It’s possible, within reason, to spot a number of sneaky villains on this list before they’re officially revealed. This is not the case with “Murder by Death”. But, as we’ll explain, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
“Murder by Death” is a low-key satire stuffed to the ears with whimpering jokes, courtesy of incredibly talented playwright and screenwriter Neil Simon (who also wrote the movie’s mocking sequel “The Cheap Detective”). The premise of the film is a doozy, so be sure to hang on to something solid: five big-name sleuths (each a pastiche of a famous fictional sleuth, from Hercule Poirot to badass Sam Spade) are summoned by the eccentric and hilarious Lionel Twain (Truman Capote) for dinner at his secluded mansion. Twain offers the detectives a $1 million prize if they can solve a murder that will take place at the stroke of midnight. When the murder turns out to be Twain’s clean murder, the increasingly chaotic hunt is on. Amidst all the secret passages, booby-trapped rooms, blind butlers and deaf-mute maids, it soon becomes apparent that while the killer is Absolutely right under our noses, it’s impossible for even the greatest detective to uncover this mystery.
Sure enough, the ultimate reveal proves that (1) the killer was in the middle of the group the entire time, and (2) there was no way anyone could guess who it was. At first, it looks like Bensonmum, the not-so-blind butler played by Alec Guinness, did just that. Several disguises within disguises later (a chaotic nesting doll of revelations to witness firsthand), Bensonmum strips off his latex mask to reveal that he is, in fact, Lionel Twain himself, berating detectives for having annoyed their loyal readers with ridiculous twist endings. Then, just before the credits, Twain deletes another mask to reveal they were the maid (Nancy Walker) the whole time. Does anyone else have a headache?