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Neil Simon's 'Murder by Death' Defined Most of My Childhood

On a Thursday night in the early-to-mid 80s I became transfixed by a film that would leave a lasting impression on my young brain. I remember it was a Thursday because those were the nights my mother worked late, and my father pretty much let me watch whatever I wanted.

Murder by Death, the Neil Simon-penned farce that starred a dozen famous names (Maggie Smith, Peter Falk, Alec Guiness, Peter Sellers - to name a few), had a few runs on broadcast television, and since the age of 5, I had always made an appointment to watch it whenever a listing popped up in TV Guide -- that is, until my family finally learned how to properly use a VCR.

Murder is clearly a precursor of Clue, another murder-mystery spoof I proudly list on my Top 10 Favorite Films of All-Time. The zany plot points, the cheeky dialogue, the gothic settings -- all of it must have conspired to appeal to my then-burgeoning inner mystery buff.

The opening credits of this 1976 film is probably another element that drew me in. Designed by Charles Addams, the pop-up cutout features caricatures of each actor, some with eyes that creepily shift back and forth. It closely resembles the artwork featured in Masterpiece Mystery, which happens to be done by Edward Gorey, my favorite artist. Also, the film's signature score is a classy-yet-quirky orchestration of horns, strings, and flutes that perfectly captures the tone of the whole production.

But ultimately, what my obsession with this near-obscure piece of cinema proves -- a movie that came out four years before I was even born -- is that I am indeed my mother's son. In retrospect, my mother, a fan of all things Agatha Christie, clearly influenced my pop cultural tastes. I grew up in a household filled with paperback detective novels, Sherlock Holmes, and Murder She Wrote (and since I'm an only child, the influence was probably stronger).

Just another piece of insight on why I am who I am today.



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