The Agatha Christie
Miss Marple Movie Collection
British Margaret Rutherford Series)
Sound: C+ Extras: C Films: B
Even before Film Noir started in 1941, Hollywood was
producing dozens of B-movie series and the Mystery genre was the most
successful. It was what all the studios
did, while smaller ones (Columbia, Universal, Republic) also made chapter play
serials for Saturday morning child moviegoers in Action, Western and loosely
Science Fiction genres. MGM’s The
Thin Man is often considered their best of the B Mystery series, though
Fox’s Charlie Chan is the best and most successful ever. However, MGM did The Thin Man one
better as far as this critic is concerned and it involved their British unit in
the 1960s and rights to Agatha Christie’s novels.
Including classic characters like Hercule Poirot and Miss
Jane Marple, Christie was still alive and writing classics when MGM decided to
hired Margaret Rutherford to play Marple and the result was both the last great
B-movie Mystery series and MGM’s best.
Though Christie was always weary of any adaptations, these have become
classics and favorites of Christie fans.
One of the reasons has to do with in-jokes about the books and the other
is a superior wit to the films.
Murder, She Said… was the first film, released in
1961. Based on the 1957 book 4:50
From Paddington aka What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw! aka Eyewitness To
Murder, the title witness had a name that happened to be that of Lucille
Ball’s character on the huge TV hit I Love Lucy. With that and for narrative economy
purposes, Marple herself becomes the witness to a murder on a passing train and
naturally investigates. The book is a
favorite and Marple goes undercover as a maid.
Arthur Kennedy and future Miss Marple Joan Hickson also star.
Murder At The Gallop followed in 1963 with
Robert Morley joining Rutherford as a friend and assistant in finding out how
an old rich woman died not long after the reading of her latest will. This film was actually based on the 1953
Hercule Poirot novel After The Funeral aka Funerals Are Fatal,
which was not saved for any Poirot feature film, but has been shot for TV
since. This film is as good as any
adaptation and Rutherford is as entertaining as before. Flora Robson, James Villers and Robert
Urquhart also star.
Murder Ahoy arrived in 1964 and was a
totally original script involving a naval man being killed. Fortunately, Marple has decided to set sail
and she’s ready for anything. Lionel
Jeffreys and Nicholas Parsons co-star in this fun film with its classic
conclusion with Marple in action and shining proof that the creativity of the
series was not merely co-dependent on book adaptations like too many such TV
series later were of Christie or otherwise.
Murder Most Foul arrived in 1965 and concluded
the series with Ron Moody joining Rutherford in this film based on the 1952
Poirot novel Mrs. McGinty’s Dead aka Blood Will Tell, a book that
puts Poirot in the kind of situation Marple would usually be in. Thus, the film decided to put the more
obvious detective back in the usual situation, but the film is still very
effective. Done with Poirot back in the
story in later TV adaptations, this version once again is superior. Francesca Annis, Charles Tingwell and Andrew
Cruikshank also star as Marple is doing jury duty when people keep dying at a
local repertory theater. Furthermore,
Marple is the lone holdout that a man on trial is actually innocent. Moody runs the playhouse.
The anamorphically enhanced 1.85 X 1 black and white image
on each film is pretty good, especially on Murder, She Said…, shot by
Geoffrey Faithfull, B.S.C. effectively and that set off a new look for this
series different from previous mystery series thanks to new monochrome stocks
and the fact that all were shot in England.
That is thanks to location and the different approach British
cinematographers have to their craft. Murder
At The Gallop was shot by Arthur Ibbetson, B.S.C., while Murder Ahoy
and Murder Most Foul were both show by the great Desmond (City Of The
Dead) Dickinson, B.S.C. and shows just how great the talent was that made
these films. George Pollock directed
all four with flare and intelligence rarely matched in the genre.
The Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono is not bad in all cases, luckily
clean and clear in each case. 2.0 would
have been preferable and the trailers included as the only extras on each set
are 2.0 Dolby. The great Ron Goodwin’s
“swingin’, groovy murder” theme song is great, used in all the films and his
other scoring works very well throughout the four films. The extras are trailers for all four films
on all four DVDs, plus the trailer for the 1966 Ten Little Indians is
also included in all cases. Gallop
includes a second trailer that works better than the one on all the discs. Too bad Frank Tashlin’s terrific Alphabet
Murders (1966) with Tony Randall as Poirot is not here as a trailer or even
bonus film with Ten Little Indians.
Warner has issued Indians separately, but Alphabet Murders
should be next. Compare the trailers to
the feature prints and you can see how good the DVD’s feature film prints
With such fine transfers of such solid mystery filmmaking,
you can really enjoy how good these really are. The luxury of black and white, of leisure, with a great latitude
of comedy that some thought might have been too much works well and the very
thought-out plotting is just amazing.
Rutherford is still the definitive Miss Marple after all these years and
for good reason. It is a tribute to
British cinema and MGM in its later years of power that such gems were
made. Some good Marple TV series
followed (see elsewhere on this site) and even Angela Lansbury played Marple
once in The Mirror Crack’d in 1980, but Rutherford took the role, ran
with it and is still the iconic big screen Marple. The life and energy she brought to Marple is amazing and became
even more so as the Spy craze kicked in as she made these films.
These are part of the early MGM titles (to 1986) that were
bought by Turner Entertainment, then Turner’s catalog was acquired by Warner
Bros. who are the caretakers of the films and other programming today. Here, they did a great job. The Agatha Christie Miss Marple Movie
Collection has so many fun and charming moments that rewatchability is inevitable,
even after you have figured out the crime.
- Nicholas Sheffo