Movie Critique - Murder Ahoy! & Penguin Pool Murder

Stars: 3 / 5

Recommendation: Two delightful murder mysteries with a fusion of comedy and chillness woven within; with some excellent acting from yesteryear star cast.

Two movies from two different series were playing a couple of weeks ago on Turner Classic Movies (TCM) channel giving me a chance to watch two more movies from the series and finish them.

First up is Murder Ahoy!, a Margaret Rutherford's Miss Marple film, the fourth and final one in the series of Agatha Christie's films that she did, released in 1965. The other three were the 1961 Murder, She Said; 1963 Murder at the Gallop and the 1964 Murder Most Foul. This was directed by George Pollock. Charles "Bud" Trigwell as Chief Inspector Craddock and Stringer Davis, Rutherford's real-life husband, as Mr. Stringer re-appear in this film as well. 

Miss Marple joins the board of management of Trust for a school for reforming boys called HMS Battledore, a battleship turned-school. And she witnesses the death of a fellow board member as soon as he was back from a visit to the ship. Miss Marple sensing foul, boards the battleship along with Mr. Stringer, investigates the murder; but bodies keep falling like flies. 

Unlike the three films that Rutherford had already done, this was not based on any of Christie's novels, although few elements from the 1962 Miss Marple story They Do It With Mirrors are seen. David Pursall and Jack Seddon contributed to the script. The on-screen credit reads "Original screenplay by David Pursall and Jack Seddon. Based on their interpretation of Agatha Christie's 'Miss Marple'."

This film was shelved for a year before it was released as Rutherford's third film in the series, the 1964 Murder Most Foul was a failure. This was actually released as the bottom half of a double bill with the 1965 American drama film The Sandpiper. 

The theme music and the background music on the opening credits of all the four films was composed by Ron Goodwin. The tune reminded me of a Bollywood song which I finally managed to crack. That will be a follow-up post. The end credits also show the name of the film. 

As much as the plot was funny and entertaining, I found it rather too silly at some places. There are scenes in the plot that chill you to the bones, and at the same time I found Rutherford's Miss Marple a tad bit irritating. It still ended up being a delightful murder mystery with fusion of humor and macabre emotions. 

Next up it's the 1932 American pre-Code comedy mystery film Penguin Pool Murder. This is the first of the three films that starred Edna May Oliver as the schoolteacher Hildegarde Martha Withers, along-side James Gleason as Inspector Oscar Piper. I saw their second movie, the 1934 Murder on Blackboard a while ago and with this I will have only one more remaining to watch to conclude the series.

The film was directed by George Archainbaud assisted by Ray Lissner; produced by Kenneth Macgowan, distributed by RKO Radio Pictures. David O. Selznick is also credited as executive producer. The plot was based on the 1931 novel of the same name by Stuart Palmer for which screenplay was written by Lowell Brentano and Willis Goldbeck.

Schoolteacher Hildegarde Withers takes her class on a field trip to the aquarium and finds a dead body in a penguin pool. Now she teams up with Inspector Oscar Piper to solve the murder, much to the frustration of the inspector. 

The opening credits are shown on a penguin waddling while a whirlpool of water is overlaid on it. And the cast members are again listed as "The Players" as was common for movies made in 30s and early 40s.

It's a lively vintage murder with witty remarks and entertaining chemistry between Oliver and Gleason. In the final shot Inspector Oscar Piper proposes to Hildegarde Withers which she accepts and they rush off to license bureau. Yet in the following film that I watched earlier, Murder on Blackboard, there is no talk of marriage or romance between them although the chemistry of comedy is retained. Wonder why the filmmakers changed the direction of the characters. 

Far more superior than expected, the film certainly had all the elements of a mystery and comedy fusion plan; delightful and deadly. Worth watching anytime of the day or night.

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Movie Trivia:

a. Murder Ahoy!:

i. Reference to Christie's murder mystery play The Mousetrap is seen in the film. The play had been playing continuously on the West End in London since 1952, when it played for the first time. 

ii. Miss Jane Marple's (Dame Margaret Rutherford) impressive library is composed mainly of Pan and Penguin crime paperbacks such as Leslie Charteris' Follow the Saint; Georgette Heyer's The Foundling; books by Edgar Wallace; Noël Coward's Pomp and Circumstance;  Grace Metalious' Return to Peyton Place; and our very own Christie's Three Act Tragedy, Appointment With Death, and The Thirteen Problems.

b. Penguin Pool Murder:

i. Inspector Piper refers to the murder case he is investigating as another Snyder-Gray killing, and continues to refer to it. It was a famous case in the late 1920s in which Ruth Snyder and her lover Judd Gray were convicted of murdering her husband Albert and sentenced to death. This story influenced two book by James M. Cain which were adopted to film - his 1936 novella, Double Indemnity, which was later made to a movie in 1944; and his 1934 book, The Postman Always Rings Twice, which was also adapted to screen in 1946

2) Grammatical / Historical / Location / Character Errors:

a. Murder Ahoy!:

i. In the opening scene where Miss Marple goes to a dress shop and asks for the dress from the mannequin, it is given to her in reverse order to wear.

ii. When Miss Pringle faints and fall on the sofa she is positioned almost one fourths down the way on the sofa. But in the immediate scene when all of the board members gather around her, her head is placed closer to the arm of the sofa. 

iii. The pad that Miss Marple prepares her Morse message has considerably a large empty space in the bottom. But when she writes back the message that is delivered to her on the same pad, the bottom is rather small.

iv. A few errors in the closing credits - Inspector Craddock is addressed as Chief Inspector Craddock all through the film; yet in the credits the actor playing him, Charles Tingwell, is credited as Detective Inspector Craddock. Gerald Cross is seen portraying the role of Lieutenant Commander Dimchurch in the film. But he is credited as Brewer in the credits. And Dimchurch name as a role is distinctly absent. 


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