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Category:    Home > Reviews > Mystery > British > The Agatha Christie Miss Marple Movie Collection (Warner/Turner/MGM – British Margaret Rutherford Series)

The Agatha Christie Miss Marple Movie Collection

(Warner/Turner/MGM – British Margaret Rutherford Series)


Picture: B-     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 really look.


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


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