See It Instead: Game Night.
If your ideal game night involves gathering around the screen and playing “whodunnit” we’ve got three murder mystery comedies to test your wits.
This weekend Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams try to stay alive while solving a zany mystery in the new comedy Game Night. We’ve covered plenty of detective stories here on Deluxe Video Online, even some classic murder mystery comedies*, as well as a few that were not so classic. To tide you over until the culprit his caught, we’ve done a deep dive to bring you three lesser known gems in the genre. Grab your deerstalker cap, polish your magnifying glass, and settle in because the game is afoot!
*I’m talking about Clue. I’m always talking about Clue. Seriously, I think I’ve accidentally reviewed that film a dozen times over the years!
Game Night (2018).
A competitive couple that has bonded over party games is invited to participate in an elaborate murder mystery game. What starts out as their dream come true becomes a nightmare as the hired “extras” in the game take their job a tad too seriously. Is it all a ruse, a case of over-eager actors, or could somebody really want them dead?
The Serious Pick: Murder by Death (1976).
The world’s best detectives are summoned to a dinner party, only to be ambushed by their host: he claims that he is the world’s best detective and will prove it with a wager. Locking the guest into a house full of traps and snares, he defies them to solve a murder before they can go free. The winner of the contest will also pocket a cool million bucks. As the body count rises, the famous sleuths must race each other for the prize, and their freedom.
This quirky comedy penned by Neil Simon is best suited for fans of old detective serials. The sleuths are all modeled after famous private eyes like Sam Spade, Charlie Chan and Hercule Poirot. The comedy is at its best when the silly script is riffing on tired cliches from the genre or poking fun at the oversized personalities that populate it. The finale is a ridiculous series of reveals that would make Scooby-Doo proud.
The Lighthearted Pick: Whistling in the Dark (1941).
A radio serial personality famous for playing an ace private eye known as The Fox catches the eye of a maniacal cult leader. The wacko wants to shorten the lifespan of one of his parishioners in order to inherit a large fortune, and figures the brain behind The Fox can come up with a fool-proof murder plot that even the greatest detective could not pin on him. To this end he kidnaps the celebrity and two of his leading ladies, intent on forcing him to pen a deadly plot in real life.
This is the first screen appearance of legendary funny man Red Skeleton, and he quickly demonstrates his knack for quick word play and a put-upon persona. His harried radio star is a bit of a shrinking violet when it comes to heroism, and Red Skeleton plays him like a cross between Don Knot’s Barney Fife and Bert Lahr’s Cowardly Lion. His meek but quick tongued protagonist is wonderfully counterbalanced by Conrad Veidt’s nefarious cult leader. Veidt was a tall and angular German phenom who played some of the most iconic antagonists of the black and white era, starring in Casablanca, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and The Man Who Laughed (the inspiration for Batman’s grinning nemesis, The Joker.) While this is a much more lighthearted film, Veidt is magnetic as a villain in every performance and helps to give this comedy some depth.
*Version Versus Version*: Whistling in the Dark was actually a remake of a pre-code film of the same name, and both were based upon a stage play. The earlier version has the protagonist play a crime writer, much more in line with popular genre tropes commonly seen in Agatha Christie and many subsequent amateur detective serials. While there are comedic elements of the 1933 film, it starts off as a fairly serious drama that is more reliant upon the absurdity of the villains scheme than the comedic styling of its cast.
The Unconventional Pick: Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982).
A cheese maker dies in a suspicious accident and his heir is convinced that nefarious forces are after her family’s secret cheese recipes. She hires a professional snoop to track down the malefactors, and his investigation leads him through some of the most iconic films in the noir/detective genre.
While this film is certainly funny, featuring the iconic tomfoolery of an early-career Steve Martin, the film is an overlooked classic due to the sheer audacity of director Carl Reiner’s undertaking. Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid weaves Martin into and out of famous scenes from films such as Deception, Double Indemnity, The Big Sleep and more. By shooting in black and white and on many of the same sets as these earlier classics, Carl Reiner is able to re-purpose performances and scenes from the heyday of the genre. Watching Steve Martin do his “fool who’s not in on the joke” routine against Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney and Ingrid Bergman is a delight. Any fan of the genre should include this film in their collection as it is a veritable who’s who and what’s what of the best noir films, all surrounded by a solid comedy.