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Category Archives: mystery

Taking Liberties with Miss Marple

When I DVR’d Murder Ahoy starring Margaret Rutherford from TCM, I was hoping for a star-studded Agatha Christie extravaganza, maybe in a “Love Boat” type of setting. It was not that, but it was an enjoyable movie and not without certain points to ponder (you know how I hate to do just a straight review).

My first point of contention came during pre-movie commentary when Ben Mankiewicz kept referring to the main character as “Mrs. Marple.” It’s MISS!!! She is an old maiden lady, gossipy and harmless. It is perhaps a small point, but I think it is telling. Mankiewicz certainly never read a Miss Marple book and I question how many Miss Marple movies he has actually seen.

In fact, I know he’s never read a Miss Marple book, because he said “Mrs. Marple” was featured in 20 short stories by Agatha Christie. In fact, she was also in a number of novels (I didn’t look up how many, but you needn’t shake your finger at me; I’ve probably read them all).

Oh, I know, I’m carping. I don’t expect Ben Mankiewicz to have watched every movie TCM possibly shows, much less researched them all himself. I know he has a staff for such things. But I still think it is perfectly legitimate for me to point out: It’s Miss Marple, not Mrs., and she was featured in novels as well as short stories. OK, I’m done. For now.

Murder Ahoy, Mankiewicz tells us, was not adapted from a Christie story but is an original mystery based on the character. Well, I don’t mind that. Sometimes a novel doesn’t translate so well onto the screen. An original screenplay is at least written for its medium.

In the novels, Miss Marple solves mysteries mainly through her extensive knowledge of human nature (idea being that a maiden lady has more leisure to observe these things than, for example, a married lady with half a dozen kids to look after). Somebody would remind her of somebody she used to know and that would give her the key.

I believe this sort of thing works better on the page than on the screen. No matter, because this Miss Marple doesn’t seem to work that way. For heavens’ sake, she has laboratory equipment so she can detect the poison in… well, you know I don’t like to give everything away.

The written Miss Marple also stuck close to her little village of St. Mary Mead, with a few exceptions. Purists feel she was at her best at home, but I have no prejudice either way. This Miss Marple, as you probably expected, goes on board a ship to solve the mystery.

I have to say that the liberties taken with the character of Miss Marple did not bother me one bit. Dame Christie herself was the first to point out that screen (or stage, for which many works were originally adapted) is a different medium with different requirements. In fact, I’m not even going to share all the things the movie makers added, because at least one was for me a quite delightful surprise.

I thought the movie Murder Ahoy was quite entertaining. I look forward to other Miss Marple movies starring Margaret Rutherford.

Star-Studded Something

Last Sunday Steven and I took a break from cheesy horror movies and our usual Sunday crime shows with a star studded Agatha Christie which had not previously come our way: Evil Under the Sun (1982). TCM showed the movie Saturday afternoon. I set the DVR to tape it for our subsequent enjoyment.

I had read Evil Under the Sun and thought I kind of sort of remembered the solution. That hardly mattered. For one thing, if Dame Christie had adapted the story herself she may have changed the ending, as she did in at least two of her stage adaptations. I don’t think she adapted any of the movies, but I believe Hollywood has been known to make changes as well (No! Hollywood make changes? Say it ain’t so!).

I love a star-studded Agatha Christie movie. We have two on DVD: Murder on the Orient Express (1974) and Death on the Nile (1978). We also have my personal favorite, Witness for the Prosecution (1957), which, although its cast boasts at least four well-known actors is for some reason not a Star-Studded Agatha Christie.

That raises the interesting (to me) question of just what makes a Star-Studded Agatha Christie Extravaganza? Hmm. I guess “extravaganza” is too big a word, but just plain “movie” is too small, and “star-studded Agatha Christie” seems lacking. Leave that for now. Let’s look at “Star Studded.” That implies that there must be something to stud. Something already showy or exotic or glamorous. Evil Under the Sun is set on a tropical island. Death on the Nile takes place in the mysterious Middle East. Murder on the Orient Express happens on a famous luxury train. All three have costumes to die for. My favorite is Angela Lansbury in Nile, but Jacqueline Bisset on Orient is noteworthy, and Maggie Smith in Evil can give them both a run for their money.

So I think that’s a major component of a Star Studded Movie Event (better than extravaganza?). It’s fun just to look at. I think another important component is that most of the stars must at some point be suspects. Witness for the Prosecution is a suspense play as much as a murder mystery. The question isn’t so much whodunnit as how is Charles Laughton going to prove that Tyrone Powers didn’t do it? In my star studded vehicles, almost everybody has a motive and in some cases means and opportunity as well. It is the task of Hercule Poirot to prove that the one who couldn’t possibly have done it in fact did (oh dear, did I give too much away? Well, these movies are enjoyable even when you know whodunnit).

There’s another element many star studded attractions have: Hercule Poirot, Dame Christie’s famous detective. I believe there are a couple of star studders I’m not familiar with featuring her other sleuth, Miss Marple (I’ve read that Christie preferred Miss Marple to M. Poirot, but I love them both). Audiences and readers tend to like a series detective, and producers and publishers really, really like them. But that’s a whole other blog post.

So now I have digressed almost completely away from the movie I started to write about to the tune of about 500 words. And now Steven tells me I left And Then There Were None (1945) off my list of Agatha Christie movies we own. How remiss of me! Now I’ll have to watch that one again, to see if it meets my criteria for a Star Studded Romp (oh, that’s even worse than “extravaganza”! I’ll work on it).