Sunday 22 April 2007

Murder She Said (1961) George Pollock

In 1960 MGM apparently bought the rights to a wide swathe of works by the Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie, and for some reason they picked the seventh Miss Marple novel to be the first they translated onto film, presumably because it was the most recently published, four years earlier. Originally titled 4.50 from Paddington, MGM obviously didn't believe anyone would go to see a movie with that title, so renamed it. They couldn't use the American title of the book either, What Mrs McGillicuddy Saw!, because they'd cut Mrs McGillicuddy out of the script, so it ended up as the generic and meaningless Murder She Said.

Miss Marple is played by the indomitable Margaret Rutherford who happily stole most films in which she appeared, and she's assisted by Stringer Davis who was her real life husband. Bizarrely the cast also includes Joan Hickson, who would go on to memorably play Miss Marple herself on BBC TV in the eighties. In fact she was a far closer match to the character as written by Christie, Rutherford being highly watchable but hardly small and birdlike.

Jane Marple (Mrs McGillicuddy in the book) is travelling by train when she sees a murder committed in a train passing the other way, a woman strangled by a man. The police investigate but don't find anything at all, so are rather disbelieving of the whole affair, presumably because in the film world she hadn't already solved six other mysteries that baffled the authorities. Miss Marple naturally investigates herself and tracks the body down to Ackenthorpe Hall with its large estate that runs down to the track. She gets herself hired as a maid (instead of a friend in the book) and, while looking around, has to deal with a precocious young child and a curmudgeonly old goat.

They are played by Ronnie Raymond and James Robertson Justice respectively, both wonderful foils in their own way for Rutherford and the best scenes are between them, but they're also fun on their own behalf. There are more people worth watching too. There's five times Oscar nominated American Arthur Kennedy as James Robertson Justice's doctor, English comedy/horror institution Thorley Walters as one of the extended family, and Charles 'Bud' Tingwell as the inspector, who would return for the rest of the series. There's even Carry On regular Peter Butterworth as a ticket collector on the train. I didn't even recognise Richard Briers as the strangely named Mrs Binster, who runs the agency that Miss Marple uses to gain employment.

As for the mystery, which is the whole point after all, it's neatly done. However Agatha Christie wasn't very fond of it herself, probably because of the liberties taken with her story and characters. She would have been even more upset about the rest of the series, given that the next two were Miss Marple films based on Hercule Poirot novels and the fourth wasn't even an Agatha Christie story at all. Regardless of how horrific this movie massacring must seem to Christie purists, Murder She Said is still a rattling good yarn populated by memorable and characterful characters.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks Hal ! ; I enjoyed reading your inteligent review of 'Murder She Said'. It hadn't occurred to me that this first film was fron the 'last' book - thanks for the enlightenment!
This is my favourite film at the moment, and I could quote most of the lines when prompted ( I don't get out much )

in North East England,
(Yorkshire) - where it is currently RAINING !!