This comedy flick was really made for hard-core fans of the mystery genre. I’m talking about the folks who watch the movies, read the books, and know Sam Spade, Charlie Chan, Hercules Poroit, and Mrs. Marple like the back of their hand.
If you consider yourself one of the mystery fan elite, then this movie will probably keep you delighted- or at least slightly amused- for a couple hours. If you aren’t a fan of the classic mystery genre- well, you’ll probably want to throw the DVD out the window after about twenty minutes. There are a few zany jokes that will give a laugh to just about any audience, but most of the humor is centered around cliche’s in the mystery genre, and the film completely gives up making any logical sense about 4/5ths of the way to the end.
The movie opens by introducing it’s five main characters: Sidney Wang (Peter Sellers), Sam Diamond (Peter Faulk), Milo Perrier (James Coco), Dick Charleston (David Niven), Jessica Marbles (Else Lanchester) and their companions as they’re making their way down a foggy road at night, trying to reach a creepy mansion- where they’ve all been invited to dinner by a mysterious host. As we find out pretty early in the film, the five guests are credited as the worlds greatest detectives. Naturally each character is a ridiculously comical parody of a notorious literary or film gumshoe from the ‘golden age’ of detective noir.
The plot unfolds when the host, Lionell Twain (Truman Capote), reveals that a murder will occur at exactly midnight. Both the murderer and the victim are seated at the very table, and that the means of murder will be 12 stab wounds in the back with a butcher knife. He then announces that the detective who correctly solves the case will be rewarded with one million dollars, and any detective who cannot solve the case will lose their reputations.
Afterwards everyone is locked inside the mansion without means of escape- of course.
Throw in a blind butler named Bensonmum (Alec Guinness) and an illiterate, deaf, mute cook (Nancy Walker), a doorbell that shrieks when activated, a never-ending supply of falling gargoyles, a gallery of portraits with moving eyes, a nerve rattling howling and barking- which Bensonmum insists is the cat- and bodies that dissappear, re-appear, and turn into plastic mannequins, and you’ve got yourself a show.
For me it was really Sam Diamond (Peter Faulk) and Sidney Wang (Peter Sellers) that made this film funny. These two really got to grind their genre into the ground. Faulk’s dinner jacket has a bullet hole in it when he arrives, he constantly goes off on tyrades that are worthy of a Bogart movie, and is constantly telling his female companion to leave him alone. Sellers, on the other hand, makes a mockery of Charlie Chan in the best possible way. He leaves out his prepositions, speaks in a chop-suey accent, and seems to have a not-quite-chinese proverb for every occassion.
The rest of the cast make jibes and manage to get a chuckle or two in dialogue, but to be honest the film could have completely left out half the cast and still been funny.
The movie is hokey, but that’s because it’s supposed to be hokey. The characters are hokey, the plot is hokey, and the clues are hokey. The solution at the end doesn’t make a lick of sense- and it’s not supposed to. Its a terrible movie, but its terrible on purpose, and that’s the joke.
The whole point of this movie was to point out the faults and flaws in the hokey mystery classics, and do it in the most comical manner possible.
I give it 3 and 1/2 stars.