Generally given to writing sitcomish comedies that are sticky with bathos, Neil Simon uncorked his cellar of shtick for this murder-mystery parody, composed entirely of a character cast making easy hay of Sam Spade, Nick and Nora Charles, Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot, and Charlie Chan (not to mention blind butler Alec Guinness and deaf-mute maid Nancy Walker). The “world’s greatest detectives” are locked in a booby-trapped house in a rainstorm, of course (by host Truman Capote, which is the part of Murder By Death we still don’t get), but the cast (including Peter Falk, Eileen Brennan, David Niven, Elsa Lanchester, James Coco, and Peter Sellers) are savvy pros at the top of their game, and not a campy stitch is dropped.
This grim British chiller’s title says it all: the grainy black-and-white film allows not a shred of sunshine or color as we follow a guilt-ridden Richard Attenborough around London as he carries out unhinged wife Kim Stanley’s plan to “borrow” a rich little girl and make everyone believe their own long-dead son has revealed to her the girl’s whereabouts in an afternoon séance. Everything about Séance on a Wet Afternoon is gray and gloomy; the boarded windows of the room where the girl is hidden, Stanley’s eerie hospital-nurse pretense as she ministers to the drugged child, Attenborough’s desperate unraveling as the little girl grows ill and remorse and shame overtake him. The rain dominates: windshield wipers on chauffeur-driven cars, umbrellas popping open, splashing puddles—even the music sounds like dripping water, and the raindrops on the camera lens will make you feel as if it’s your window you’re looking through, and that you’re damned thankful to be inside.
The John Huston film noir based on the Maxwell Anderson play and set, imperatively, on the titular Florida island in the off-season and during a typhoon. A gaggle of gangsters (led by Edward G. Robinson’s sadistic kingpin) find themselves trapped with a handful of honest victims, including Humphrey Bogart’s disillusioned war vet. Claire Trevor won an Oscar as a weepy lush, and though the film is filthy with hard-boiled dialogue and character, its hothouse atmosphere of Key Largo is irresistible. With Lauren Bacall.