Murder by Death
Dir: Robert Moore
Str: David Niven, Peter Sellers, Peter Falk, Alec Guinness
This movie is making fun of our tendency to cling to a certain plot
This movie is definitely funny. As the title faintly suggests, the movie is
supposed to be a detective story. But actually the movie is every bit an antithesis of detective stories or rather
an antithesis of the way of storytelling itself. Because all things happening in the film have no reason at all,
and all reasonable explanations of every event are completely precluded from first. First of all, the title itself
is redundant and sounds strange. I presume this unreasonableness accrues not from the fact the movie is meant to
be a comedy, but from the writer's (Neil Simon's) intention of making fun of viewers' tendency to cherish and cling
to the congruity of a story line and a linear plot. Why one feel uncomfortable when things happen without any explanation
in a story is rather a difficult question to answer, for, in reality, many things happen abruptly, possibly without
any reason at all, at least from the stand point of the person involved. Therefore our demand for stories to be
consistent should not be taken for granted. Of course, there are many modern novels that are not based upon traditional
methods of writings. But few persons actually read such kind of novels. How many persons you know have ever read
the works of, say, Alain Robbe-Grillet or even Joyce? Most of the people want to read the stories that have a certain
plot line and a satisfying ending, if it doesn't necessarily mean a happy ending.
I was a damn stupid when I saw this film first time.
So the first time I saw this film, I thought what a silly movie the movie was.
Certainly it was funny to watch many famous actors and actresses impersonate famous detectives like Sam Spade or
Miss Marple. But I was foolish enough to expect that a serious murder case would soon happen, and those eminent
detectives would solve the murder with their extraordinary detective skills as a showcase of their faculty when
all of five detectives converged on in a dining room, despite the fact all of the meaningless cnversations preceding
the scene had suggested nothing but the proof such was not the case with this movie. No matter how silly it seems
to be, I could not help thinking there had to be some rational explanations for all those non-sense happening in
the movie, which I assume would be a normal attitude as a reaction to this kind of story.
In a sense, detective stories require the most traditional formality;
i.e. strictly structured plot line.
Of course, such an expectation in my part was beautifully betrayed. From first
till end, the movie had nothing to do with coherent storytelling or a strictly structured plot line that is the
essence of detective novels. In a sense, detective novels represent one of the most essential aspects of novels;
i.e. firmly structured plot development. Formality is strictly imposed on detective novels. There is no such a
detective novel in which things remain unsolved. If so, we would not be able to call such a novel a detective novel
in the first place. All things happening in detective novels must have a reason or at least be solved by the end.
In this context, Agatha Christie's famous (someone might say I should use the word notorious) novel The
Murder of Roger Ackroyd still can be classified as a detective novel, even if it ignores one important conventional
prerequisite of a detective novel. Because such devious ploy (As I don't want to spoil the pleasure of those who
have never read this novel before, I am not going to tell what "such" means) is employed for preserving
the rationality of the plot development while attaining maximum unexpected effect within the range of the rationality.
The movies predictability becomes a matter in the first place
regardless of whether actually predictable or not have rather
Anyway, the movie has become one of the most frequently seen movies in my video
library. I don't know the reason. But sometimes such movies as have a firmly constructed plot soon lose their novelty.
Because such movies tend to rely heavily upon the complexity of a plot for the source of their strength, which
cannot bear retaining through even several sittings. Probably it is true that the movies, of which predictability
becomes a matter in the first place regardless of whether they shall be considered preditable or not, have rather
short longevity, no matter how skillfully the plot is fabricated. Of course, also Murder by Death has a
plot. But the strength of the film never resides in the plot, or rather the plot structure of this film is put
into place just for showing us how awkward a movie employs a convoluted plot in order to obfuscate the lack of
intrinsic strength of its own.
There are many ways of getting fun out of movies. Therefore,
shouldn't cling to just one aspect.
Finally I would like to add one thing in order to avoid a certain misunderstanding.
That is, I am not saying a firmly structured plot itself is the cause of weakness. If properly placed, a firmly
structured plot can bring tremendous strength to the novel employing it. What I want to say is there are several
ways to make a story fun, and if we cling to the only one aspect of it; i.e. well conceived plot line, we are losing
all of the rest of the funs.