Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Fun in the Murderhouse: Making fun of Mystery

I may not be the sharpest tool in the drawer, but I have to admit, I used to be a bit of a thinker. In high school, I was a junior who could solve calculus problems with a smile and a piece of chalk, and looked forward to the insolvable Problem of the Weeks (in which we were handing in 5 page essays with complicated math questions, weird questions: a memorable one featured The Pit and the Pendulum). Such was the norm at a magnet school, where the only real distinction between the 'nerds' and the 'cool kids' was who could color coordinate.

That said, I had a pretty sharp little mind there. My entrance essay to USC was a brilliant rumination of my marathon run and it's comparison to college.

Then of course, I entered communication, and it was downhill from there. What I learned was mostly how to bullshit and how the scholars of our time have made it an awesome artform. I also learned that college communication students love to argue with the professor, and it's also okay to write a thesis on Fatal Attraction (I've seen enough of Michael Douglas' bare ass to last me a friggin' lifetime). That said, instead of culling my mind, I've become quite dim. (It's okay: I've got Brain Age on DS)

That said, I still love a good mystery to give my brain a nice nibble. The problem of course, is that most mysteries these days are friggin' easy to figure out, particularly with the introduction of such shows like Criminal Minds,CSI, Without a Trace, etc.

Can you spot the murderer?

1) Always bet on the lover. Unless the lover saves puppys.

2) Always bet on the lesbian. Bonus points if she's evil.

3) The random dude that gets featured in the last minutes? It's him.

4) That random person that keeps showing up that you can't figure out what they're doing there? That's him too.

5) Always bet on the weirdly likable person that the sidekick stops by to see on a whim, while the hero is running off after the main suspect. Bonus points if you hear ominous music when the crazy person closes the door.

Given the formula, how can you not make fun of it?

Who's ready for 'Not Another Cheesy Murder Mystery?'

Fortunately, it's been done, and brilliantly.

Before Resident Evil, There was a movie based on a video game that was actually good (And no, DOOM, we're not talking to you. Step Back, Hit Man - I'm still waitin' for Max Payne). Based on the boardgame, CLUE took some of the most talented comedians of the time, and put them all in a mansion with a character and multiple murders. There's the savy wickedly sex Ms Scarlett, the horndog Professor Plum, the deadly Mrs. White, and many others, including, of course,the Butler, featuring Tim Curry in my favorite role (yes, even more than Rocky Horror Picture Show).

Nothing is what you'd expect, and yet it all makes sense.

But also? It's wickedly funny .


Mrs. White: [after Mrs. Peacock swears that the reason she's being blackmailed is a vicious lie] Well, I believe you... I, too, am being blackmailed for something I didn't do.
Professor Plum: Me too.
Colonel Mustard: And me.
Miss Scarlet: Not me.
Wadsworth: [surprised] You're NOT being blackmailed...?
Miss Scarlet: Oh, I'm being blackmailed all right... but I did what I'm being blackmailed for.

Colonel Mustard: This is war Peacock. Casualties are inevitable. You can not make an omelet without breaking some eggs, every cook will tell you that.

Mrs. Peacock: But look what happened to the cook!

Mr. Green: But this is ridiculous. If he were such a patriotic American, why didn't he just report us to the authorities?
Wadsworth: He decided to put his information to good use and make a little money off of it. What could be more American than that?

Colonel Mustard: How many husbands have you had?
Mrs. White: Mine or other women's?
Colonel Mustard: Yours.
Mrs. White: Five.
Colonel Mustard: Five?
Mrs. White: Yes, just the five. Husbands should be like Kleenex: soft strong and disposable.
Colonel Mustard: You lure men to their deaths like a spider with flies.
Mrs. White: Flies are where men are most vulnerable.
Colonel Mustard: Right!

Want something funny, mysterious, and making no sense at all? Try Murder By Death which takes living incarnations of famous detectives such as Nick and Nora, Charlie Chan, Agatha Christie, and Columbo and puts them together in a house to figure out a mytery masterminded by a little weird pale fat man.

More than Clue, it makes fun of a genre, and if you're a fan of murder mystery books, Nick and Nora or want to see Columbo spoofing Humphrey Bogart or Peter Sellers steal the show in a Charlie Chan send up, this isn't to be missed.

Also? Obi Wan Kenobi - plays a blind butler.


Milo Perrier: I'm not a Frenchie, I'm a BELGIE!

Sidney Wang: Yes, is confusing.
Lionel Twain: IT! IT is confusing! Say your goddamn pronouns!

Dick Charleston: Up there, Dora, look - a blind butler.
Dora Charleston: Don't let him park the car, Dickie.

Lionel Twain: I'm the greatest, I'm number one!
Sam Diamond: To me, you look like number two, know what I mean?
Dora Charleston: What DOES he mean, Miss Skeffington?
Tess Skeffington: I'll tell you later. It's disgusting.

Sidney Wang: Big house like man married to fat woman: hard to get around.


  1. Persnickety corrections on "Murder by Death":

    I come bearing message from Findle: The "little weird pale fat man" was played by Truman Capote *G* And the character of the little old lady detective was a parody of Christie's character Miss Marple, not Christie herself. In the 70s you could get away with making a movie that had book characters in it as well as film ones :)

    There's a follow-up movie called "The Cheap Detective" featuring Peter Falk playing the Sam Spadeish character from this one, in a kind of Maltese Falcon/film noir mashup, which is also worth watching. Like MbD it's probably funnier if you know the source material, but it's still good standalone.

    And I'm old enough to remember when Simon was a factory in the 70s, writing silly things like these movies and silly plays and the book for silly musicals (They're Playing Our Song) and just a lot of silly. By the 90s though he had stopped writing 6000 plays/scripts a year and would write only one or two but those of astounding quality (see, for example, the autobiographical series he did that included Brighton Beach Memoirs). I'm a big Simon fan of his better stuff and retain a probably nostalgia-based tolerance for his silly bits. :)

  2. Oh yeah, and you will also see Professor McGonnigal, playing Dora Charleston.