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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.