Sunday, May 26, 2013

Charles Addam's Caricature Titles in "Murder by Death" (1976): Judge a Movie by its Title

I’m going to cover another, more notable title sequence designed by Wayne Fitzgerald. It is from one of my favorite comedy movies, 1976’s Murder by Death.

Murder by Death (written by Neil Simon) has a lot of great things going for it, starting with the incredible cast which features, among others, Peter Falk, Maggie Smith, David Niven, Peter Sellers and Alec Guinness. Of note, it also features the eccentric author, Truman Capote (In Cold Blood and Breakfast at Tiffany’s).

If you’ve never seen the movie- I (obviously) encourage you to find it and watch it. It’s a jab at the detectives that have appeared on screen over the years, like Nick and Nora, Sam Spade, Poirot, Miss Marple, and Charlie Chan, and pokes fun at some of the usual ploys in mysteries. It is an example of absurdist humor at its best, mixed with some excellent parodies. You’ll laugh throughout the entire film, just cause you can’t help it.

The movie begins with, what I consider to be, an incredible title sequence (I mean- if I didn’t think it was great, I wouldn’t be spending the time writing about it- right?). A gloved hand opens an ominous trunk, as some suspenseful music (composed by Dave Grusin) plays. The trunk opens, revealing a pop-up of an eerie mansion and a bunch of characters in front of it. (Does this “big reveal” remind you of anything? If should- see Auntie Mame post below. I think Wayne may have been recycling a little bit.)

The characters turn out to be beautifully rendered caricatures of the stars of the film. As the names pop up, with appropriate face, the 2-D characters’ eyes move suspiciously, albeit absurdly. It is clear that some murder, most foul is in the air.

The eeriness of the whole sequence may be due to the actual artist who created the piece. If the house looks like the Addams Family house, that’s because Addams Family creator, the great Charles Addams, designed them. Addams, a long time New Yorker cartoonist was hired to help create this title.

You really have to admit, the producers of this movie did right- didn’t they? Not only did they procure an amazingly talented cast, but they went for a top-drawer crew as well. Addam’s work has an iconic look and his notorious dark humor fits perfectly with this film that makes mirth over murder.

Need I also say, on a merely aesthetic note, that merely as portraiture, these caricatures are really great. I know that’s the point- but I feel that Addams really captured the essence of some of these actors and characters, not only their likeness.

These titles are noteworthy for a few reasons. First, their iconic artist (who also designed the movie poster) makes the work of artistic merit. Secondly, and I consider, most importantly, they fit perfectly in with the dark humor of the movie and provide the perfect tone for the film. It’s funny, for sure, but when you think about it, some parks are a little dark too. Like the film itself, the titles are quick-moving and eye-catching, signaling to the audience that what they’re about to see is going to be a fast and funny comedy.

On a housekeeping note, I’m trying to find a really great movie-piece to write a post about- so don’t worry, something will come along. All these asides-posts have been pretty easy to complete during exams time- but once they’re over- we’ll get into the deep stuff again!

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