Truman Capote

Murder by Death (1976, Robert Moore)

Writer Neil Simon did not adapt Murder by Death from one of his plays, which I’ve always assumed he did. While the film does have a more theatrical structure–a great deal of Death is the cast in one room–the action does follow the characters around and some of their experiences would be impossible without cinematic storytelling.

Simon’s structure for the film, which takes its time not just introducing the characters, but the mystery and all the elements involved, is brilliant. Death‘s a spoof and practically a spoof of a spoof, something Simon plays with in the dialogue. He’s very playful in the dialogue–there’s a great exchange with David Niven, Alec Guinness and Maggie Smith where Smith’s character gets tired of listening to Simon’s banter. And Simon discreetly gets it in. Death isn’t about misdirection, it’s about being so constantly funny the viewer can no longer anticipate gags.

Besides the actors–everyone is outstanding, with Eileen Brennan and James Coco probably being the best. James Cromwell is also really good as Coco’s sidekick. And Peter Sellers as the Charlie Chan stand-in can only get funnier with Peter Falk’s Sam Spade analogue harassing him. It’s hard to list all the funny moments because there are ninety-some minutes of them.

Moore’s direction is ideal. He doesn’t get in the way of the cast or the script. Great Dave Grusin music.

Death is utterly fantastic. It doesn’t even matter the film’s narrative doesn’t work. Simon’s a very funny guy.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Moore; written by Neil Simon; director of photography, David M. Walsh; edited by John F. Burnett; music by Dave Grusin; production designer, Stephen B. Grimes; produced by Ray Stark; released by Columbia Pictures.

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


The Innocents (1961, Jack Clayton)

I don’t get it.

When I watched the film, I had no idea The Innocents was considered some masterpiece of British cinema. I’m actually rather surprised by the acclaim. Similarly, I’m shocked Deborah Kerr considered her performance in this film her best. It’s not a bad performance by any means; the plotting constrains it a great deal. I guess considering those constraints it’s a good performance. I was much more impressed with Megs Jenkins’s performance, seeing as how it was, well, unconstrained.

Perhaps some of my confusion is over a forty-year-old Kerr playing a twenty-year-old. I thought she was supposed to be playing a forty-year-old. I guess I can see it being different if her character is supposed to be twenty. Makes a backstory a lot less important (her character has no backstory, one of the major problems if you’re watching it with her being forty–and her age is never mentioned, so I don’t see as how it’s my fault).

Technically, it’s a good film. Freddie Francis had a lot of difficult shots to do in the dark and, while they aren’t the most successful things in the world (it’s not like Gregg Toland’s shooting this one), it’s a fine attempt. Clayton does get some really disturbing compositions in, but it’s never exactly scary. The film’s got two ways to go, either of them could be scary, but Clayton purposely ignores these options, so as to make the film… atmospheric without frightening.

Eh.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Jack Clayton; screenplay by William Archibald and Truman Capote, with additional scenes and dialogue by John Mortimer, based on a novel by Henry James; director of photography, Freddie Francis; edited by Jim Clark; music by Georges Auric; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Deborah Kerr (Miss Giddens), Peter Wyngarde (Peter Quint), Megs Jenkins (Mrs. Grose), Michael Redgrave (The Uncle), Martin Stephens (Miles), Pamela Franklin (Flora), Clytie Jessop (Miss Jessel) and Isla Cameron (Anna).


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