Movie Critique – Margaret Rutherford as Miss Marple

Stars: 5 / 5

Recommendation: Quick mysteries that charm you as much as the books have, keep you intrigued, with a layer of humor all through, making them a little less serious than the books. 

The character Miss Marple was first introduced by Dame Agatha Christie in a short story, The Tuesday Night Club, published in The Royal Magazine in December of 1927. But her first appearance in a full-length novel was in The Murder at the Vicarage in 1930. Her last appearance was in Sleeping Murder in 1976.

Jane Marple lived in the fictional village of St. Mary Mead and acts as an amateur consulting detective much to the frustration of the police. Christie mentioned that the character is based on friends of her step-grandmother/aunt, Margaret Miller, nee West.

Christie's Miss Marple novels have been adapted to radio, theater, TV and films over the years. Her first big screen appearance was in the 1961 film Murder, She Said based on the 1957 novel 4:40 from Paddington. A good 30 years after her first appearance in the books, Dame Margaret Rutherford brought her to life on the big screen with this film and three more followed by British MGM productions.

There are subtle variations between Christie's Marple and Rutherford's Marple. Christie had not approved of Marple being showcased as a stout, bold and eccentric lady in the movies as opposed to her prim and bird-like character in the books. Rutherford brought out the charisma within Miss Marple in various ways - funny expressions, eccentric habits, and witty dialogues. Perhaps the screen needed a slightly different weightage to the character than the books for MGM productions to change the character that way.

The remaining three Rutherford's Miss Marple movies are the 1963 Murder at the Gallop; 1964 Murder Most Foul and finally the 1964 Murder Ahoy! The last one was not based on any of Christie's novels and also forms a closure for Rutherford's Miss Marple.

Over the years several actresses portrayed Miss Marple. In 1980 Angela Lansbury played her in The Mirror Crack'd based on the 1962 novel of the same name and included an all-star cast with big names such as Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, among others. Lansbury's Marple was quite different from either Christie's or Rutherford's. However, her acting as Marple gave the inspiration to her long-running TV series Murder, She Wrote where she becomes Jessica Fletcher. Some parts of Miss Marple can be see in Jessica Fletcher if you observe closely.

A couple weeks ago, the first three of Rutherford's Miss Marple movies aired on TCM and I had the pleasure of watching them. This is my take on those movies.

Murder, She Said was released in 1961 based on the 1957 novel 4:40 from Paddington. In this, Miss Marple witnesses the murder of a young woman on another train while her train was passing by. Despite the dead ends and no action by law enforcement, Miss Marple sets about to find the victim and the killer. The movie has subtle variations from the book, as expected. It had been a huge success.

In this very first case that Rutherford solves as Miss Marple, she gets a marriage proposal at the end. It is distinctly similar to the first case that Angela Lansbury solves as Jessica Fletcher in Murder, She Wrote (Episode titled as The Murder of Sherlock Holmes). I must say, this case has been fairly easy one from Christie's pen. Easy because one can guess who the killer was mid-way through the plot. 

Murder at the Gallop, the second of the four movies, was released in 1963 based on Agatha Christie's 1953 novel After the Funeral. This time Miss Marple suspects foul play when a wealthy, elderly man dies of a supposed heart attack.

There are considerable differences between the book and the film including changing the characters. The book was of Hercules Poirot and a serious suspense that changed to Miss Marple with light satirical comedy added to the mystery. 

Murder Most Foul is the third of the four movies released in 1964, based on Agatha Christie's 1952 novel Mrs. McGinty's Dead. Just like the previous film, the book was Hercules Poirot's story while the film became for Miss Marple.  The title is a quote from Shakespeare's Hamlet. In this tale, Miss Marple goes to a community theater to prove that her not guilty verdict was right.

Charles "Bud" Tingwell as Inspector Craddock and Stringer Davis as Mr. Stringer, the Librarian and her partner in investigation, reprise their roles in all three movies. Music is provided by Ron Godwin for the movies. Stringer's role doesn’t exist in the books, solely created for movies as he is Rutherford's husband. 

Rutherford has totally given justice to her version of Miss Marple, even though Christie had disliked it immensely. However, Christie did dedicate her 1962 book The Mirror Crack'd From Side to Side to Rutherford in admiration of her.

Quick mysteries that charm you as much as the books have, keep you intrigued, with a layer of humor all through, making them a little less serious than the books. Enjoyable to watch on any lazy afternoon or a rainy day.

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Trivia:

a. The theme music for the movies was given by Ron Goodwin. It reminds me of a Bollywood song which I am unable to place. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was copied by Bollywood from Hollywood or vice versa.

b. Murder, She Said:

i. While looking for information on the movie Murder, She Said, I came across another movie titled similarly "Murder, He Says" released in 1945.

ii. In the climax scene we can see Miss Marple having a Fontana paperback copy of "Murder is Easy" by her creator, Agatha Christie.

c. In Murder at the Gallop, during one of her telephone conversation to report murder, Miss Marple uses the words "Murder Most Foul" which incidentally is the title of her next film in the series.

d. Murder Most Foul:

i. One scene shows the Cosgood Players production on a playbill with the title "Murder, She Said". Incidentally that is the name of the first of the films that Margaret Rutherford played as Miss Marple.

ii. Miss Marple does the rendering of The Shooting of Dan McGrew, a 1907 poem by Robert W. Service for her audition for the Cosgood Players.

2) Grammatical / Historical / Location / Character Errors:

a. In Murder, She Said, towards 10 minutes into the movie, there is a warning sign shown with the mis-spelling for "tresspassers"


default userpic

Your reply will be screened

Your IP address will be recorded 

When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.