Today, I'm writing about the four movies actress Margaret Rutherford made as amateur sleuth Miss Marple.
This article is part of The Queen of Crime: Agatha Christie Blogathon hosted by Little Bits of Classics and Christina Wehner.
There are few pleasures in life as rewarding as a good mystery, and the four movies actress Margaret Rutherford made as amateur sleuth Miss Jane Marple are fun, breezy whodunits that, while not faithful adaptations of British writer Agatha Christie's work, are a showcase for talents of the indomitable Rutherford. Today, I'm going to look at all four of Rutherford's Marple movies, and let you know where you can watch them, but first here's a little background.
Miss Jane Marple of the fictional village of St. Mary Mead, England, was created by Christie from childhood memories of the elderly ladies, including her step grandmother and aunt, who kept track of the lives, loves and crimes of the residents in small English villages (Christie probably got the name Marple from either a railway station or a house called Marple Hall). Miss Marple, who solves crimes that baffle the police through her sharp memory and knowledge of human nature, first appeared in the short story, "The Tuesday Night Club," in 1927, and she immediately became one of Christie's most popular characters, appearing in 12 novels and 20 short stories.
Despite the character's popularity, Miss Marple didn't appear onscreen until executives at MGM's British studios approached the 69-year-old character actress Margaret Rutherford, who was a comedy star on both stage and screen. Rutherford, who was known for playing eccentric characters like psychic Madame Arcati in Blithe Spirit (1945) and Miss Prism in The Importance of Being Earnest (1952), was at first reluctant to take on the part -- she felt murder mysteries weren't "morally uplifting" -- but she eventually agreed under certain conditions. Rutherford stipulated that she must wear her own wardrobe and that her husband, actor Stringer Davis, should appear in the movies with her.
Rutherford's Miss Marple movies, starting with Murder She Said in 1961, were wildly popular at the box office even though Christie was reportedly very unhappy with the films, which took many liberties with her carefully crafted plots, and with Rutherford's brassy portrayal of Miss Marple. However, Christie and Rutherford did strike up a friendship during the making of the Marple movies, and Christie dedicated the novel, "The Mirror Cracked From Side to Side," to Rutherford.
|Margaret Rutherford and Agatha Christie enjoy a chat.|
It is certainly true that the statuesque, outgoing Rutherford is nothing like the thin, demure Miss Marple of the books, but I still find the Rutherford movies highly enjoyable for their breezy plot lines, great actors, and the interactions between Rutherford and Davis, who were one of the great love stories of British theater (Davis plays the local librarian Mr. Stringer, who never appears in any of Christie's novels).
Murder She Said (1961), dir. George Pollock
|Margaret Rutherford and Ronnie Raymond in Murder She Said (1961).|
Murder at the Gallop (1963), dir. George Pollock
This movie, based on the Hercule Poirot novel, "After the Funeral," finds Miss Marple going undercover at a fox-hunting inn to investigate the mysterious death of a local recluse (Finlay Currie). The highlights of this film are the great cast, including the always endearing Robert Morley as a bumbling innkeeper who has a crush on Miss Marple and Flora Robson in a sensational performance as the seemingly mousy Miss Milchrest, and Miss Marple and Mr. Stringer hitting the dance floor for a memorable rendition of The Twist. TCM at 2:45 p.m. Nov. 12. DVD and video on demand. Here's the trailer.
Murder Most Foul (1964), dir. George Pollock
|Margaret Rutherford on the set of Murder Most Foul (1964).|
Murder Ahoy (1964), dir. George Pollock
|Margaret Rutherford and Stringer Davis on the set of Murder Ahoy (1964).|
This movie is based on an original screenplay by David Pursall and Jack Seddon, but it does have quite a few elements from Christie, including borrowing plot points from her Miss Marple novel, "They Do It With Mirrors." In Murder Ahoy, Miss Marple is a trustee at a boy's reform institution that takes juvenile delinquents out to sea as part of a reform program. When one of her fellow trustees unexpectedly dies, Miss Marple decides to go aboard ship to find out what really happened. The highlights of this film are the beautiful location shooting in Cornwall and the spry 72-year-old Rutherford in a sword fight. DVD and video on demand.
I'll leave you with Ron Goodwin's memorable theme song for Miss Marple, which features the jazziest harpsichord this side of The Addams Family.