmes the number of his Tech Dept., which may come up with more. Bell sees Holmes there and calls him out, and Holmes is incredibly snide.
At a web developer’s office (actually a front for the NSA) they meet Dean McNally (Tim Guinee), who will absolutely not, even in the face of Holmes’s evidence, admit his employer is the NSA. He just keeps insisting that he is a techie.
Then while Holmes attacks a ham hock to try to duplicate Pardillo’s wounds, Joan finds the probable killer in the files on the Ferrara mob: Dante Scalice (Fulvio Cecere). Holmes’s retort? “Did you collect these people in trading cards as a child?” Still, as ever, snide in what he considers defeat, but at least in this case, funny.
They go to Scalice’s home and start looking through his garbage, and the surprises start.
Very good episode with a lot for Bell to do, after several episode of not being in the forefront. Also in the cast: Paul Sorvino as Robert Pardillo Sr., the mob boss father of the murdered man.
Written by Jason Tracey, Directed by Andrew Bernstein.

Episode 14: Dead Clade Walking
This case involves Holmes and Watson with archaeologists, paleontologists, and fossils.
A clade is a group of animals that has survived an extinction-level event. Current orthodoxy says a comet struck the earth umpty-ump years ago and the resulting particle cloud enveloped the earth blocking out sunshine and effectively killing off the dinosaurs. Smaller animals (read mammals, then the size of mice or squirrels), needing less food, survived. The proof is that the strike left a layer below the current surface of the earth consisting of rare metals thought to be common in comets and asteroids. This is the K-T boundary. Apart from a very few rare exceptions, all dinosaur fossils are found below the K-T. But a new generation of paleontologists has seized on the few fossils (individual bones only, no complete skeletons) found above the boundary to suggest that some dinosaurs survived the comet’s impact.
Thus endeth the lesson and beginneth the action.
Sherlock gets a call from Randy (Stephen Tyrone Williams), who needs his sponsor for a talk and to accompany him to a meeting. Randy has been visited by his old girlfriend, who introduced him to drugs in the first place. So Sherlock leaves the skull he was working with and goes to tell Joan. He finds Gay (Ashlie Atkinson) working in his unsolved case trunk, and Watson shows him a photo from the Doug Newberg murder file. He was shot in his home in Riverdale. The home was ransacked, so they got DNA, but never found a match. Holmes remembers vaguely, and Watson says she could tell he was using at the time: the notes are really disorganized. Joan shows him another photo from the file which Holmes had managed to deface with marker ink, and tells how she removed the dried ink and that the photo is one of a rock with striations. So she and Gay, a geology student, are on their way to Riverdale to see if the rock is still there. I want to know why it was photographed.
At the former Newberg home the rock is part of a rudimentary wall, so Joan steals it and has it x-rayed. It contains the complete fossil of a tiny tyrannosaurus. The curator with the x-ray machine, Jerome Thomas (Jonno Roberts) is stunned. “This looks like a Nanotyrannus! I think it’s an infant.” Value? “I would say high 7 figures, low 8.”
Now other scientists become involved and debate grows acrimonious, because the fossil MAY have been found above the boundary. There’s another murder and the motive seems to be to win the debate; so the guys on the side of the debate that benefits from the murder are gathered and asked to give DNA. Ivan Kershavin (Jack Dimich) refuses and leaves, but the match is Andrew Donnelly (Joel Hatch). Joan marvels, “The guy in the wheelchair?”
A super episode which makes the science understandable, and also features James Martinez, Jane Alexander, and Adam McNulty.
Written by Jeffrey Paul King, Directed by Helen Shaver.

Episode 15: Corpse de Ballet
At a ballet rehearsal two halves of a body fall from the rigging, effectively ending the rehearsal. The body is that of Nell Solange (Kimberly Faure), throat slit left side only at approximately 10 p.m. the night before, and the body cut in two much later – no liquid blood. Captain Gregson is working the case when Holmes and Watson arrive, and the three interview the ballet master Vincent Renatto (Bradford Cover), who says Nell was the dancer he wanted for the lead, but in the first rehearsals “she didn’t seem to connect with the role”, and he replaced her with Iris Lanzer (Aleksa Palladino). Moving upstage to show the body, Gregson says the perp tied a wire around her waist so that in the morning when the backdrop was lowered, the wire would tighten and…..
Then Gregson takes Holmes and Watson backstage where they find Marcus, back from Counter-terrorism and working on the case, but without a gun, for now. He shows them the murder weapon, a box cutter with the picture of a flower painted on the handle – an iris.
In her dressing room, Iris Lanzer coldly disputes Vincent’s tale: Nell was “considered” for the role but she, Iris, was actually cast. Iris also says that Nell recently broke up with her boyfriend Nicholas Orman (David A. Gregory) who used to be a dancer with the company and has a bad temper.
Sherlock is so deferential, fawning over Iris with compliments, that Joan calls him on it, and he defends Iris calmly but staunchly, maintaining that she is not a suspect, because she, as a highly superior talent, had no reason to regard Nell at all, let alone as competition.
And then the other plot begins: Joan gets a call that one of the men she knows from a shelter where she volunteers, Morris Gilroy (Curtis McClarin), has had a run-in with two policemen while looking for his friend Freebo. Morris has trouble with drugs and with expressing himself, so it’s easy to see how he might get impatient and look “off”. She goes to the hospital where he’s being held, talks to the policemen and to Morris, and leaves to start looking for Freebo, (Frebeaux as it turns out). She finds his sister Rachel Brown (Jennifer Laura Thompson), who doesn’t know where he is and is upset about his running away from the shelter.
Sherlock continues defending Iris, even bedding her in order to test his conclusion that she has a rotator cuff injury and could not have managed the pulleys used to hoist Nell into the rigging. She also gives Sherlock access to her attorney Nathan Sharp (Scott Cohen) who has defended her in cases where she shoved fans, and even one where she pushed a paparazzo, Jake Picardo (Bill Sage), to the ground, breaking his camera. And Sharp has issued restraining orders for her as well. What a lovely lady she is!
Sherlock and Joan solve their individual cases in this double episode, and I think you’ll be satisfied with both wrap-ups, and with the surprises along the way.
Special nod to Aleksa Palladino, who is so good as Iris. She really makes you dislike her and hope that she’s the murderer. But only evidence will tell.
Written by Liz Friedman, Directed by Jean de Segonzac.

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Split (2017) – reviewed by George

This is the story of a young man with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), whose normal persona is Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy), but whose mind harbors many people, some mild, some nasty, with Barry being the emcee so to speak, since he appears to be the main man. Kevin is buried away under all the others.
His psychiatrist, Dr. Karen Fletcher (Betty Buckley), says that cases are known where one personality is diabetic and the others are not, where one has high blood pressure and the others do not. Well, Barry is expecting the arrival of a new persona called The Beast who will be taller and stronger, and I guess that’s a logical extension of the other physical differences just described, but apparently is in the mind of the screenwriter.
The movie is a horror-suspense picture, but the suspense is sparse until halfway through. I liked the movie, but found it slow and (let’s say it all together) UNDERLIT.
The film begins with a high school girl’s birthday party at a lodge or something. The birthday girl Clare (Haley Lu Richardson) and her best bud Marcia (Jessica Sula) have gathered up the presents and Clare’s father (Sebastian Arcelus) has arrived to drive them home. He asks about a girl who seems disengaged from the rest of the guests and Clare says that that is Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), a loner, and that she wasn’t about to invite her art class and leave someone out, and her father offers to drive Casey home as well. At the car the girls get in with Casey in the front seat and while dad puts the presents in the trunk, he is gassed by Kevin Wendell Crumb as “Dennis”, the new dominant replacing poor Barry, who takes his keys, gets in behind the wheel, gasses the girls in the back seat, and kidnaps the three of them.
He keeps them locked up in rooms underneath his workplace (he seems to be a janitor) and keeps his appointments with Dr. Fletcher. The girls are either treated kindly or threatened, depending on which personality they’re talking to. It’s very interesting, just not very scary. And there’s a surprise cameo at the end which references Mr. Glass from the film “Unbreakable”.
Written and Directed by M. Night Shyamalan.

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Unbreakable (2000) – reviewed by George

In 1961 in Philadelphia, in a department store dressing room, a woman has given birth. A doctor (Eamonn Walker) has been summoned and upon arrival he calls for an ambulance – the baby won’t stop crying. And for a very good reason: both arms and both legs are broken. Later, as the child grows, he continues to have fragile bones and is called “Glass” by his schoolmates; and in 1974 he speaks to his mother (Charlayne Woodard) and tells her that he flatly refuses to go back to school.
His real name is Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), and as an adult he becomes absorbed by David Dunn (Bruce Willis), who is the only survivor of a horrendous train wreck. Elijah believes that comic-book style heroes, invincible and destined to defend good people, actually exist and that David is the first one he has identified. He continues to test David, and then there is an actual villain to worry about, and suddenly the “test” is real.
David’s wife Audrey (Robin Wright Penn) and son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark) are endangered, and David will do anything to save them. But does he really have superpowers? Guess he (and we) will find out soon.
Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan.

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April Showers (1948) – reviewed by George

Eventually Warners followed MGM in filming musicals in color, but not yet in 1948 – this is black-and-white. The film starts with a shot of a old theater. There’s a title on screen: San Francisco in the Good Old Days, and then we see the marquee on the old theater: “5 Star Acts of Vaudeville for 30 cents”. And inside the theater we watch a song and dance act, The Happy Tymes, a double act featuring a married couple, Joe and June Tyme (Jack Carson and Ann Sothern). They’re good and the act has an element of self deprecation about it, even with a chorus behind them, which makes it even more fun.
They live in a theatrical hotel run by Mr. Curley (S.Z. Sakall), surrounded by their friends, all of whom are in vaudeviille. And then their son Buster (Robert Ellis), about eleven or twelve, shows up in uniform (he has left his military school back East) and wants in the act. The kid is fantastic, and he remembers every step his old man ever showed him. June wants him back in school getting an education, but the boy’s upbringing backstage is just too strong, and finally they accept him into an expanded act, The Three Happy Tymes.
They quickly become a big hit, but lack of knowledge of a New York law wrecks their hopes of hitting the very heights of the circuit by playing New York.
Then alcoholism rears its head, and the act has to be reworked with Billy Shay (Robert Alda). This is a good musical with a lot of songs grandmother used to sing (or maybe great-grandmother?), and some good dance numbers, and a well-earned happy ending.
From a Story Suggested by Joe Laurie Jr., Screen Play by Peter Milne, Directed by James V. Kern.

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Strange Brew (1983) – reviewed by George

This movie is insane. It is totally outrageous. And it is very funny.
Bob McKenzie (Rick Moranis) and his brother Bob (Dave Thomas) start this MGM movie by trying to get a growl out of a male lion whose head is showing through a hole in a flat which is painted like the logo. The lion will not cooperate, so the bros move to a table and start teaching the audience. “First off, the difference between movies and TV.”
After that they announce that they have made a movie, and Bob sets up a home-movie type screen while Dave explains how to see a movie and then get your money back. It involves moths. Now Bob has the screen up – and it’s movie time. It should be noted that the brothers speak with Canadian accents and call each other “hoser”, and drink beer, lots of beer.
The camera backs up from its focus on the picture we have been watching and continues backing right into the theater where “Strange Brew” is playing. The audience hates the movie and hates the problems the projectionist is having, and starts to leave, so Doug opens a big jar of moths.
When they get home they open three beers, one for their dog Hosehead (Buddy the Dog), and the next morning they go for more beer – Elsinore Beer of course – their favorite. They try a scam that doesn’t work so they go to the brewery, which is housed in a really old-looking castle, to try the scam, and in the brewery the plot really begins. They meet Pam Elsinore (Lynne Griffin) who has just inherited everything, because her father died, and her uncle Claude Elsinore (Paul Dooley), who is in league with the crooked Brewmeister Smith (Max von Sydow) who considers Claude useless weight and will dispose of him as soon as he can. He also plans on killing Pam and anyone else in his way, which quickly includes the McKenzies and Pam’s boyfriend Jean LaRose (Angus MacInnes) a former hockey star.
There’s also a mental hospital next door, where Smith is a doctor and has been using the patients as guinea pigs for a chemical which he has been adding to the beer (the tainted beer has been held and will be served for free at Oktoberfest). The chemical makes zombie-like creatures who can be controlled by musical tones.
As previously noted (no matter what this synopsis sounds like), this is all insane, outrageous, and hysterical. And I loved Hosehead.
Written by Rick Moranis & Dave Thomas and Steven De Jarnatt, Directed by Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis.

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Notting Hill (1999) – reviewed by George

I loved it! As soon as the song “She” began behind the opening credits I was hooked. It’s a great song about a man’s devotion and obsession for one particular woman. Julia Roberts plays a huge American movie star who comes to England, and Hugh Grant plays a sort of shy underwhelming bookshop owner, and his store only sells Travel books. Not exactly a match made in heaven. Yet through problems with differences in just about every area of life, despite turbulent encounters with the British press, despite everything that life can throw, these two people work towards love, even when they seem to be falling out of it instead of the other way around, and of course their totally different backgrounds don’t offer any stability at all.
So as they edge towards commitment, with so many holes in the road that it seems like one step forward, two or three hundred back, they have our strong desire that they succeed. I don’t think that I’m writing a spoiler – it’s a rom-com, for pete’s sake, but it’s the best one I’ve ever seen. I’ve never rooted so hard for any other cinematic couple. And the payoff was superb.
Also didn’t hurt that the supporting cast included so many of my favorite British actors: Hugh Bonneville, Rhys Ifans, and Tim McInnerny in large parts and Gina McKee, Emily Mortimer, Clarke Peters, and Sanjeev Bhaskar in smaller roles.
A great night at the movies for me, and if you haven’t seen it I’m pretty sure it’ll be a great night for you too.
Written by Richard Curtis, Directed by Roger Michell. And “She”: Lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer and Music by Charles Aznavour. Wow!

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Jonny Lee Miller is Sherlock Holmes in “Elementary”: Season Two, Episodes 10, 11, and 12 (2013) – reviewed by George

Episode 10: Tremors
Holmes and Watson (Lucy Liu) consulted in a murder case involving a young woman in a clinical trial who was shotgunned in the chest precisely over the heart, reducing the organ to a thickish soup. They proved that she was dead before being shot and indeed was a victim of potassium poisoning, which the shotgun blast was designed to hide.
But as a result of Holmes’s methods of picking locks to gain access and other non-police-approved techniques, a trial is being held within the police department to determine if he and Watson should be allowed to continue consulting for the department: the biggest issue being that within the context of the investigation Detective Bell (Jon Michel Hill) was shot, and might actually lose his ability to hold, let alone fire, a revolver, thereby effectively consigning him to a desk for the rest of his career.
At the trial there is only one attorney, Cassandra Walker (Elizabeth Marvel), who is not at all comfortable with Holmes’s techniques or attitude, and seems determined to ask only questions designed to prove her point that Holmes (and by association Watson) acts in a way detrimental to the NYPD. And really, she’s not wrong, unless results are factored in, and even then police procedure is the way it is for many reasons, all good.
Presiding over the trial is Judge Brewster O’Hare (Frankie Faison), who ultimately decides that Holmes and Watson should be terminated as consultants. A very good episode, and hooray for Police Commissioner August Patrick (Brian Reddy) for allowing the series to continue.
Written by Liz Friedman, Directed by Aaron Lipstadt.

Episode 11: Internal Audit
Marcus Bell is back at work at a desk job, and is learning to use his left hand as his primary. Watson comes to deliver some meals she has prepared for him, and he says the doctors don’t have a final word about his arm. Joan tries to cheer him up, but that isn’t what he wants to hear. Meanwhile Holmes is having a lesson in breaking into cars without setting off the alarm system from Alfredo (Ato Essandoh), whom he met in AA (and who has been on the show before), and he is still defending his actions in the case that got Bell shot. “So why can’t I move on?”
A newscast being watched by Donald Hauser (Thomas Ryan) in his spacious apartment: “Allegations continue to mount that Donald Hauser, trusted money manager to New York’s elite, may have been running a pyramid scheme for decades. The SEC is currently investigating.” And Hauser, looking defeated, removes a revolver from a plush bag and takes off the safety and puts the barrel in his mouth. At that moment a man enters and shoots him in the thigh. Hauser screams in pain, and the man shoots him in the other thigh.
The next morning his personal chef, Chloe Butler (Heather Burns), finds him murdered with THIEF written in his blood on the wall. And later that morning a second victim is found: the reporter who exposed Mr. Hauser in that TV newscast, shot and tied up and murdered just as Hauser was.
Among the suspects: the personal chef Miss Butler, Jacob Weiss (Richard Masur) who runs a charity that recovers artwork stolen by the Nazis and sells it, reimbursing the families, and Nelson Maddox (Lucas Hall), who is caught on video near the reporter’s place around the time of her murder.
A case with many, many moral issues and decisions, which we all know Sherlock is very bad at. But there is hope for him: he ends the episode by accepting the sponsorship (and therefore responsibility) for Randy (Stephen Tyrone Williams), a friend of Alfredo’s who really needs a sponsor.
Written by Bob Goodman, Directed by Jerry Levine.

Episode 12:The Diabolical Kind
While Bell is working hard trying to learn to use his right hand and arm, we see that Holmes and Moriarty (Natalie Dormer) still correspond, and he hides her letters from Watson in one of his bee hives. Next, while he writes a letter to her, we see her working on a portrait of Watson as the “Mona Joan”. And across town a man, Max Fuller, old money whose ancestors were British railroad tycoons, is murdered late at night (in NYC) and his daughter Kayden ( Delphina Belle) is kidnapped.
Captain Gregson (Aidan Quinn) shows Holmes and Watson around the crime scene and notes that the killer-kidnappers disabled the alarm, got past a state-of-the-art deadbolt and a steel-plated cage door, and encountered Fuller on the stairs on their way to Kayden’s bedroom.No note was left; but rather quickly the kidnapper (a male) calls Mrs. Fuller (Rachel Pickup) with a demand for $50 million. Sherlock declares the voice to be that of Moriarty, but Joan protests that Moriarty is a woman and is in jail. Sherlock counters it’s the man who pretended to be Moriarty: Faux-riarty.
And now the Feds tell Gregson and Holmes that Moriarty is no longer in prison in Britain, but has been transferred to a black site within the Brooklyn Navy Yard while both Scotland Yard and the FBI interrogate her. Her main jailer is Ramses Mattoo (Faran Tahir). Gregson, Holmes, and Watson visit Moriarty in her confinement and find a spacious, if somewhat sparsely furnished, apartment, where she has access to art supplies and periodicals, and prominently displays her “Joan Lisa”, to Joan’s obvious distress. She claims to know nothing, but admits that she could possibly help in exchange for more perks. But she’s so clever, she’s very easy to hate. She could be more likable if she weren’t such a smiling cat with that don’t-doubt-that-I-wiil-win expression. Dormer’s performance is exquisite in its minimalist approach. But of course Moriarty has masterminded the kidnapping for two reasons: not the money, though she has no objections to it, but for a spoiler reason, and in order to escape. Really good stuff here.
Written by Robert Doherty and Craig Sweeny, Directed by Larry Teng.

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Harold Lloyd in “Speedy” (1928) – reviewed by George

Of the Harold Lloyd silent comedies I’ve reviewed, this is far and away the best. It takes place in New York City and a lot of it, apparently, was filmed on the streets of New York, including a great, fantastic chase scene. Harold plays Howard “Speedy” Swift, who finds it very hard to keep a job, and lives with his girlfriend, Jane Dillon (Ann Christy), and her grandfather “Pop” Dillon (Bert Woodruff), who owns and operates the last surviving horse-drawn streetcar line (one car that Pop and his horse drive themselves) in the city, in a slower-paced neighborhood.
Now, all the other lines are bigger and electric, and the drive to consolidate is on. On a Saturday, while driving his streetcar, Pop is approached by Steve Carter (Brooks Benedict), who wants to know Pop’s price to sell. Pop says he has named his price and that’s it. Carter sneers in disgust and leaves. Then Jane boards with lunch and rides with Pop back to the end of the line. Speedy in the meantime has lost his job at the soda counter of a local drugstore, but before he does we see his total absorption with the New York Yankees. He tells Jane about losing the job, but while she is disappointed, he really doesn’t care: “I always get my jobs on Mondays.” Then another mogul shows up while Pop and Speedy are having dinner. This is W.S. Wilton (Byron Douglas), who asks Pop to write his rock-bottom price on a slip of paper. Pop writes $10,000, but he has to pass it to Speedy for transfer to Wilton and Speedy drops it and changes the 1 to a 7. Wilton is enraged and stomps out, with a threat to force Pop out.
On Sunday Speedy takes Jane for a day at Coney Island, and this long sequence is hysterical, and also gets Speedy a stray dog, who is one of the all-time great dogs of cinema. This pooch is simply wonderful.
And Speedy’s new job is as a cab driver, where he meets Babe Ruth and attends a game, and Speedy’s driving is such that Babe is glad to make it to the park alive. So now the bad guys settle on a plan to drive Pop out of business, but at the ballpark Speedy overhears and rouses Pop’s neighborhood of mostly old guys running their small individual businesses to unite and defend him.
As the funny stuff builds and builds I could just imagine how audiences of 1928 would have reacted. Just like I did! Laughing and Cheering and Having a Hell of a Good Time!
Story and Screenplay by John Gray and Lex Neal and Howard Rogers and Jay Howe, Titles by Albert DeMond, Directed by Ted Wilde, Music Composed and Conducted by Carl Davis.

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The Cheap Detective (1978) – reviewed by George

Another satire by Neil Simon, and this time the subject is one single movie: “Casablanca”. Peter Falk plays the Humphrey Bogart role, the lovely Louise Fletcher takes over for Ingrid Bergman, and Fernando Lamas subs for Paul Henried. And Scatman Crothers plays Tinker, taking on the Sam role, originally played by Dooley Wilson.
I used to think satire was a form of comedy, but I see now that you can satirize something without being funny. The only time I laughed: Falk’s private detective enters a home where he has an appointment with the husband. The wife lets him in and the husband joins them and passes Falk a note that says, “Don’t trust her”, quickly followed by a note from her that says, “Don’t trust him either.”
The story takes place in San Francisco in 1939 and has German soldiers led by Nicol Williamson, French resistance fighters led by James Coco, and some Algerians including Pepe Damascus (Dom DeLuise). And of course beautiful women played by Ann-Margret, Eileen Brennan, Stockard Channing, Madeline Kahn, and Marsha Mason. And others featured are Sid Caesar, John Houseman, Phil Silvers, amd Abe Vigoda.
But a big talented cast and an excellent writer of stage comedies don’t really add up to a laugh-out-loud movie. The plot is complicated and fun to follow, but I don’t think you’re going to laugh more than a few times. The Technicolor is good.
Written by Neil Simon, Directed by Robert Moore.

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Murder by Death (1976) – reviewed by George

The creators of this movie had a lot of ideas and so they took everything and threw it at the wall to see what would stick. Well, it all stuck, so you have some very funny punchlines, situations, and sequences separated by exposition: the detectives explaining stuff to each other and then correcting each other, and that’s a drag. It isn’t funny and it takes too long – let the first explanation be right and move on to more laughs (although sometimes the corrected version is funny). And sometimes the punch is weak, like listing the stars “in Diabolical Order”. And then there are throw-away lines that are funny, like mentioning The WaterBed Hotel in Carmel.
The basic idea is actually kind of fabulous: satirize famous fictional detectives brought together by a happy little nutcase. The detectives are 1) The Thin Man and his wife, Nick and Nora Charles, here called Dick and Dora Charleston, 2) Charlie Chan and his Number One Son, here called Sidney Wang and Little Willie Wang, 3) Hercule Poirot and his chauffeur, here called Monsieur Perrier and Marcel Cassette, 4) Sam Spade and his secretary, here called Sam Diamond and Tess Skeffington, and 5) Jane Marple and her nurse, here called Jessica Marbles and Miss Withers (whose name is an inside joke). Now, so far so good – there’s a good deal of humor there. But wait for it…
The Host of the dinner is Lionel Twain (he’s just “too, too Twain”). And he has a blind butler, Jamessir Bensonmum, and a cook who is deaf and mute and can’t read English (even though she can write it) named Yetta.
The invitations read “You are cordially invited to Dinner and a Murder at 22 Lola Lane (inside joke there too) Saturday evening 7 P.M.
Your Host Lionel Twain”
The actors involved are (remember, they’re in diabolical order): Eileen Brennan, Truman Capote, James Coco, Peter Falk, Alec Guinness, Elsa Lanchester, David Niven, Peter Sellers, Maggie Smith, Nancy Walker, Estelle Winwood, & James Cromwell, Richard Narita, and Myron (the Charlestions’ terrier). I guess the chauffeur, the number one son, and the dog didn’t rate “Diabolically”.
I hope I haven’t given you the idea that this is not worth watching; it is. Just don’t go in thinking it’s a comedy; it’s a satirical slap at the favorite detectives (literary and/or filmic) of one hell of a lot of people, and if you are one of them you may not be too happy.There is a particular slap I didn’t like, where Lionel attacks Perrier, saying that he just introduces the guilty character and the major clue in the last chapter, which is clearly untrue. Agatha Christie was probably the cleverest mystery write ever (and the fairest), and her secret (which you can figure out by reading seven or eight books in a row, but I’m about to save you the time, though I know you would love finding it out yourself) is to plant that major clue before anyone has been murdered. That way, you may have forgotten it by the time you need it, and that is NOT unfair. Just pay more attention.
So, could audiences 43 years ago have been less hip, less knowing? I don’t think so; they may have been a little less discriminating. After all, they had a lot fewer choices back then. And this may be Neil Simon, but it’s no Odd Couple.
Written by Neil Simon, Directed by Robert Moore.
Footnote: Lola Lane was Priscilla’s sister, and Hildegarde Withers was a popular spinster detective in the 30’s. “Murder on a Honeymoon” where Edna May Oliver played Miss Withers, and which, believe it or not, features Lola Lane, was reviewed here on November 21, 2018. Check the month in the Archives on the right.

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